Yamaha QL5--First Impressions; The Less Good

We’re in a series of reviews of the Yamaha QL5. We first saw it at InfoComm and did a video about it. It’s the smaller brother to the CL series, and though it has a little less capacity, it has much of the same feature set. Having recently installed one, and spend a weekend mixing on it, I have some thoughts. I’ve already given you an overview of it, and ticked off the positives. But there are a few things that are tricky.

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

It’s Complex

As I mentioned in the first installment, this is a complicated system. It has a lot of power and with great power comes great complexity. One of the biggest examples of this is the touch screen interface. Now, I’m a fan of touch interfaces. I even really like the touch and turn concept. However, the main view of the channel on the QL is very dense. They tried to pack so much information to a small space that it can be hard to navigate. I watched the team at the church stare at the screen for a lot longer than they should have to looking for the Direct Out section, for example. 

It’s just a really dense interface. There are so many buttons, knobs and expandable windows, it’s hard to know where to do what. And some controls aren’t immediately apparent. For example, to turn on phantom power for a channel, you touch twice on the gain knob and it brings up a new window with additional controls. That makes sense once you know it, but it’s not right in front of you. 

To be fair, the same is true of many digital consoles, including my beloved Digico. But those board don’t pretend to be novice-friendly. They’re for higher end users, and I expect them to be a little harder to figure out. I was hoping the QL would be a little more transparent. 

The Interface Can Be Confusing

There are several setup screens that look really similar but have different functions. Sometimes you don’t know exactly how to get to a feature you were looking for. Because I did all my console set up in the new QL Editor software on my Mac (which, I will say, is vastly improved over Studio Manager), I couldn’t figure out how to rename a channel (double-touch the gain knob, select the name tab). These aren’t deal-breakers, but I kept feeling like they tried to pack too much information into too small a space. The upside is you’re not many button presses away from things; the downside is, controls can be hidden in plain sight. The good news is, most of those issues are set up functions, and you’re not doing them live during a service. 

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Photo courtesy of Yamaha

I Miss Dedicated Controls

Most likely to keep budget down, there are but three EQ knobs on the surface. You access the four bands by pressing one of four buttons below the knobs. Again, I expect this on a $2500 board. But on a $15K board, it feels a bit cheap. Though perhaps it was just that the layout of the controls is the exact opposite of what I’m used to and I kept turning the wrong knob initially. You’d get used to it if you mixed on it regularly. Still, I found it a little slower than I’d like to to rapid EQ adjustments. 

Again, you have touch and turn, so you can just use the touch screen and the single knob, which I ended up doing a lot. Maybe I just have high expectations. 

Virtual Soundcheck Is Harder than I Hoped

The big selling point of digital consoles is virtual soundcheck. Record the tracks just after the A/D conversion and then play them back for practice, system set up, training and show optimization. Again, I’m used to the Digico way—which is probably the second best way out there after Roland’s R1000 system. On a Digico, you simply copy the inputs from one MADI bus to the other, record from bus 2, then hit one button to bring them all back in.

I could be wrong—and I still need to get some education on this—but it appears we’ll be doing a full re-patch of the inputs to get them back in. And there are some tricks to getting all the tracks recorded correctly, especially if your stage and inputs aren’t 1:1. When I go back in a few weeks to finalize the install, I’ll be spending more time with this feature and will update you when I know more. But it’s not as easy as I hoped. 

Like I said before, I like the console and will recommend and install more of them. I don’t think any of these things are deal breakers, but I felt you should know about them. I’ve always said I’ll tell you what I like and don’t like about a product, and that’s all I’m doing. Though that attitude has kept several reviews from running in trade magazines, I’m not afraid to print it here. The QL is a good console, and I think Yamaha will sell a lot of them. For that, I give them props. 

Also, thanks to my buddy Jake Cody who helped me troubleshoot my Dante installation. We had some weird issues, and he was great at helping sort them out. Next week, I’ll pull the curtain back on that adventure.

Roland

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