YAMAHA TF RACK DIGITAL MIXER
Yamaha’s touch screen and Touch&Turn knob mean you don’t actually need an iPad to control this ‘iPad mixer’.
Review: Mark Woods
The Yamaha TF Rack is the mixer you need when you don’t need a mixer. It’s a fader-less, rack-mounted version of Yamaha’s entry-level TF digital mixer range. Specifically for live sound, the mixers are designed for fast, easy operation by users who are not necessarily experienced sound mixers, while still providing the depth of function expected by those who are. The TF stands for Yamaha’s TouchFlow concept that aims to provide a fluid setup and operating environment centred around the touch screen.
Not all shows need mixers. I mean both the hairy type who turn up with the band and the ones with faders. The TF Rack is intended for applications where the latter is not required, or an iPad will do. Also, with Dan Dugan Automixer software included in the latest firmware update, you may not need the former either. Small venues, bands, broadcasters and corporate users would all be potential customers.
The TF Rack is different to other rack-mounted systems in that it offers the same 16 physical in/outs and full processing power as the smallest fader-equipped mixer in the range — the 16-fader TF1 — and it can be fully controlled from the front panel as well as wirelessly. Internal audio sampling is 48k and the input sources plug into Yamaha’s recallable D-Pre preamps. No faders here but you do get 40 mixing channels, 20 aux buses, eight DCA groups, eight FX slots and 10 GEQs.
Booting the TF Rack up, I noticed the internal fan is a little noisy. You wouldn’t notice it at a live show but it could be distracting in a quiet room. The other thing you notice is the pleasing colourful touch screen. The display looks very clear, you can see what’s going on at a glance and the windows change as you’d expect. It’s fast and intuitive to control. Friendly features are everywhere like the musical notes/analyser displays on the EQ pages and the large emergency Mute buttons on the front panel. The layout of the screen and the front panel looks simple so its not intimidating to new users. It’s hard to get lost navigating the pages, but there are a lot of options available beneath the surface.
Setting up channels is an example — it’s easy to start from scratch and build up your own settings in the usual way, but there are interesting alternatives. The GainFinder function uses an easily-understood traffic light system to help set the input gain on a channel. Strictly for non-pros I suppose, but input gain can be confusing to normal people and this could help.
You can also choose to populate a channel (input or output) with presets from the QuickPro Preset library. The input presets are mostly commonly-used, instrument-specific settings. Nothing too dramatic so they’re safe and practical. More interesting are the settings for particular microphone brands and models. This has been done in conjunction with a handful of well-known mic manufactures that so far includes Shure, Sennheiser and Audio-Technica. Its kind of fun. Got an SM57 on a sax and don’t know what to do? No worries, there’s a preset. Whether you’re familiar with the particular mics or not, it’s briefly interesting to see what the makers have recommended. It’s also a fast way of working as it puts a lot of common processing choices in place at once, they can of course be freely tweaked as you go.
Output channels get a small library of generic presets for different locations. Preset EQ and compressor settings — including settings for IEMs run from the stereo aux sends — have been chosen to get you going quickly with minimum risk of errant settings. Like the input channel presets relating to specific mics the output channel presets include specific settings for Yamaha DBR and DSR speakers, in different environments.
1 KNOB TO RULE THEM ALL
Experienced users will be familiar with the Overview/Selected Channel layout common to most digital mixers. There are eight channels displayed on the Overview screen but rather than buttons to scroll to the rest, you swipe. Refreshingly, the TF Rack doesn’t have Select buttons. Touch a parameter on a channel and the channel is selected, touch it again and the parameter details are displayed. The on-screen parameter controls have got nice big buttons you touch to activate and drag to adjust. Pinch gestures change the EQ width and everything you do is accompanied by clear visual feedback. Apart from being intuitive to use like a smart phone, it means you don’t need hardware knobs to adjust the selected parameters.
Unless, of course, you want to use a knob. That’s where Yamaha’s Touch&Turn knob comes in. Well-placed for easy reach beside the screen, the Touch&Turn knob is a multi-function device that’s activated by touching on the screen. Touch Input on the Overview screen and the knob provides instant access to the input gain of any displayed channel. Touch anywhere else and you can control EQ parameters, HPF, gate/comp thresholds and FX levels.
The interesting alternative here is Yamaha’s new 1-knob EQ and 1-knob Comp functions. Both controlled by the Touch&Turn knob these can eliminate the need to use the detailed parameter controls at all. These functions are activated by the user when you’re setting up a channel, or automatically as part of the QuickPro Presets. Designed again for either speedy operation or users who don’t fully understand the meaning of the parameter values, these effectively give you more when turned up. More what? More everything.
On input channels the 1-knob EQ has two modes, Vocal and Intensity. If you’ve selected a particular microphone model from the QuickPro Presets then Vocal mode will probably give you a HPF, some low-mid cut and some high-mid boost. Turning it up with the Touch&Turn knob simultaneously delivers more HPF, more low-mid cut and more presence boost. Or less if you turn it down. You can also draw your own curve and have it exaggerated or understated. Its clever stuff and easy to use.
Intensity mode is similar but aimed more at instruments. 1-knob EQ also works on the Main and Aux outputs with the Vocal mode being replaced by a Loudness mode that progressively boosts low and hi frequencies while cutting some low-mids.
The 1-knob Comp performs the same task for channel dynamics. The basic settings are established by the preset; turn it up with the Touch&Turn knob and you get more threshold, more ratio and more make-up gain. The potential for over-processed channels is the risk when one knob controls several parameters at once, but the settings are all valid and there are sensible limits on the amount of boost on hand. Any setting can be changed or removed with a touch on the screen if it’s not to your liking.
BASICALLY MIXES ITSELF
The built-in effects processors are derived from Yamaha’s SPX range and there are eight processors available. Two are set up as global effects with quick access via the Edit button, the rest are accessed via the stereo aux groups that each have one processor attached. These sends would often be used for monitors; particularly for IEMs with, for instance, a multi-band compressor across the send. The stereo aux sends can also be used as sub-groups and sent to the Master Out, with your choice of effects, or they can be used as purely stereo FX sends/returns. A big FX Mute button on the front panel is great for muting your FX between songs. A tap button for the delay effect in the top corner of the panel is handy. Its bright, constant flashing can be disabled in the settings, however, I’d prefer if it stopped after a few flashes and then started up again when it was next tapped.
Monitors are easily accommodated across eight mono aux sends which all have a compressor plus parametric and graphic EQs inline. The mono aux sends would normally be used to drive stage speakers while the six stereo aux sends with FX should be enough for IEM or other stereo send requirements. The TF Monitor mix iOS app allows for individual wireless mixing control using up to 10 iPhone or iPad devices. The TF StageMix iPad app allows for wireless control of the mixer enabling remote mixing or monitor set-up. An Android option would be nice, however, you can run the TF Editor application on a Windows PC with multi-touch to set up mixes or control them in real-time. One big advantage of having full control from the screen at all times is that the system is not totally dependent on a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Connection to a DAW via USB allows for record/playback of up to 34 channels and a copy of Nuendo Live is included with the mixer.
New with the latest firmware is the built-in Dugan Sound Automixer, available on channels 1 to 8. Dugan mixers are the standard in automatic mixing systems and widely used in broadcasting, debates/conferences and TV shows. When activated it automatically raises the gain on active channels and lowers the gain on inactive channels. It’s a variation on my ‘the better things sound the louder they get mixed’ rule. Different weightings can be given to each channel and the whole system gain is held to the correct level to avoid any instability or feedback.
WHO’S IT FOR?
The TF Rack can be many things and the application will dictate its function. In some ways it’s a comprehensive general-purpose sound controller rather than a mixer. Its got all the processing needed for regular 16-channel bands if they can be mixed without faders, but it’s probably best suited to corporate applications and situations that require fast and flexible operating. I liked the sound quality and agree with Yamaha’s ‘natural and uncoloured’ description of the recallable D-Pre preamps. The EQ is good, accurate and thorough. The dynamics processors work as described and the FX are normal Yamaha quality. Combine that with the 1-knob multi-functionality and the QuickPro presets and it adds up to an interesting and friendly package. Up to date tech delivered at a reasonable price. Very reasonable when you throw in Dugan automixing.