Sound Devices 788T Multitrack Recorder Review

Apr 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Robert Brock

PORTABLE FIELD UNIT WITH EIGHT PREAMPS, TIMECODE, FLEXIBLE I/O

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The 788T’s front panel features 112-segment (8x14-inch) sunlight-viewable meters, gain control and a backlit LCD screen offering a variety of system information.

The 788T’s front panel features 112-segment (8x14-inch) sunlight-viewable meters, gain control and a backlit LCD screen offering a variety of system information.

Since its founding in 1998, Sound Devices has specialized in manufacturing field-production audio recorders, mixers and accessories for film/video production, broadcasting, acoustical test/measurement, sound effects gathering and live music recording. The company's latest product is the 788T, a portable, 8-channel, hard disk/Flash-based location recorder with eight whisper-quiet preamps, 12 tracks, recording at sample rates up to 96 kHz, 160GB internal hard drive and an optional 8-channel mixing/control surface.

Off to the Races

I traveled to Crandon, Wis., to record location sound for a documentary about the year's biggest short-course, off-road truck race. I knew I'd need to be highly mobile while working from dawn till dusk with no access to AC — a perfect opportunity to use the 788T. The project unfolded very quickly, so I literally had to learn the 788T on-the-fly while on the three-hour plane trip to Green Bay, Wis. I was able to tuck the 1.8×10.1×6.4-inch recorder into the seat pocket in front of me. Although it's relatively light at less than four pounds, it feels extremely solid and durable.

On power up, the 788T reveals extremely bright LEDs and an easy-to-read LCD. The LCD is monochrome, but the backlight turns green during playback and radioactive-red when you press Record.

To navigate the 788T, there are a variety of multifunction buttons, toggle switches and rotary encoders. I found that getting around the recorder was surprisingly intuitive and fast. Pressing the Menu button reveals a long list of features that are accessible by turning the scroll knob, which reveals the 788T's extensive options and capabilities. Plus, the well-written manual cleared up anything that wasn't obvious on the interface. By the time I landed, I was very comfortable operating the unit. I walked off the plane confident that I would have a trouble-free weekend, and I'm pleased to say that I was right.

Upon arriving in Crandon, I met with the film's director, who had a Holophone H3D surround mic ready to meet its new mate. The 788T has eight balanced inputs configured as four XLRs and four smaller TA-3 connectors that are common with wireless receivers, so I used two adapters to wire in the Holophone's six XLR outputs. Each analog input has a wonderful-sounding mic preamp, complete with phantom power, polarity inversion, variable highpass filter and limiter. You can adjust these options by selecting the desired channel with one of four toggle switches that sit between the odd/even pair of input gain knobs, and then pressing the multipurpose buttons that surround the screen.

The unit's eight preamp knobs pop out for adjustment and press back in to minimize the risk of changing them inadvertently. Input gain is displayed numerically in the LCD, but trying to match the exact level for the five main mics of the H3D was difficult, as the knobs are just a bit larger than an eraser tip. A menu option lets users link odd/even inputs or any sequential series of inputs up to eight.

I loved the LED rings that encircle each of the preamp knobs. The rings glow green with the intensity of the signal, turn yellow when the limiter kicks on and show red for a clip. This made it easy to identify and fix level problems in an extremely dynamic environment.

Juicing It Up

Activating the preamps significantly impacts the 788T's battery life. With six preamps using phantom power, I could record three continuous hours using the included 4,600mAH battery. Having spare power is essential, so Sound Devices designed the 788T to use the commonly available Sony “L”-type video camera batteries. The battery compartment's open-back design accommodates a variety of different physical sizes with different capacities. Turning a preamp all the way down clicks it off to preserve power. Preamps draw a lot of power, so I'd like to have the ability to turn them all off without losing my gain settings. Alternatively, I could have simply turned off the 788T, but its 15-second power-up time proved to be too long for capturing the sound of those unexpected moments — like a multitruck pileup.






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