YAMAHA EMX 5016CF
Powered mixers mightn’t be the most exciting products on the market but one old writer found reasons to be cheerful.
Text: Grahame Harrison
Look, up in the sky, it’s a jet ski, it’s a motorbike, it’s a drumkit! No, no, it’s a self-powered mixer! It was easy for this poor writer to get confused by the arrival of the Yamaha EMX 5016CF – the breadth and scope of products manufactured under the Yamaha marque is truly breathtaking. Perhaps one day this esteemed Japanese company will make digital cake mixers and underwear with built-in alarm clocks as well – if they don’t already…
I’ve always been fairly ambivalent about Yamaha pro audio products. Because I’m an old bastard, I had to suffer through the bad old days of the 1027 equaliser and other horrors from a company that just couldn’t get things right. Back in those days, I was using a mighty local PA system called the WRM V4. It was a sensational rig, powered by BGWs that used Brooke Siren crossovers with ‘doctored’ limiter settings and the magnificent Rumbold graphics from Melbourne. The BGWs needed about 2V to kick them over. A well-known Sydney company (owned by a man who probably had the Yamaha logo tattooed on his lower regions), bought the PA from the band that owned it and promptly ripped the racks apart, took out the great electronics and replaced them with Yamaha equalisers and crossovers.
Unfortunately, the Yamaha products he used had no output gain! The PA immediately sounded like a transistor radio and went from a showpiece to a dud in less than a week! I received a phone call around that time from my mate, Greg Rosman (now a senior Jands engineer), who was expecting big noise out of the PA after I’d vibed him up on it. I couldn’t understand the problem he’d subsequently had until I went to the next gig and saw all the Yamaha processing gear. I nearly cried! Greg went back to the ‘Silly Old Sausage’ company and had about 10dB of gain added to all the Yamaha components. Bingo! Big sound restored!
So when the boss of AT presented me with the new Yamaha EMX5016CF powered mixer, I got the rope out and prepared to hang myself rather than face another round of ‘what the hell did they do that for?!’. It’s okay for the current crop of kiddies who get to use all the Yamaha digital desks; they’re too young to remember.
I then remembered that you’re never too old to learn!
The EMX5016CF is the latest addition to the EMX range, but this one’s a ‘proper’ desk – not a supersized house brick like the EMX512C boat anchor – that incorporates some very timely practical design work. It looks goods, weighs only 11kg and is basically the 512C in a console format. There are eight mono channels and four stereo channels, in-built power amps that produce 500W at 4Ω per side and twin fans on the rear that are very quiet (for a change!).
The first eight channels feature a compressor control knob just under the gain pot that works really well. Want a vocal right in front of your nose? No problem. Acoustic guitar with some ‘body’? Yup, you got it! And if you want to add some effects to the mix, you have two built-in SPX digital effects processors to utilise. There’s a massive amount of gain on the input stage and a 26dB pad in case the incoming signal’s too hot. There’s a three-band EQ with semi-parametric mids on each channel, two monitor/aux sends and two effects sends. All the other standard stuff like pre-fade switches on the auxiliary lines, headphone output and monitoring LED ramps are all present and accounted for.
But then the Yamaha ups the ante with some excellent extra facilities, not least of which is a built-in room analyser, which Yamaha calls the Frequency Response Correction (FRC) system. The FRC is easy for the uninitiated to use and should come in very handy for anyone who’s scared of room equalisers: stick a mic out the front of the PA, follow the instructions and the EMX tunes itself! The digital graphic EQ automatically adjusts its settings and offers three user preset memories in which to store the results. I used the FRC several times and it works well… very well actually. To some extent EQ is, of course, strictly a matter of personal taste, but this practical addition is a very good idea, well executed.
Dovetailing neatly with the room analyser feature is the onboard feedback suppressor. This is a very handy device, especially if the singers you work with like to take a radio mic into the audience. I thrashed this part of the EMX mercilessly – intentionally producing some brutal high-frequency feedback – and each time the EMX reacted quickly, clamping down on it with confidence.
The suppressor has two operational modes: automatic or manual, with the manual mode apparently being more sensitive (according to the instruction manual). Either way, any notch filter you create is automatically memorised by the mixer and retained when the power is turned off, which is a great feature.
But wait, there’s more! A Yamaha Speaker Processor (labelled the ‘YS’ button) is also included, which is essentially a low-frequency booster that adjusts the bass frequencies to enhance the low end of a speaker box. Although this may sound like a dubious control on a serious console, it works well and seems to be a lot smoother than the muddy mess that results with a Mackie ‘Contour’ switch. The mixer’s EQ is very good by itself with Yamaha finally appearing to understand the word ‘bass’. No longer do you have to endlessly wind the LF EQ knob in the hope of getting a result! Dare I suggest that Yamaha has listened to its customers and stopped wondering why Soundcraft EQ was always lauded by most engineers…
EYES WIDE OPEN
However, it’s not all good news. Firstly, there is a dangerous switch on the deck of the console just below the LCD screen that allows you to alter the console’s power output per side from 75W to 200W and even 500W! I call it ‘dangerous’ because, in my opinion, it can enhance distortion. It exists (apparently) so you can limit the power output according to the size of the room you’re playing in, which to me is simply nonsensical. It’s like buying a V8 with a ‘governor’ on the engine. Imagine driving down the highway at 100kmh… would you rather be cruising effortlessly in a V8, or straining every inch of the way in a three-cylinder Lada? Do not use this switch, or at least, leave it permanently switched to the 500W position.
More head scratching occurred over the onboard nine-band equaliser, which tunes both power amps with one bank of controls. In other words, there aren’t two separate nine-band graphics. This is a mistake in my opinion because it’s impossible to assign one EQ to FOH and one to monitors. In fact, if you switch the power amps to receive signal from the two auxiliary outputs for monitor purposes, the equaliser is bypassed completely. Another issue is that the output ‘patchbay’ (which feeds signals to external power amps) only offers balanced 1/4-inch jack plugs – I’d much rather have seen two XLR signal outputs serving in this role (perhaps in addition to the jack plugs). What’s also odd about this is that the EMX5016CF manual actually claims that the ‘ST OUT’ jacks are unbalanced, which would have been worse…
The EMX5016CF is a console worth investigating. I really liked it overall, despite my initial ambivalence, and I’m sure it will make an excellent addition to hire department inventories and a multitude of other applications. Sure, there are the aforementioned limitations/caveats, but Yamaha has done a really good job with this baby given its price. At a retail price of only $2000, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better.