The cost of home-recording equipment has dropped dramatically over the last decade. Digital multitrackers (devices that record more than one track simultaneously), in particular, have gone from novelty to serious replacement for the traditional studio.
When you consider that renting a studio with equivalent hardware to the Yamaha AW1600 can cost upwards of £100 an hour (in many cases £500 an hour might be a more realistic figure), recorders like this one begin to look increasingly viable. With the AW1600, you get a 16-track studio (eight when recording at 24-bit) packed into a desk not much larger than a briefcase. There's also a built-in CD-R drive for burning your finished mixes to CD.
While there's a burgeoning interest in PC- and Mac-based home recording, the integrated, solid-state nature of the AW1600 makes it an attractive alternative to the complications of software-based computer recording systems. If you want to spend all your time making music, without the hassle of maintaining a computer, solid-state is the way to go.
It's important to realise that while the AW1600 won't magically bestow you with the skills of a good mixing and mastering engineer, it will give you access to the same essential toolset these experts use. Though the traditional studio still has its place, and you'll probably want to use a professional mastering engineer at the end of the job, it's theoretically possible to record a hit single with the AW1600 -- the audio quality is certainly there.
You could never accuse a mixing desk of being clearly laid-out, these mixers are inherently daunting to the newcomer. But once you've realised that most of those knobs and sliders are repeated across the desk, one set for each track, the whole concept becomes a lot more manageable.
If you're familiar with the old Fostex four-track tape-based multitrackers, you'll have a solid grounding for getting to grips with the AW1600. The rear of the unit provides sockets for your instruments. This is the logical place to put them and keeps cabling out of the way of the front control panel. You can run cables off a desk from the rear of the AW1600 and across the floor to your microphones, as you would with a regular PA desk.
The sliders on the Yamaha have a fluid action, which allows for plenty of fine-level adjustment, there's also a series of rotary pot controls which let you adjust the input gain for each of your instruments or microphones. As with all the controls on the AW1600, these are sturdy and resilient to knocks. There's a small amount of lateral travel in the sliders and pots, but nothing that concerned us.
The red master volume control is clearly distinguished from the other sliders, making you more likely to check that it's not maxed out and about to damage speakers. The transport controls have been given clear, bold buttons on the lower right area of the desk. These are raised like computer keys and depress a satisfying 5mm when used. In the centre of the control panel there's a clear and bright LCD screen with big loop sample buttons beneath and EQ controls to the right.
The whole desk is encased in a very tough metal chassis similar to that seen on other professional studio equipment. Thick rubber feet on the underside of the unit keep it from slipping off the desk, but for work on location, you'll want to invest in a hard case to keep in safe during transit.
The AW1600 has been designed as a beginning-to-end solution to home-audio recording. Once you've recorded your instruments onto tracks you can mix, master and, finally, burn your songs to CD using the built-in CD-R/W drive located beneath the main control panel. A 40GB internal hard disk stores audio in the interim, and there's always the option to plug the AW1600 into your computer to back up the audio in WAV format -- it mounts on any file system as a generic USB drive. This also makes the AW1600 ideal for recording a live performance -- at a gig, for example -- then transferring your audio tracks onto a computer workstation for mixing and mastering.
There are eight XLR inputs on the AW1600, each with phantom power. Phantom power is used to power condenser microphones, which offer superior sensitivity to dynamic microphones like the ubiquitous Shure SM58 (which does not require phantom power). You can turn phantom power off for groups of inputs if you're using unbalanced (non-XLR) cables.