Sound Devices 664 Field Mixer

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Brandon Hickey

Lightweight, Powerful Mobile Unit Includes Multitrack Recorder


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Sound Devices 664 Field Mixer

Sound Devices creates portable recording products that are sturdy, rugged and loaded with connectors, switches and functions. With all features offered in a small, portable and lightweight frame, each of the company’s releases seems to instantly fill a role as a new standard in field recording. The new 664 production sound mixer combines features from two of their most popular products, the 552 production sound mixer and the 788T production recorder; it supports SD cards or CompactFlash drives.


The 664 is a 6-input portable mixer featuring six full-size XLR inputs that accept mic or line signals. The stereo mix can be output to a pair of full-size XLR connectors, while redundantly feeding a pair of TA3 mini-XLR connectors, and feeding the stereo audio legs of each of the two Hirose 10-pin connectors (which can be broken out to XLRs using the XL-10 breakout cable). While all of these stereo outputs are being fed the main mix bus, two mono mix buses are also provided, each having its own TA3 connector for output. Additionally, each microphone has a direct output via TA3 connector, which can run at mic level as well as pre- or post-fader line level. All of these analog outputs, from the bus outputs to the direct outputs, are transformer-balanced to keep them as clean and noise-free as possible. Typical of Sound Devices, this goal is successfully accomplished, as noise is not a consideration at any point in the circuitry of the unit.

The 664 also has eight possible digital outputs. Each of the XLR outputs can pass two channels of AES3, and each of the 10-pin Hirose connectors can pass a pair of AES3 signals. The digital sends don’t merely mirror the analog outputs. In the menu, there is a routing matrix page, where any of the eight digital outputs can be fed a mix that includes the left and/or right outputs, either or both of two aux outputs, and any or all of the direct outputs. With that, the possibilities of feeding different recording decks, DAWs or digital inputs of cameras are pretty vast.

The input section also provides a healthy complement of options. In addition to accepting mic or line signals, input connectors 1 and 6 double as AES inputs, which can accept AES3 or AES42 signals. For those unfamiliar with AES42, it is a digital protocol designed to work with microphones that convert A/D signal directly from the capsule, before even boosting them to mic level. The idea is to preserve a cleaner signal by avoiding long analog cable runs, while a secondary purpose is to allow remote control of microphone functions like filtering or built-in limiters. While the 664 provides the standard 10-volt AES42 phantom power and a remote gain control, there is not a comprehensive AES42 remote control system to address additional mic functions. If the six inputs provided on the 664 are not enough to accommodate larger setups, like reality TV shows that use many radio mics, an additional six inputs can be added by connecting an optional CL-6 expansion unit.

Mic pre’s on the 664 are not exactly the same as those found in the 302 and 552 mixers. They are a new design, more closely related to the transformerless, transistorized mic pre’s found in the 744T, or the USBPre 2. They are clean and essentially colorless, with a very wide dynamic range. Considering the lack of transformers, and that the pre and power supply are housed in such close proximity, I heard no noticeable noise. Likewise, the limiters, which can be engaged across inputs, did an excellent job of preventing distortion without imparting a great deal of color or character. When engaged, they worked at a preset 20:1 ratio with a 1ms attack and 500ms release, perfect for speech.


Besides being an able mixer, the 664 is also a full-featured multitrack production sound recorder. Each of the mix buses can be recorded to its own track, while each of the six inputs can be recorded separately, as well. When adding the CL-6, its inputs can be summed to each mix bus and recorded separately, expanding the track count to 16. Both the SD recorder and the CF recorder can be used at the same time, and every available track can be recorded to both simultaneously. Alternatively, you can adjust which tracks will feed which media with some degree of discretion. Each card can record everything—just the individual tracks (ISO tracks), just the stereo mix, or just the auxes. This could be very convenient, as an SD card could be used to record the live mix throughout the day and given to the editor to sync dailies, while a large CF drive collects all ISO tracks and reference mixes throughout the day, to be given directly to the post-production audio department.

Each track is recorded with a wealth of metadata. From track names to scene and take numbers to timecode, it’s all there, making it very easy to sync the multitracked audio to edited clips during post. When recording, all tracks for a take are stored together in one convenient file. The free Wave Agent software (which you can download from the Sound Devices Website) can take the single file and break it out to individual tracks, which can then be panned, leveled and auditioned within the software. From there, the required tracks can be exported while preserving all metadata.

The 664 can record 16-bit or 24-bit files at either 44.1 kHz, or all-standard, pulled-up and pulled-down versions of 48 kHz necessary to work with film, video or hybrid workflows. The unit can record BWF files or MP3 files. The one thing it can’t do is record sample rates higher than 48 kHz. Because of this, it is important to note that this is a great all-in-one tool for production dialog, but will probably struggle to gain favor for sound effects gathering. The ability to pitch and stretch audio without producing artifacts is much desired today, and requires audio recorded at higher sample rates.


The main controls and meters for the 664 are presented in a menu system on a sunlight-viewable LCD screen. In a departure from the multi-segmented LED meters found on every other Sound Devices product, including the CL-6 expansion unit for the 664, this device uses graphic meters on the display. This new technology offers the same peak and VU ballistics, color coding and indicators for clipping and limiting as the traditional LED meters, but they just felt a little different. I think it was the fact that the tracks were tightly crowded together and the meters weren’t broken up into segments that made it take a little getting used to. The software metering, however, made it easy to switch meter functionality between different signals.

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