SOUND DEVICES 664 FIELD PRODUCTION MIXER
Q I'm looking to upgrade from my current sound setup of a Zoom H4n and a Shure FP33 mixer. I feel as if I've pushed the technology as far as I can and I want to get serious about my location sound gear. I can't afford top-of-the-line sound gear, but I want a setup that's as future-proofed as possible. What do you recommend?
A Something for you to consider is working a mixer with an integrated recorder. I work with an inexpensive outboard digital recorder and an analog mixer, as well, and while the combination works and can record surprisingly good-quality sound for a low price, the ergonomics are a mess; the quality of the wired connectors between the low-cost digital recorder and the analog mixer leave a lot to be desired. It makes sense to integrate a digital recorder into a mixer; the two complement each other perfectly.
Sound Devices recently began shipping their new flagship product, the 664 Field Production Mixer, a six-channel production mixer. Personally, I would consider six channels as a minimum to be somewhat future-proofed, but if the six onboard channels aren't enough, what impresses me about the 664 is that the channel capacity can be expanded via a built-in ribbon connector. Expansion capability is a major consideration; you can use the built-in six channels now, and if you need more channels in the future, you have the option of expanding your capability.
The 664 expands upon the outstanding capability of the Sound Devices 552 Production Mixer I wrote about last year. Whereas the recording capability of the 552 was merely integrated for stereo backup recording, the 664 offers expanded input/output connectivity and recording capabilities. Its six input channels have dedicated controls for trim, fader, pan and PFL. The inputs and four output buses are all recordable, for a total of 10 tracks of recording. What impresses me about the future-proofing capability of the mixer is that channels 1 and 6 also can accept AES3 or AES42 input from digital microphones. The 664's inputs and buses can be routed to four AES3 connections for a total of eight digital outputs on XLR and 10-pin connectors. While digital microphones aren't that common today, if their popularity does increase in the future, you're covered with this mixer.
The 664 can record up to 10 tracks, 16- or 24-bit broadcast WAV files, to SD and/or CompactFlash cards. All six inputs and the four outputs are individually selectable for recording, enabling the mixer to record all 10 channels of audio. With the 664's dual card slots, audio can be recorded to either card or both cards simultaneously, with the added ability to assign individual tracks to each memory card. There isn't enough space here to cover all of the features of the 664, but you can read up on all of the specifications at www.sounddevices.com/products/664.
The street price I'm seeing for the 664 currently is $3,995, which isn't inexpensive, but it's actually a pretty reasonable cost when you consider that you're getting six high-quality mic preamps, a top-of-the-line mixer and a premium-quality, 10-track digital recorder. Add some quality microphones and mic support, and I feel you would be set for almost any location sound challenge you can think of at a cost much lower than top-of-the-line competing products like Zaxcom, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars for the same functional capability.