Gez Kahan traces Yamaha’s Commercial Audio Division’s journey from internal solution to market leader
If you want something done properly, do it yourself, they say. Which effectively explains how Yamaha’s Commercial Audio division came into being. Looking at the sleek digital beauty of the M7CL it’s hard to imagine that chance played any part in its development, but if it hadn’t been for the scarcity and high cost of alternatives, it’s unlikely that the company would have ventured into the professional audio market when it did.
“Back in the early 1970s, our musical instrument business was growing rapidly, and so was the scale of the promotional events we were staging in Japan,” explains Seiichi Miyawaki, General Manager of Yamaha’s Commercial Audio Business Unit. “Those events, especially with the growing popularity of rock music and the need for multiple inputs, began to require a proper PA system.”
The choice was limited, however. The modern sound reinforcement industry was still young and the few dedicated PA consoles available were pricey imports – made prohibitively expensive by an adverse exchange rate. “The obvious answer was for our own engineers to come up with a solution,” says Miyawaki. “First we developed our own portable PA system, along the lines of the Shure Vocal Master, quickly followed by our first EM (Ensemble Mixer) and PM (PM200) products.”
The PM (Professional Mixer) range really started with the PM1000 in 1974. “That is when we started to make our presence felt in the professional audio world,” says Miyawaki. “Within a year it was establishing itself as a popular choice for rock bands, and a lot of tours specified PM1000 on their riders. Also, a bunch of PM1000s were used at the opening ceremony of the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976. And that same year we brought out the P2200, our first professional power amp.”
Two years later, the PM2000 was released. Weighty, at 146kg even though it only had 24 input channels, it soon acquired a heavyweight reputation to match.
“The PM2000 was world-class, it was used on a lot of world-class tours, and it really established our live mixer credentials,” Miyawaki says, adding that its 8 Bus, 8 Aux, 8 Matrix format also set the pattern for subsequent models. But Yamaha was still innovative, still pushing the boundaries.
”In 1985, we came out with the PM3000, which was the world’s first VCA-equipped live mixing console. At that time, some recording consoles had VCAs, but no live consoles did – so when we presented it to Japanese live sound engineers, some of them were reluctant to use it because of a rumor that the VCA circuitry would cause latency or drastically color the sound. But that was nothing more than imagination – fear of the new. Within three months practically all of them were happy with the PM3000 and happy with its VCAs. As were a lot of other engineers: the PM3000 eventually sold more than 1,200 units worldwide – and some of them are still in use even today.”
Yamaha’s analog mixer business continued to build on those foundations while keeping pace with the growing requirements of the industry. “By the early 1990s, the size of bands and concerts had grown to a point where you needed at least 48 input channels,” explains Miyawaki. “For instance, drums – which had previously needed only 5 microphones – had come to need 16 mics in large concerts. So we developed the PM4000 – our first console with a 48-input channel option. And in 2003,” he continues, “we launched the PM5000, the development code of which was ‘CODA’. We meant it to be our last analog large format console, and we worked very hard to make it a really good sounding one.”
But Yamaha had long realized that the future was digital – the company was one of the founding developers of the MIDI digital control standard in the early 80s, but its engineers had also been developing expertise in digital sound processing. “In 1986, we introduced the SPX90 digital multi-effect processor, based on Yamaha’s first generation custom DSP chip called DSP1,” Miyawaki recalls. “We had started to develop transistors in the late 50s for our Electone organs and it evolved into cutting-edge audio DSP technology some 30 years later.” Those in-house DSP chips found applications not only for signal processors but also mixing consoles.
“The advent of MIDI brought with it a radical change for keyboard players,” he continues. “They started to play a master keyboard, mixing a bunch of tone generators using MIDI program changes. But they had a problem: they couldn’t automatically adjust volume levels, EQ and effect settings when switching from one tone to another. Around the same time, live sound engineers were also demanding a mixer that could instantly adjust volume levels, EQ and effect settings, song by song or band by band. Responding to such requests from the market, we put out our first digital console, the DMP7, in 1987.
“It was a small console – 8 channels and two mic preamps – but it was equipped with three internal effects, motorized faders, etc. It took our competitors by surprise. When it was launched at InterBEE show in Japan, competitors’ engineers, who were also developing digital mixers back then, rushed to our booth, checked the DMP7 out, and were amazed that it was so compact. They even wondered if it was a real product. It created a great sensation.”
It wasn’t perfect, of course. In particular, AD/DA converters were quite primitive in those days and the signal-to-noise ratio – at 90dB or less –was a problem. “But,” Miyawaki adds, “the sound quality in the digital domain was good enough. So we developed a full digital version and a year later we debuted the DMP7D, with digital I/Os.”
Not every product was a hit. The DMR8 digital 8-track mixer/recorder, introduced in 1990 was well-spec’d – a 20-bit machine with a stationary head – and aimed at professional musicians who were dreaming of setting up a professional level studio at home. But despite its technological superiority it was too expensive for musicians. “The investment in this product didn’t pay off,” says Miyawaki, “but we learned a lot from the project.” The payoff came with the DMC1000 digital mixing console. “Professional recording engineers were expecting Yamaha to develop something that would seriously match the Sony PCM3324/3340 or Mitsubishi X850. The DMC1000, using our second generation DSP2 chip, was our answer and it was eagerly embraced by the industry – Deutsche Gramophone, one of the leading classical music labels, purchased more than 20 units for their portable recording systems.”
Thereafter the pace of development was breathtaking – as was the take up in the market. The ProMix01 – a new generation of the DMP7 – came out in 1994. Its focus was on live sound mixing, but it found takers in the production market, too. “Demand from the recording market was so strong that we equipped it with an SPDIF 2-track output,” Miyawaki says. “The ProMix01 was very well received by both live sound and recording sectors and became a monumental product that cut our way to where we currently are.”
With ADAT revolutionizing recording methods, demand for a full digital system was high. “In 1995 we introduced the 02R, using YGDAI (Yamaha General Digital Audio Interface) open architecture – which turned out to be a very good idea – and employing the third generation DSP chip, the DSP3. This chip was the first Yamaha LSI (Large-Scale Integration) chip dedicated to audio mixing, developed specifically for 02R, and capable of handling 8 channels of full mixing function with EQ and dynamics.” The 02R sold more than 22,000 units worldwide, and was followed, in 1997, by the 03D and 02RV2, Yamaha’s first consoles to provide surround sound mixing. Meanwhile the 01V, successor to the ProMix01 was introduced in 1998.
The stage was now set for the development of the PM1D, Yamaha’s first large format digital live mixing console. “This was a big challenge for us,” says Miyawaki. “It was not only a console but a kind of networked audio system. At its heart was a DSP engine with I/O boxes and a control surface connected in star topology. And the PM1D was the world first mixing system that adopted the stage box concept.”
It worked – and it’s still current. “We usually envisaged a 7-year life cycle for our analog PM consoles,” he notes. “I am proud to say that this 8-year old digital PM console is still available now!”
And innovation still proceeds apace. The year 2000 also saw the launch of the DME series; two years later came the DM2000, 02R96, and PC0N power amps; in 2004, the DM1000, 01V96 and SPX2000 followed, along with the PM5D console plus the DME24N and DME64N – all still market-leading products – while Yamaha also expanded into new markets, with its Installation Series speakers launched in 2005.
The technology and design are also undergoing constant improvement – just look at the ergonomics of the elegant M7CL or the astonishing price:performance power packed in the LS9 series. “We’ve just celebrated our 35th anniversary of analog mixer manufacture, our 30th of power amps, and 20th of digital mixers,” concludes Miyawaki,” and, actually, we’ve only just started…”
|entry into the professional mixer market|
|first power amp|
|establishes 8 bus/8 aux/8 matrix architecture|
|first live console with VCAs|
|digital effects & first custom DSP chip|
|first digital mixing system|
|all digital, inc I/Os|
|high specification digital mixer/recorder|
|digital mixing for high end studios|
|our first 48-input channel option|
|opens the markets for digital live sound and recording mixing|
|with YGDAI open architecture plus dedicated audio mixing chip|
|first consoles offering surround sound mixing|
|first generation large format digital live mixing console & first generation of DME|
|our last analog large format console|
|2003 onwards||DM1000/2000, 02R96, PM5D, LS9, DME24N/64N, Tn series, TXn series...|
To be continued