SD 688 Preview

Sound Devices just announced a new mixer/recorder earlier today: the SD 688. It's part of the 6-series mixers and is basically 2 664s placed in the same package with some of the firmware of the 633 and a few other options and features. The 688 is only in pre-order phase right now but around St. Patrick's day (March 17, 2015), it should be available for shipping in the US. I'm not here to tell you everything about it because obviously I don't know more about it than what you can find online but I will tell you my opinion of it and where I think it fits in the industry, being a SD 664 mixer myself.

First off, the big difference in the 688 and any other SD mixer is that it has 12 true inputs without the necessity of an additional fader controller such as the CL-6 or CL-8. It has 6 mic inputs and 6 line inputs (for which you would need to boost the gain tremendously or buy pre-amps for each of the 7-12 inputs and the faders for these are miniature similar to the ch 4-6 on the SD 633). The 664's ch 7-12 mixing capabilities without the CL-6 are very unfriendly and remind me of mixing on the Tascam DR-680 having to hit a button then sharing a tiny knob with 6 inputs to mix. The 688 looks like it's meant to go in the bag as opposed to being designed for table/cart use. Twelve inputs is simply too many for bag work. Try mixing AND MANAGING 12 inputs yourself on a reality show and possibly booming as well. It's not how the industry works, nor should it work. Anything more than 8 inputs in the field definitely means more than one field mixer. So, with that, the SD 788t sounds to me to be the largest SD mixer needed for field work. However, the 688 costs about $1,400 less than a 788 and seems to actually be a much better design, including the cleaner menu system. With the 788, many bag mixers add a CL-8 onto it in order to have faders for the inputs rather than just gain knobs which is going for another $1,221 (brings you to about $2,621 price difference from 788 to 688) and adds 35% of the weight of the 788 from 3.75 lbs to just over 5.07 lbs without batteries. This is heavier than the 688, only at about 4.87 lbs and the 664 at 4.75 Lbs (All heavy for a bag in my books. The SD 633 is 2.56 lbs naked giving you 6 inputs more or less).

So the 688 has 4 more inputs than the 788, weighs 0.2 lbs less (with cl-8 faders) and essentially costs roughly $2,600+ less and seems to have more new features and a cleaner menu system. However, it does cost about $900 more than a 664 and weighs 0.12 lbs more but essentially has double the faders without having to purchase a CL-6 (another $1,221 and 1.34 lbs) meaning if you need more than 6 inputs with faders, it's more affordable and more beneficial to use an SD 688 than an SD 788t or an SD 664 with CL-6. However, the 688 has more innovative features that are more or less new.

The SD 688 has mix assist which sounds like a great feature but I'm curious as to how helpful it really is and how much its algorithm/intelligence works similarly to a real sound mixer. I mean, the Zoom H4n has auto-mix and that really only is like an abusive limiter generally playing the levels low on the safe side. The 688 also has 8 direct outputs which is more than a 664 (6 direct outs) and they can be adjusted through the menu system as pre or post-fade.

But one of the biggest innovations to the SD 688 is the SL-6 which won't be available until Summer 2015. The SL-6 is essentially a 6 channel wireless system with a BDS system built inside. You can place an NP-1 battery in the back of this and power multiple additional units from the SL-6. This SL-6 also cleans up the bag, loses cable weight and saves time on shoots with rental gear by virtually having no cables going from the SL-6's 6 channels of wireless to the 688. This is great, however, it does add weight to the bag (not finding a number anywhere) and only houses 6 channels (3 SRb's for example); this is a 12 input mixer, so if all 12 inputs are being used, I'd imagine at least 10 of those are wireless, so you would still need to have a few more receivers somewhere else in the bag and hook those up to the mixer with cables and hook it up to the SL-6 for power.

There's a few other little features that the 688 has that are new such as Power Safe, and Quick Boot. One of its features, though, is the capability to record 192 kHz WAV files which is not possible on the 664 and only possible for 4 tracks on the 788. Anything above 48kHz is not at all useful for standard dialogue recording, only for sound effects and possibly ambient recordings and when recording those, I would not think a 12 track or even a 6 track mixer is necessary. The SD 633 can do this and that might even be a tad overkill for those types of jobs.

Regardless, as a 664 user, when I first heard of the 688 I was worried it might make the 664 obsolete but from the sounds of it, I think it's much more likely to make the 788 obsolete as the 664 is a bit lighter, and more affordable and still can record 12 tracks with 12 inputs and has the option of using a CL-6 too, if needed for a short shoot, although this would cost a little more than $300 purchasing price more than the cost of a 688 (I'd rent a CL-6 in these cases). Some may still prefer a 788t over the 688 for cart/table use though if they're using a CL-9, which as I mentioned before, anything over 8 inputs is more common for table/cart setups. For what I do, I'm sticking with my 664 but if I have to mix a reality show that's renting, I'd hope to see 688s with the SL-6 from now on rather than a 788, as long as there's still 2 or 3 field mixers if necessary instead of handing me a 688, 12 wires and caffeine pills.

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