Sound Devices 552 captures dynamic audio for 'War Elephants'

When sound engineer David Ruddick was presented with the challenge of finding portable audio gear that would hold up in the rugged terrain and extreme climate of Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park for an upcoming National Geographic elephant documentary, he turned to Sound Devices' 552 production mixer.

In order to record audio for "War Elephants," which aired last month, Ruddick joined Dr. Joyce Poole, an elephant behavior expert, and her brother Bob Poole, a wildlife cameraman for National Geographic, to help re-establish safe tourism in the park now that the country's civil war has ended and ivory poaching has been recently abated.

For the documentary, Bob Poole rebuilt a Land Rover and made an "elephant proof roll cage" to help prove he and his sister's theory, that the Gorongosa elephants could learn that not all humans in vehicles visiting the park are bad. The theory was that when a vehicle encounters a group of elephants, instead of driving away or honking a horn or screaming in fear as an elephant charges, you hold your ground and try to stay calm. When the elephants learn that the vehicle and people inside are not a threat or out to do any harm, they will go about the business of being elephants, and not chasing safari tourists every time they see them. The theory worked, but there were a lot of tense moments and close calls involved in proving it.

When Ruddick arrived on location he found out that he would not be able to ride in the elephant-proof Land Rover. Instead, he would drive a second vehicle that would follow the Land Rover. Ruddick set up the 552 in the passenger seat with two shark fin antennas attached to the wireless receivers and had transmitters on Joyce and Bob and plant mics in the car. The mix was then sent to the camera via a wireless link.

The 552 contains five precision high-dynamic-range transformer-balanced microphone inputs with expanded gain and headroom. Each input accepts audio sources of various types and levels. Inputs have their own limiter, sweepable high-pass filter, and pre-or-post-fade direct output.

The 552 has an integrated two-track, digital audio recorder writing industry-standard Broadcast Wave files to SD and SDHC media. A simple joystick controller is used to take command of recording functions. Either WAV or MP3 files can be recorded. Recordings can be either 24 or 16 bit, with WAV files having sampling rates from 44.1kHz up to 96kHz.

With its three sets of balanced master outputs (plus numerous unbalanced connections), the 552 provides complete connectivity for multi-camera and complex production setups. Additionally, a digital output option is available for either the XLR connectors or the 10-pin multipin outputs. When selected in the Setup Menu, the master XLR outputs can output four channels of 24-bit (or 16-bit) AES/EBU signals, the source of which is selected in the Setup Menu.

The 552, like all Sound Devices professional audio products, are designed to withstand the physical and environmental extremes of field production. The 552 uses molded, metalized carbon fiber top and bottom chassis panels for increased durability and weight reduction. Additionally, its front panel is gasketed for improved resistance to moisture.