The newest addition to Sound Devices line of professional location audio equipment is the 552, a 5-channel mixer and 2-track recorder. This new device takes the place of the 442, the workhorse of the Sound Devices ENG mixers and my favorite field mixer. Aside from the obvious addition of a fifth channel and recording capability, there are a handful of improvements and features that make this a fantastic upgrade.
The first thing you notice when you pick up the 552 is the weight and size: itís exactly the same size as the 442 (except for the ears, which Sound Devices has enlarged and spread outward to actually fit straps and carabineers under). Even more impressive is the weight: it actually weighs a half-pound less than its 4-channel brother, all thanks to the ďmetalized molded carbon-fiberĒ material that makes the top and bottom of the chassis. For the most part, thereís still room to operate each control comfortably. There are exceptions: you need pretty nimble fingers to reach the XLR input releases with cables plugged into the direct outs. I can see this being a problem if you are swapping XLRís on the fly. Still, the ability to add more controls and internal hardware and keep the operatorís experience the same is a feat in itself.
†Another really nice improvement to the 552 is the movement of the input controls to the front-panel. Instead of preamp and phantom switches next to each XLR input, all of the controls are on the front thanks to some clever use of soft-switches above each fader. Individually, these switches solo their respective channel, while in combination with an additional switch above the meters, they toggle the preamps and phantom power.
A less obvious upgrade is the second headphone jack which can now be separately assigned as a talkback send, outputting your choice of the slate mic, Input 1, and/or Left Program.
This is achievable by simply going into the 552ís menu, which is similar to the 442ís, but easier to access and navigate. Now you can simply press the two-button combination to enter the menu any time you arenít recording. Itís the same familiar menu found on the 442 and 302, however you can move up and down the menu thanks to the multi-function encoder that has replaced the headphone pot.
The menu contains many nice features, such as turning any of your three balanced pairs of outputs into digital outs, and selecting the source of the output, including pre/post fade direct outs. You also have a limited means of removing individual or pairs of inputs from the mix without doing the leave-the-fader-at-zero method.
You can also enable timecode, a function that places a timestamp at the head of each recording. The 552 has no clock in it, so youíll need to have an external source feeding it at the moment you press record. One simple solution is to jam a sync box, and just leave it cabled to the TA3 timecode input.
As soon as you enter the menu, youíll notice SVEN in your headphones. SVEN is the synthesized voice that momentarily interrupts the program to help you navigate the menu or the files on the SD card during playback. Rather, he would help if you could understand anything he is saying. I know this is a first-generation feature for Sound Devices, and itís a great way to save the time of pulling out those cheat-sheets to know what menu item youíre changing, but SVENís is not just inaudible, heís hilarious. Hopefully a firmware update can give him the speech therapy he desperately needs.
Other than that, itís the same rugged and versatile machine that the 442 was, only with a fifth input, a little transport control joystick, and an SD slot. Sound Devices has done some pretty nice things with these refinements and new features, while keeping everything I loved about the 442. The Sound Devices 552 is shipping in November, priced at $2,895.