Yamaha TF Rack Digital Console

by Vince Lepore
in Road Tests
The Yamaha TF Rack, shown here atop the optional TIO1608 stagebox.
The Yamaha TF Rack, shown here atop the optional TIO1608 stagebox.

Two years ago, I reviewed the then-new Yamaha TF3 (FRONT of HOUSE, June 2015). I enjoyed the console and I saw Yamaha had a winner on its hands, but there was still some work to be done on the firmware. Fast-forward almost two years, and much has advanced with the TF consoles and with Yamaha digital consoles in general.

The past two years have seen the introduction of the PM10 Rivage as well as major firmware updates to the TF, QL and CL series. Not surprisingly, Yamaha has again solidified its current generation of consoles as the de facto standard for rental houses, churches and many large-scale productions. The TF series has come a long way from the Version 1.0 days when I first demoed the mixers, with six major firmware upgrades for the console since May of 2015. That should comfort both current Yamaha owners and prospective buyers. Yamaha continues making incremental improvements to its consoles, and that commitment attracts and retains loyal customers.

Now at version 3.03, the TF Stagemix remote control app is solid and mature.

‡‡         Enter the TF Rack

The original TF lineup included three models. The TF5, TF3 and TF1 were all traditional digital consoles in the sense that they had faders and touch screen. The TF Rack is an entirely new form factor for the TF line, housed in a faderless, 3-rackspace chassis with only a limited set of knobs and buttons on the front panel.

Most the I/O is on the back of the rack unit, although additional remote I/O can be added via an optional Dante card. In the past few years, the rack-mount digital console format has taken off, with many manufacturers offering “surface-less” versions of their mixers. What makes the TF Rack immediately identifiable is a built-in multi-touch screen on the front of the unit. To be sure, several other manufacturers have screens on the front of their rackmount digital mixers, but the ones I’ve seen have been simple displays and not actual touch screens, and certainly not multi-touch screens.

The TF series relies heavily on the touch screen (TF stands for “Touch Flow”), so I appreciated having a fully functional multi-touch screen right on the front of the unit, rather than having to rely completely on an iPad. If you are working from the front panel — rather than from a wired or wireless control computer — there are a limited set of controls such as a “touch and turn” knob, four user-defined knobs, six user defined buttons, four bank buttons that select which fader bank is displayed on screen, an input mute and an FX mute. Of course, most users would work from an iPad using Yamaha’s TF StageMix app, but there are enough controls on the front panel so the mixer is completely operable without an external computer or tablet.

TF Rack rear panel, fitted with optional NY64-D Dante card.

‡‡         I/O Galore

The back of the TF Rack hosts a generous amount of I/O for a mixer of this size. The frame has 16 mic/line inputs plus a stereo input on RCA connectors, eight XLR line outputs and another eight line outputs on TRS. I would prefer that all 16 the line outs were XLRs, although for some people, the TRS might be preferable. In addition to the audio I/O, there are also network ports for wired or wireless control, a USB connection for recording to (the included) Nuendo Live software, and there’s even a 1/4-inch TS connection for a footswitch.

If you need more I/O, Yamaha is now shipping its optional NY64-D Dante card and TIO1608-D stagebox. These can be added to the TF Rack as well as the TF1, TF3 and TF5. Adding remote I/O to the TF Rack requires the Dante card, which fits into a rear-panel slot and adds primary and secondary Dante ports to the system. This connects to the Dante-enabled TIO1608-D — a 16-input, 8-out stage box, similar to Yamaha’s RIO family. The TF Rack has 40 input processing channels, 20 aux buses, a stereo bus and a sub bus, allowing the console to take full advantage of the onboard I/O as well as any additional Dante I/O.

The mixer’s compact 3-rackspace design is ideal in many space-conscious applications.

‡‡         The Sound

The sound quality of the TF series is excellent for a console at this price point. Beyond just the sound of the preamps, Yamaha provides all sorts of excellent tools to sweeten your mix. Some of the tools are geared towards novice engineers and might be misconstrued as being dumbed-down, but in fact, the console offers full control of things like EQ and FX for the more seasoned digital console user.

For users who aren’t savvy with digital consoles, Yamaha includes a host of input channel presets for common mics from manufacturers such as Shure, Sennheiser and Audio-Technica, as well as output EQ presets for speakers and even in-ear monitors from Ultimate Ears. I found the microphone EQ presets remarkably similar to those I’ve created myself, and they would no doubt provide a start for someone who needs to build a great mix quickly. In addition to all of the input channel presets, there is the typical complement of input channel processing, eight FX processors, 10 graphic EQs, auxes 1-8 and the stereo bus have 4-band parametric EQs as well as 31-band Flex12 GEQs. While there are some limitations on the processing, I have a feeling that there is more processing potential under the hood, and Yamaha will continue to unlock more features in the future.

‡‡         Latest Updates

In early April, Yamaha announced version 3.5 for all TF consoles. This new version, available in late May 2017, adds Dugan automixing capabilities to all TF series consoles. This takes the TF to an entirely different level, and before the announcement, I was skeptical that the console even had the processing power available for such an update. Rather than leaving the Dugan automixing for their higher-end consoles, Yamaha has incorporated it into their most affordable digital mixing product. Other manufacturers have automixing capabilities in similarly priced consoles, but most of them are Dugan knock-offs that just don’t perform like the Dugan does.

Despite all of the great updates the TF series has seen over the past two years, I’m confident that there are more to come. Anyone considering a console in the price range should be taking a serious look at the Yamaha TF series.

At a Glance

Compact and Affordable Digital Mixing

Yamaha solidifies its current generation of consoles as the de facto standard for rental houses, churches and many large-scale productions.

Yamaha TF Rack

Pros

  • Top-notch audio quality
  • 34-channel recording and playback with Nuendo Live (included) via USB 2.0
  • Excellent remote control apps (TF Editor for Mac/PC; TF StageMix for iPad; TF Monitor Mix for iOS and Android)

Cons

  • Some processing limitations with FX and Graphic EQs
  • Rack mount form factor doesn’t work in all applications
  • Outputs 9 to 16 are TRS


STATS

  • Inputs: 40 input processing channels max; 16 onboard D-Pre mic preamps
  • Aux Buses: 20
  • Sampling Rate: 48k Hz
  • Dimensions: Three rack space footprint
  • Street Pricing: TF Rack, $1,799; NY64-D Dante Card, $399; TIO1608 stagebox, $999.
  • Manufacturer: Yamaha
  • More Info: www.yamahaca.com