First announced at IBC2009, Sound Devices is now shipping the new 552 portable production mixer, the company’s first to feature a fully integrated digital audio recorder. Ideal for both simple, run-and-gun applications and in complex, multi-input/output production setups, Sound Devices’ 552 contains five precision, high dynamic range, transformer-balanced microphone inputs with expanded gain and headroom. Managing director Jon Tatooles demonstrated the product during an exclusive interview at AES.
According to Tatooles, the key design element was the addition of a fifth input channel in the same size case as the company’s industry-standard 442 mixer. “Our customers, especially those doing reality TV and scripted dramas, were continually telling us, ‘What we want is one more channel, so we can do four wireless units and a boom. We need five channels.’ So when we went to upgrade the 442, that was an important part of our direction,” Tatooles said. Side by side, the new 552 trumps the 442 in weight, which at 3lbs is actually lighter yet stronger, due to the use of a metalized carbon-fiber case.
Operationally, the integrated digital recorder is another obvious upgrade. Using standard SD or SDHC cards, the recorder writes broadcast .WAV or MP3 files at resolutions up to 24-bit, 96kHz. It can be set up to record any two input channels, pre- or post-fader, and is set to default to capturing the stereo mix outputs.
According to Tatooles, Sound Devices went to great lengths to provide a wide range of upgrades designed to make the location soundman’s job a little easier. For instance, any changes to the setup menu, such as changing from 48V to 12V of phantom power, are actually spoken into the headphone feed by “Sven,” a voice-prompted setup and option menu and the voice of the 552. “That’s a strictly practical consideration,” Tatooles said. “Most of these engineers are carrying a lot of gear around, and the verbal status reports lets them navigate the 522 and make changes to routings and settings without ever looking at the product. So if he wants to know his remaining record time, the next file name, whatever is needed, he doesn’t have to take his eyes off the production to read the status.”
At the heart of each of the 552’s five microphone inputs is a high-performance, studio-grade Lundahl input transformer, which provides freedom from interference in even the most severe RF and EMI environments. In terms of channel design, the 552 manages to provide most functions of a console-style mixer. Each input channel has its own limiter, continuously variable high-pass filter and pre- or post-fade direct output. Each input channel has a solo switch, which routes directly to the headphones by default.
The Sound Devices 522 is designed with sunlight-viewable, 21-segment peak/VU meters with zoom mode. The model is also equipped with a voice-prompted setup and option menu. The 552 features field-upgradeable firmware and is powered by four AA batteries or an external 10-18VDC. To accommodate the wide range of signals from wireless mics, Sound Devices engineers moved the mic/line switches on the 522 to the front panel for easier access. Selectable AES/EBU outputs at 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz and 96kHz sampling rates and four channels of digital outputs can be sent to cameras and recorders digitally.
“We’ve added lots of upgrades based on input from our users in the field,” Tatooles said. “For instance, you can set up a private line between the engineer and his boom op, using one of the headphone feeds and the slate mic to create a private intercom.”
He emphasizes that, even with all its new capabilities, the Sound Devices 522 mixer retains its core functionality of providing exceptional audio regardless of physical and environmental extremes. “When you add up the integrated digital recorder and the extra input channel and lighter weight, all in the same physical size, then consider all the new little hooks and tricks we’ve added, it’s fair to say that new 522 field mixer is much more than a upgrade,” Tatooles said. “It’s a whole new level of audio technology for field production.”