Yamaha recently introduced an addition to the M7 line with the M7CL-48ES. It’s basically an M7 but with only 8 analog inputs and 8 analog outputs on the control surface, along with an EtherSound port to connect up to three 1608ES Stage Boxes. So instead of eating up your three card slots with EtherSound cards to connect your 1608 ESs, you plug them right into the EtherSound port. I guess it’s Yamaha’s way of entering the mid-range digital snake range.
My guess is they are feeling the pressure from Allen&Heath (with their iLive series), Soundcraft (Vi series) and Roland (M400 system). Though Yamaha started early in the control surface/stage box game with the now-discontinued PM1D, they haven’t really done anything since then (with the possible exception of the poorly executed PM5D-EX). This new product at least gives them the ability to create a 48×24 stage box connected and remotely controlled via a single Cat-5e cable, a real boon to installs with no room for a new snake pull and touring sound companies who want to lighten the copper load.
It’s not hard to add three stage boxes to a regular M7, though it does eat up all your card slots. And while that configuration does give you 96 mic pre’s and 40 outputs, both versions of the M7CL-48 remain limited to 56 input channels (48 mono + 4 stereo line) and 27 mix busses (16 Aux, 8 Matrix—which may as well be Auxes, L, R & M). FOH magazine reports MSRP to be around $22,000, but it’s unclear if that includes the 1608ES Stage Boxes or not (my guess is not—those normally sell for around $3,500 ea.). So by the time you’re done, it’s likely you’ll be approaching $30,000.
So is this worth getting excited about? Maybe; if you were looking for a mid-sized digital console with a digital snake, this is a good option. On the other hand, the iLive offers more input channels (64) and more mix busses (32). The Si2 is a 48×23 system, albeit with no digital snake, while the Vi4 is a similar 48×27 with both stage and local racks (plus really cool color displays). The Roland M400 is also 56×27, but it’s less than 1/2 the price of the M7 (and can be paired with the superior M48 personal monitor system).
It seems to me Yamaha has entered an extremely competitive market segment with another me-too product. Arguably, the M7 is the desk that created the segment, but time waits for no one. On the plus side, they also announced V3 of the software for the M7 which will include Direct Sends on Fader access from the M7CL knobs in Sends on Fader mode, Sends on Fader in M7CL Editor (finally—insert angel voices singing here!); new Recall Safe parameters (Input Patch, Output Patch, Direct Out Patch, Insert Out Patch); inclusion of VCM Effects (Comp 276/276s, Comp 260/260s, Open Deck, EQ601). Honestly, I’m more excited about version 3 of the software than anything else, especially the sends on fader mode in the editor. That will finally make mixing monitors using an M7 and a laptop or tablet a useful option.