I was in the market for another field mixer. My original choice was the Sound Devices 442 Field Mixer. Sound Devices stopped making the 442 and had replaced it with the 552- the same mixer as the 442 with some nice additions. I ended up getting the Sound Devices 552 Mixer.
The 5th Channel:
The most prominent visible addition to the mixer is the 5th channel. Its very rare now that I need to re-patch inputs or carry a second mixer for extra channels. For most shows I’ll have the first 3 channels as wireless lavs followed by a wireless stick mic and then boom. Not having to patch around during production helps prevent mistakes from happening. Without the second mixer needed for more inputs it also helps keep another stage of gain out of the mix (and another piece of gear off your shoulder.)
Switch-less Input Panel:
The 552 doesn’t have any switches or knobs on the input panel. This helps keep you from mistakenly changing an input setting. For example on the 442, the 1-2 link switch can easily be bumped while patching a mic into input 4. In order to change a simple setting, such as phantom power, you just hold the PFL for the channel and slide the mic/tone switch to the side. The front panel shows you exactly what your input settings are, with LEDs over each input, without having to look at the side of your mixer. In a run-and-gun news gathering situation this is very helpful.
Two New Controls:
The Headphone Controller will obviously control the volume of the headphone amp circuit. It also has the function of controlling the setup menu, VU meter zoom, meter brightness and return volume level. It spins around completely so there are no marks to let you know the volume level just by looking at the control, you have to turn it one click to the right or left- then the VU meter shows the position of the control. I usually keep my headphone volume at the 0 dB mark. The headphone controller can also be pressed- this is how you select your setup menus and the VU meter zoom.
The Recorder Controller is very intuitive. Push it up to record, down to play, left to rewind, right to advance and in to stop/pause. The 552 has a built in recorder that will record up to 96kHz Broadcast WAV or MP3 at varying rates. The recorder will record whatever is routed to AES A, including full program, pre and post-fade inputs or a combination of pre/post-fade plus program. In addition to audio recording, the 552 can replace the left or right channel with external time-code. This is very useful for transcription recordings, just run a cable from the camera during a sit-down interview, the recorder can even start and stop automatically based on external time-code movement.
The 552 monitor selection switch has a new position, REC Source, this is the stereo program routed to AES A. The 552 also lost some switch positions. Return monitoring is in the return section only. The RTN A/B switch has more functionality with the 552. Each return has its own LED to indicate the behavior of the return signals green if its there, red if its clipping and yellow when it is latched. All the functionality from the 442 is retained except for the Mid-Side Left/Right soloing. In EFP and ENG work, I would rarely use MS recording, so this isn’t an issue for me. The 552 has zoom metering- for digital recording. The whole meter scale shifts over to only the upper 20 dB of the scale. There’s a blue LED that lights up when the meters are zoomed. I was recoding an interview with a high profile celebrity. Mid interview I accidentally pressed the headphone controller to activate the meter zoom. I quickly looked to the camera meters and mixed the rest of the interview. I now know what this button does. In the setup menu there is a way to turn off the meter zoom. Another nice monitoring feature is the PFL latch. Instead of holding the PFL switch while setting your levels, it will latch on when held for a second or longer. The channel’s signal LED will blink yellow when in PFL mode.
Have you met SVEN?
Synthetic Voice for Enhanced Navigation, SVEN. The mixer actually talks to you. In addition to the meters indicating the setup function, current settings are announced in the headphones. Because the voice is synthesized, it was a bit difficult to understand at first. Once I knew all of SVEN’s vocabulary it became easier to understand. Its nice not having to refer to the setup menu chart, just enter the setup menu and SVEN tells you where you are. SVEN will tell you more than just the setup menus, it will tell you what time it is, how much time is left on your SD card, and automatically announce when 15, 10, 5, and 2 minutes are remaining.
The 552 has two AES3 digital outputs routable to either the XLR connectors or to the 10-pin connector. Routing is almost unlimited. This opens a huge amount of flexibility when feeding either a single camera or multiple cameras. When feeding a single camera with two AES inputs, you can send a full mix to the first AES input and send two isolated feeds to the camera’s second AES input. When feeding multiple cameras, you can feed two cameras with an AES feed and two more with analogue. The output panel on the 552 is very similar to the 442.On the 552’s output panel, like-connectors are grouped together. The TA connectors are lined up in a row with the TRS connectors are all up top. All the switches for output level are together now, this makes it a bit easier to change Channel 2’s XLR output level. The direct outputs on the 552 have changed as well. Instead of only pre-fader out, the 552 has post-fader signal for each input channel’s direct out. You can set the direct out to be either line or mic-level through the setup menu.
The 552 has a built-in digital recorder with time-code. This frees up space and weight in the audio bag. For sit-down interviews, I just plug into the camera’s time-code out and use the built in recorder for transcription recordings. The mixer will replace channel 1 with time-code and mono the left/right program to channel 2 or stamp the MP3 or WAV file with time-code. Everything is recorded to an SD card inserted into the bottom of the mixer. This is a bit difficult to get to when the mixer is in the bag. I’ve seen SD card reader extensions on the market but haven’t used one. For now, I just tilt the mixer back and pop the card out from the bottom.
High quality field mixer with many options for ins and outs.
Excellent sound quality.
Lots of headroom.
Extremely versatile with inputs, outputs and routing.
Easy to set up.
The SD card slot location is difficult to get to during production.
SVEN is a bit difficult to understand at first, but you’ll get used to its “accent” very quickly.
T Power has been removed from the input section.