Review: Sound Devices MixPre-10T
Stephen Bennett gets his hands on the latest addition to Sound Devices’ MixPre Series of recorders, mixers, and USB audio interfaces.
Sound Devices has an enviable reputation in the field of broadcast audio. Known for their reliable nature and tough construction, their products can be found in many areas of the television and film industries. The MixPre-10T follows in the illustrious footsteps of the company’s five-track MixPre-3 and the eight-track MixPre-6. The MixPre-10T, as its name may suggest, is a ten-input, 12 track SD card-based location recorder. Eight of these inputs are on Neutrik-style Microphone/TRS connectors, while the extra two are via a stereo 3.5mm line input.
The preamplifiers – Sound Devices call them ‘ultra-low-noise Class-A Kashmir’ – come with analogue limiting built-in. This latter feature is extremely useful when under pressure on location and, in my opinion, preferable to the digital limiters found on some location recorders. The preamps feature a -130dBV noise floor and 32-bit A-to-D converters. It has all the usual suspect features you’d expect – recording up to 192kHz, phase controls, low cut filtering, 48v phantom power and a MS decoder, along with some specific features aimed at film and broadcast users.
One of these features gives the device’s name the ‘T’ and is derived from the timecode and word clock facilities available on the recorder. The MixPre-10T can generate and read timecode at all common frame rates and modes and can lock to, or output, word clock. The device itself is really small – about the size of a modest hardback book – and features a threaded stand mount. The front panel features a clear capacitive touch screen, transport control joystick and eight channel knobs with illuminated rings. These LEDs are capable of displaying various colours and form part of the metering system. For example, their brightness mirrors the signal level, while their colour depends on signal presence, peak levels, limiting on or off, solo or sync reference. It’s a nice system that gives you a synoptic overview of the state of the unit at any given time.
“Most standalone multitrack recorders are rack-mountable beasts, so having a high quality portable addition to the breed is very welcome”
The Star shortcuts hardware toggle allows the user to programme several shortcuts, such as Tone generation and the Slate Mic, making these easily accessible without recourse to the touch screen. The screen itself, though small, is lovely and clear and works very well indeed, with a logical menu system that shouldn’t pose too many problems on location. Three modes of operation, Basic, Advanced and Customise are available – the former to help novice users or those who have predetermined uses for the MixPre-10T and the latter offering complete access to the device’s features. I can see this being very useful in an educational setting, where basic mode could get students up and running quickly before introducing the more advanced features when required. As may be expected from the size, no side of the MixPre-10T is free of sockets or controls.
The left panel features four of the XLR/TRS inputs, BNC inputs and outputs, USB A and C ports, the on/off switch and a 3.5 mm connector for the routable unbalanced auxiliary outputs. The right side of the unit features the remaining XLR/TRS sockets, Left and Right balanced outputs, HDMI timecode input, the 3.5mm Aux/Mic input and a HP encoder to set headphone levels and various menu-driven functions. The headphone socket is, perhaps, the only disappointment for me – but I suspect size considerations were paramount in selecting a 3.5mm connector here.
The MixPre-10T features Bluetooth connectivity, so it can be remote-controlled from the free ‘Wingman’ iOS or Android app – and you can also use a USB keyboard to control the recorder. The app is really nice, especially on an iPad and should prove useful for fixed location use. Speaking of USB, you can also use the MixPre-10T as a 12-in, four-out audio interface as well. Metering is extensive and covers all the signal flows in and out of the device, while recordings to the SD card can be automatically copied to a USB thumb drive for backup. The MixPre-10T is designed to be used on location and under unpredictable circumstances, so having a variety of ways to power the unit is essential – you don’t want to be caught short in the middle of a desert. It features a ‘Hirose’ connector that can be used to power the unit from the supplied PSU or a suitable battery pack, or you can use eight NiMH rechargeable batteries in a sled that attaches to the back of the unit. If you purchase the optional L-mount sled accessory, one or two Sony Li-Ion batteries can also be used as a power source.
I used the MixPre-10T to record a small theatre production, with inputs coming from radio microphones, fixed condenser microphones, Pressure Zone room microphones and several channels of DI’d instruments. I only had a brief time to rehearse, but a quick scan through the manual got me up and running in no time. I own several high-end preamplifiers from ‘the usual suspects’ and I’d contend that most of them have a ‘sound’ – this is often why we choose a particular make and model after all. The MixPre-10T feels different – I sense that ‘wire with gain’ (to steal a vintage advertising blurb from Quad) was the design aim for the preamplifiers and I’d say they were fairly spot on. The MixPre-10T sounds great and was a doddle to use in practice. The headphone output was clear and loud enough to judge the quality of the inputs.
Although Sound Devices’ reputation comes from its use on set, the company are also suggesting that it’d be perfect as a secure ‘backing track’ system for live music performance and, with the Musician plug-in, is aiming the unit at more ‘music-based’ uses. Loaded onto the MixPre-10T, the software allows for track laying without a DAW, punch in and out, offers reverb and ‘air’ effects, internal routing to tracks, a metronome and ‘easy DAW import’. Most standalone multitrack recorders are rack-mountable beasts, so having a high quality portable addition to the breed is very welcome.
A ‘musician friendly’ version of the device, the MixPre-10M, is also available, but the -10T with Musician Plugin is capable of everything the -10M offers. A combined location and music recorder for the price of a single high quality, portable device isn’t something to be sniffed at and the MixPre-10T takes the best bits of the Sound Devices current range to provide an excellent and genuinely useful device at a surprisingly low price point.