Sound Devices Steps Up During Pandemic

Sound Devices Steps Up

In 2017, I purchased the Sound Devices Mix Pre 3, a small mixer/recorder that’s perfect for more video-oriented users who want to record better quality audio as well.

First, a bit of history on my part. I’ve been using equipment from manufacturer Sound Devices for about 10 years. I’m not a full-time location sound mixer; I record sound on many of my own projects and I occasionally mix sound for friends, colleagues and clients. I’ve always had an affinity for sound; I worked in a recording studio as a gofer/intern when I was 15 and for a few summers after that, so I was always around musicians, sound equipment and recording equipment.

My Experience With Sound Devices Products

Once I began to point my compass toward television and film production, I still enjoyed keeping my finger in the audio side of the equation. Sound Devices has been a significant player in location sound recording for quite a while. About a year and a half ago, I invested in a Sound Devices Mix Pre 3 recorder mixer. While its feature set is much more limited than its larger and more fully-featured cousins in the top of the Sound Devices lineup, even the inexpensive Mix Pre 3 features the company’s Kashmir microphone preamps.

To my ear, these preamps rival much more expensive mic preamps in other brands. They have a smooth, pleasant sound that makes voices sound great. The simple design of the Mix Pre 3 and its high-quality preamps make it a great tool for more video-oriented shooters. It’s simple enough to figure out and use, and it allows you to record your tracks as well as feed them out to camera. So, you end up with either a scratch track on your camera and a high-quality recording or, if you need to use your camera tracks, even without syncing the Mix Pre recording, the higher quality mic preamps will sound better than the ones in your camera. It’s a rare win-win device as there’s little downside to using it and lots of potential upside for those simple or low-budget shoots where you just can’t hire a location sound mixer and have to take care of your audio yourself.

Sound Devices Steps Up
The Sound Devices FS-1 is the firm’s first PPE face shield. Since the COVID-19 pandemic came into the picture, Sound Devices changed its manufacturing focus to helping healthcare professionals and essential workers.

Sound Devices Steps Up

I’m typing this blog entry from quarantine. As most of us are in month two of not being able to work or to go out much past the grocery store or doctor’s office unless we’re an essential worker, I thought it would be interesting to see how a company that makes sound gear is coping with a market that has essentially been shut down worldwide for almost two months. Sound Devices is based in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. As I’m sure you have read from the headlines since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been a severe shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals and other essential workers throughout the United States as well as in many other parts of the world. Since early April 2020, the company has switched from making audio equipment for the media industry to face shields for local hospitals and other essential businesses and services during the pandemic to help those on the front lines.

Sound Devices Steps Up
The open-source plans for the face shield came from a design firm called Delve.

Sound Devices downloaded open-source plans for the face shields from Delve, a product design firm that provides strategy, design and engineering for all kinds of products. The company posted the open-source design files that Sound Devices needed to manufacturer the face shields. With something as crucial to healthcare frontline workers as PPE, it would have been a time-consuming trial and error process to develop a new design from scratch. Open source for a solution like this is an amazing tool as it allows any light manufacturer to begin production immediately with a design, measurements and materials lists that have already been proven to work.

Sound Devices Steps Up
Page one of four of Delve’s open-source plans for the PPE face shield.

You can check out the Open source document here. It’s worth it to take a look at the simple, clean and economical design. Sound Designs co-founder Matt Anderson said, “Luckily, we’re right near the University of Wisconsin, and these are local businesses and friends; we’re indebted to them for the design.”

Sound Devices Steps Up
Sound Devices workers have been putting in time on the clock to ramp up production of the FS-1 to around 100,000 units per week.

The Deployment Game Plan

When asked about product distribution, Anderson replies, “We’re selling these products direct to hospitals at our cost to make them. Hospitals can reach out to [email protected]. We’re also now selling them on our web store at www.sounddevices.com.” The Sound Devices engineers and Anderson worked for an entire weekend each at the beginning of March, via Zoom, from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. on designing tooling to ramp up production. The end result of the hours put in was a fully functioning “shield press” that Sound Designs has put into production. The company has produced over 30,000 shields and is getting ready to ramp up into mass production to achieve much higher output. Securing enough raw materials has been just as challenging as the actual manufacturing with Sound Devices purchasing agents scouring the country and partnering with foreign offices to secure raw materials internationally as well.

Sound Devices Steps Up
During World War II, most American manufacturing devoted themselves to the war effort. During the pandemic, it’s encouraging to see American manufacturers doing the same thing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

What Does This Mean?

Since first beginning mass manufacturing, Sound Devices is now producing about 100,000 face shields per week. The units are single use and disposable, a necessity for frontline workers where facilities don’t exist for sterilization of reusable shields, so continued high-volume output is planned for the foreseeable future. For me, I’m in absolute awe that a relatively small niche business that makes tools for those of us in the location sound side of production has stepped up to the plate to help healthcare professionals and essential workers do their jobs with significantly less risk of exposure to the virus.

Sound Devices Steps Up
An auto assembly plant in Detroit manufacturing P-38 fighter aircraft, a crucial weapon used to help win the war.

This entire saga harkens back to the early days of World War II when U.S. manufacturers shut down their production lines for their regular products to work together to manufacture tanks, planes, guns and munitions to help to win the war. At the time, the survival of our country was at stake. Here in 2020, it’s not hyperbole to say that we’re in a similar position except with a very different adversary. I commend Sound Devices for their efforts at doing the right thing. I will definitely remember this when buying or recommending location sound  recorder/mixers in the future when life and hopefully production resumes the new normal. Sound Devices, by their selfless example, deserves to do well.   

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