December 22, 2008
First Look 60 Minutes with the Sound Devices CL-8
by Nick Huston

The Sound Devices CL-8 for use with the 788T is one of the most highly anticipated products in recent memory. The extensive roster of reported capabilities has created a lot of buzz around the 8 channel control surface. Pre-order lists are long and CL-8s are in short supply. However, we had our first CL-8 in store in early December and were able to do a quick evaluation of the CL-8, putting it through its paces with a 788T for the owner-to-be.

Physically, the CL-8 is made using a combination of the same durable chassis material that the 788T is made of and the mixing knobs and buttons on the 442 mixer. The only visible weak spot is the USB cable used to connect the CL-8 to the 788T. The cable, as far as cables go, looks fairly robust; it seems slightly thicker than your standard USB cable not to mention that the end that plugs into the 788T has a right angle USB connector with rubber padding around the connector. While this special connector no doubt helps to preserve the USB port on the 788T while taking some of the strain off the connector itself, Id recommend using a larger battery or similar object to prop up the 788T to help further reduce the strain on this cable. As great as this cable is, all cables tend to wear out faster than the equipment associated with them, especially in the field. My main concern was how do you replace this cable, if necessary? It runs right out the back of the CL-8 and could be wired directly to a complex piece of circuitry in the CL-8. However, we dug further and removed the small screws that hold the strain relief for the cable in place revealing the inner workings of the CL-8. Lo and behold, the inside of the CL-8 is fairly roomy and includes a connector for the other side of the cable, meaning that the USB cable is easily replaceable and in a pinch one could use a standard USB cable from a printer as a replacement. *Phew*

Next, we attached the CL-8 to the 788T. This is a fairly straight forward mechanical process that is not at all necessary to the functionality of the control surface. Four screws and two rods are removed from the CL-8 and two screws in the front rods (either top or bottom) of the 788T are removed. The CL-8 rods are replaced with new rods that allow two longer screws to pass directly through to either the top or bottom of the front rods in the 788T where they are screwed together. This is a nice feature as some people may want to have the mixing knobs on top of the recorder to allow them to have an easier time of mixing by keeping the knobs away from their body or some may prefer to have them on the bottom to be able to see the levels on the recorder itself. There may even be those who prefer not to attach the control surface, preferring to keep the units separate. While the simplicity is wonderful, I have concerns about the long thin screws being able to hold up to the consistent rigor of field work. When stress was put on the 788T and CL-8 in opposing directions there did seem to be some give between the two units. For my wish list, add something to the back of the CL-8 to secure it to the 788T.

Now that we had everything connected, it was time to get the CL-8 and the 788T ready to talk to each other. As with everything in the digital world, new equipment requires new software to use it and our 788T was in need of that software. Sound Devices update process is generally very straightforward: download the new software copy onto the Sound Devices product, tell it to update, and a few minutes later, presto! The update process to v1.60 is slightly more involved as it includes a lot of new features including adding CL-8 functionality and the ability to record on 12 tracks. The whole process takes about 20 minutes as the 788T updates and turns itself off. After that, the update process must be run again for another 20 minutes, presumably to finish all of the new programming. Once done, the 788T recognized the CL-8 and we were ready to go!

But alas, we only had 60 minutes to prep the CL-8 and with 40 minutes of updating and all of the mechanical tinkering that had to be done, we were out of time. The CL-8 had to be packed up to go to its new home. That being said, the CL-8 looks and feels impressive and robust. If this add-on to the 788T can really do all it promises, this becomes a very attractive package for sound mixers all over the industry. You would be able to record 12 channels including all 8 inputs to separate tracks while being able to record a Left/Right mixer and still have two channels of room for who knows what. You would have a fully functional mixer and recorder, complete with 12 track headphone monitoring and routing options, solo buttons (a must in my opinion for multi-track), and the ability to record or mirror to up to three different medias (when recording to three different medias you are limited to recording 8 tracks at once).

We look forward to being able to spend more time with a CL-8 and offer you a full review in an upcoming Gotham Gazette.

Dennis Maitland Speaks
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The Use of Wireless Mics in the U.S. Beyond the DTV Transition
First Look 60 Minutes with the Sound Devices CL-8
Happy Holidays from Gotham Sound!

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Published by Gotham Sound and Communications, Inc.
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