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 rear

The menus were very easy to navigate, with clear names for main headings and consistent formatting and navigation throughout. As usual with Sound Devices, to fit all controls into a small space, many of the knobs, switches and buttons perform a multitude of functions. For example, after pushing a button to get into the system menu, the headphone control became the control for scrolling through menus and provided the push-button for selecting things. The PFL switches, when flipped in the opposite direction, pulled up that input’s menu on the display, granting access to functions like output routing, input type or phantom power. That is slick because rather than feeling around the surface and encountering a thousand switches when looking for the right one, having a handful of hot spots made it easy to feel at home all the time. In the menus there is also a cheat sheet of control combinations that perform routine functions like dimming the display, for example.

Each channel has physical controls for input gain, highpass filter and panning. All of these knobs pop up out of the unit and can recess flush with the surface when not needed. Because of this, the fact that one channel’s filter is nearly touching the next channel’s gain controls is not terribly problematic. Both of these controls are located within close proximity to the fader, however, making it very easy to bump one control when adjusting the other. This layout is no different than that found on the already popular 552 mixer, so it obviously has not proven a deal-breaker in the past. The faders are really fast, which, once mastered, made it very easy to do quick crossfades from one actor’s mic to another’s.

Advanced Workflows

Because the 664 is designed to be the central nervous system of large multi-camera, multi-miked shoots, advanced monitoring and communication functionality is also provided. The 10-pin connectors are each designed to run to a different camera. Six of the pins are used to send the two balanced signals to be recorded in stereo to the camera. This leaves four more wires on the multi-wire cable, and three of them are used to return an unbalanced stereo signal from the camera. A third unbalanced stereo camera return is also provided using a 1/8-inch TRS connector.

The metering section can be toggled to display meters for the three return paths, and each of them can be soloed and monitored through headphones. A pair of TA-3 connectors for communication send and return are also provided, and the comm return can also be monitored through the headphones. A built-in slate mic, or a mic connected to the TA3 “Slate Mic In” jack, can feed any or all of the outputs so that it can be used to mark all cameras and recorders with a voice slate.

In Use

I used the 664 for a small interview-style shoot using a boom mic and a couple of handhelds. For my purposes, it was perfect. All sound was captured directly to the internal SD card, with a reference printed to the camera’s audio track. Mastering the unit took only a few minutes. Everything was so intuitive and was exactly where you would expect it to be. The sound of the mic pre’s was fantastic, and with unpredictable spikes being tamed by the limiters, level setting was as comfortable as could be.

I ran the unit off of the power supply, as the shoot was indoor and stationary. The 664 can run off of five AA batteries, but this seems to be a backup only. I tried NiMh batteries as recommended and the battery meter drained quickly, started flashing and an alarm bell began to sound. I turned off the alarm through the menus but the batteries only lasted about an hour while only phantom powering one mic. Also worth noting is that the unit does not recharge your NiMh batteries when connected to the power supply. A firmware update to Version 1.3 is supposed to offset the low battery indicator to a lower level.

As an alternative, the 664 can run off of an NP-type battery and the XL-NPH battery enclosure would be a recommended accessory if you want to use this unit portably. When switching between packs, or switching between an external battery pack and the power supply, the unit can switch to the internal AAs without powering down the unit, so fast power changes can be made on the fly without cutting out audio or communication. That, I thought, was very handy.

A New Standard

The 664 is like a 788T with a slightly reduced track count and an integrated fader-based mixer, all for under $5k. As good as it sounds, and easy as it is to use, with the market already established, the 664 is sure to be an instant classic.

Brandon Hickey works as an independent production sound and Foley jockey, educator, and audio engineer.

TRY THIS

When recording production sound, the expectation is that some audio from the set will be unusable. Because of this, recording dialog in a studio, a process known as ADR is required. Blending the sound of ADR recorded in a completely different environment than the production sound takes isn’t always easy. Because of this, it can be quite helpful to record impulse responses on sets or locations where shooting takes place, right to the production sound recorder. These sonic snapshots of spaces can be loaded into a convolution reverb, which can re-create the original ambience and be applied to ADR lines.






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