Gear Reviews: Sound Devices MixPre-6
by Anonymouz aka Faiumu Matthew Faiumu
I was thoroughly intrigued when presented with the opportunity to review Sound Devices’ MixPre-6 Audio Recorder/ Audio Interface for NZMusician.co.nz. A quick read through the general product notes online led me to the exciting realisation that it seemed to be tailor-made for someone like myself.
The MixPre-6 overview is a highly spec-ed, compact and durable high-resolution audio recorder with integrated USB audio streaming – ideal for small demo studios, musicians, sound designers, podcasters, videographers, YouTubers and field recordists. I’m travelling a lot these days, spending a lot of time in hotel rooms, recording and producing music, recording sound on location, filming, syncing and editing video and audio – the MixPre-6 unit is designed to do it all.
The name stems from the six input channels provided, which, combined with the mix, mean eight available audio recording tracks. In NZ the MixPre-6 has a price tag of $1670, while its smaller sister model, the MixPre-3 provides 5-tracks for the lower cost of $1210.
Unboxing the MixPre-6 my immediate impression was of a very sturdy, lightweight but solid unit. Made of die-cast aluminium, it’s comparable size-wise to the Tascam DR60 that I usually use for portable recordings. More accurately it’s slightly wider and deeper, but half the height (166 x 118 x 36mm). The MixPre-3 version is even smaller in length and breadth. The unit came packaged with a mains wall adaptor as well as a dual split USB cable, one cable for data transfer and the other for powering the unit from a computer when not using 4 x AA batteries out in the field.
The minimalistic front panel front was very inviting with only four well-spaced buttons, four dials and a colour screen display… a touch screen display at that!
Admittedly not the biggest fan of instruction manuals, I was stoked to intuitively figure out my way around the unit almost immediately. The front user panel and display screen interface are very easy to follow, with a default ‘Basic Mode’ setting that allows novice users to get to recording very quickly. In comparison, my Tascam requires a lot of pressing and turning of various buttons and knobs to scroll through menus and submenus, just to access and control basic functions (on its plain single colour backlit screen).
The MixPre-6 unit allows easy and quick access to the menu structure displayed on its super-bright touch screen. LED rings around the dial knobs also lit up in various degrees of colours to also give a visual indication of signal level, which would no doubt aid recording efficiency in many field situations.
I plugged in a Røde Filmmaker lavalier microphone kit to test out recording some spoken dialogue. The resulting audio was splendid, crystal clear and transparent, a proud testament to their built-in newly designed Class A ‘Kasmir’ pre-amps, an area in which Sound Devices are particularly renowned for.
Enabling the limiter, I dialled in some more gain and spoke much louder to drive the signal. The unit didn’t flinch. It adjusted and recalibrated the signal smoothly with a very natural and nuanced response, evidently due to the great analogue design as opposed to digital equivalents.
Apparently, the unit can also be set up to be trigger record from an attached camera’s time code signal or HDMI. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the right cable to test out such record triggering from the Canon 5DMkiii camera unit that I usually use, but a quick scan of their website also revealed that the 5D hadn’t yet officially been tested and added to the list of compatible units anyway. However, if true, or available down the line, this would be an absolutely awesome time-saving tool to use to aid workflow.
I attached an Audio Technica BP4029 stereo shotgun mic and then headed out to the backyard to capture some general outdoor ambience. Once again, the sound quality proved very clear, with no noticeable distortion or colouration despite changing the signal up significantly. The product notes proudly boast that the MixPre-6 has a very low noise floor and distortion threshold. Best believe that.
Thoroughly impressed by its portable recording capabilities, my final test left was to check out just how well it worked as an audio interface. Already very comfortable with my usual Saffire Pro DSP 24 Firewire Interface setup, I was a little sceptical of how this USB unit might perform in this area.
I plugged in the provided USB cable to power up the unit and then loaded a recent Logic Pro X hip hop project that I’d been working on. Sure enough, it was instantly recognised and selectable within Logic’s preference and software settings. Plugging in a Rode NT1a microphone, I was able to easily route and configure the laptop for a vocal recording session without hassle or noticeable latency.
This clever little piece of hardware has totally won me over. Writing the last few thoughts for this review having just arrived in Hawai’i from Seattle, halfway through a month-long project, a multitasking unit like this would’ve eliminated the need for multiple various equipment pieces that I usually use, easily saving me precious luggage space. The name of the game is to work smarter, not harder. Who wouldn’t appreciate greater workflow portability and efficiency without losing quality?
I’ll definitely be calling the guys over at Sound Techniques to cop me one of these smart Sound Devices units once I’m back in NZ!