Sound Devices Scorpio Preview
I just got back from NAB 2019 where I saw plenty of amazing new gear released by industry leaders and up-and-comers. As a SD 664 owner, one piece of equipment that caught my attention was Sound Devices' new DAW, the Scorpio. I was lucky enough to take a first hand look, and play around with it along with talking with Sound Devices' representatives about the new Scorpio and their upcoming companion app, SD-Remote, still in development. In addition to hearing from other passionate Sound Mixers, I've composed my own editorial of the new machine. Bear in mind, some of the below is opinionated and I do not represent Sound Devices.
Sound Devices is a top of the line industry standard manufacturer for field audio recorders and mixers for the Film, TV and Digital Video industries. They're known for their SD 788t, SD 600 series (633, 664, 688) and other great tools headlined by their premium pre-amps. A few weeks ago, just before NAB 2019, they released a new recorder / DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) which includes many new features that none of their other DAWs have had. In short, this is a 16 input, 32 channel recorder with 3-Band EQ, and Dante, all in the size of a field recorder such as the 688. The Scorpio is expected to start shipping at the end of May 2019.
What is Dante?
Dante distributes uncompressed, multi-channel digital media via standard Ethernet networks, with near-zero latency and perfect synchronization. Dante is a complete media networking solution, developed by Audinate and supported by the majority of pro audio manufacturers (specifically in live sound applications, not field recording until recently.) Dante enables digital audio distribution via standard Ethernet networks and cables, the same networks used for home or office data networking such as internet. In fact, Dante is designed to allow audio, control, and all other data to coexist happily on the same network. For example, I use Dante to send all of my channels (24 in my case) of inputs out of a snake on stage for the band to plug into, then from the snake via an ethernet/CAT5 cable into my sound board, controlling the sound and also sending outputs back into the snake on stage, all through just 1 ethernet/CAT5 cable. This is extremely clean, powerful and simple instead of having 50 150' XLR cables, all whilst maintaining uncompressed audio throughout. The Sound Devices Scorpio is the first Field Mixer from Sound Devices to include this.
What is this for?
Audio Operators/owners working in live sound. webcasts, music reinforcement and recording, and for a front end DAW for a recording studio, but is capable and convenient enough to work as a portable field bag mixer/recorder using the same bags as a SD-688. Typically, field recorders are used for in-bag mobile use with 2-8 inputs for commercials, films, reality shows, field news segments, etc and the outputs are not so demanding. The fact that Sound Devices has included live sound features such as Dante and EQ, shows that this "field recorder" is also to be used for larger shows such as live events, musical performances, live webcasts, and large shows with many contestants/talent, all the while still being small enough to use on the smaller simpler jobs with just 2 lavs and a boom out of the bag. Unlike most "sound boards," the Scorpio does have a very reliable Linear Timecode and Word Clock built in, just like their field recorders.
Typically, "sound boards" for live sound are made to be perfect for the job, but I see the Scorpio was made to be perfect for a specific type of Audio Operator/Owner as it's more of a hybrid.
It's a really fantastic machine but in short, it's quite large, heavy (45% or 1.8 lbs heavier than the 688), feature-full and expensive (US $8,995) for field use and it's a bit lacking for live sound use, specifically with only 16 inputs, only 3-Band EQ as opposed to standard 4-Band, small 320x240 LCD screen and no included control surface.
I recommend this to be purchased by Audio Operators who work in a large range of work, not to be purchased by a venue to sit in for 1 type of constant need/job.
What Can You Add to it?
Sound Devices Scorpio is not a sound board, but it is compatible with most third party MCU controllers such as a Mackie MCU Pro and XT Pro, iCON Platform M+, or another controller that perhaps the individual audio mixer is more familiar and comfortable with. It is NOT compatible with Sound Devices' CL-9 or CL-12 controllers but I'm sure that's for the best. Don't forget that with bank-switching, many 8 fader controllers can easily control and mix as many sets of mixes/buses you need. Bank 1 for mics 1-8, Bank 2 switches them over for mics 9-16, Bank 3 switches the faders over to an output mix bus 1, bank 4 is output mix bus 2, etc, for example.
Sound Devices is also coming out with a compatible app called "SD Remote". This is still in development but will be released along with the Scorpio once it hits the market. So, I can't share much about this yet but the idea is that the app is to control the mixer from a smartphone or tablet (currently for Android but was told they'll have it available for Apple as well.) In live sound, I like to have my A2 with a tablet on stage with the band during rehearsals communicating with them about their monitor and in-ear mixes and making those adjustments with the tablet while the A1 is working on EQ, gain structure, FX, house mixes, etc in front of house. Currently, the SD-Remote does not support mixing of output buses but Sound Devices has told me that that is definitely a possibility to add that capability by the time it's released. That would be a very helpful feature in live-sound. However, it is possible to create individual mixes for each output from the Scorpio itself.
To Be Clear
This looks like a field recorder but just because it has 32 channels, does not mean hire one sound person to mix 32 wireless lavs by him/herself. In fact, it's really 16 inputs plus some stereo inputs, and Comm return inputs. Having one sound mixer mix more than 8 inputs for field recording is really pushing it and compromising quality and to a point, dangerous for health; so I emphasize having a team of audio professionals (A1, A2, A3/Utility) or sometimes multiple A1s and a Sound Supervisor. Like I said, these new features are for live sound where the Scorpio is sitting on a cart/table and the A1 has assistants.
Ok, Nerds, Here's the Nitty Gritty
Now that the hiring managers, camera people and other curious folk are gone, let's get more into the details and differences between the Scorpio and earlier SD recorders.
What is New?
Dante on all 32 channels which allows for digital transmission of all 32 channels and remote controlling via 1 thin CAT5/ethernet cable to a snake which is often on, under or behind stage for live events such as musical performances for the band to plug into along with PA speakers coming out from.
3-Band EQ and limiter that can be pre-fade or post-fade, pre-bus send or post-bus send M/S decoder. I do wish this was a 4-band EQ though. Again, it's a hybrid.
Scorpio has 16 inputs, each with mic AND line pre-amps. 6 XLR inputs, 2 TA3, 4 TA5 stereo inputs. Channels 1-16 are fully featured with trim, delay, polarity, high-pass filters (40-320Hz), 3-band EQ, stereo or MS linking, pre- and post-fade limiting. Channels 17-32 can be used to connect Dante and Return audio, and they have faders and post-fade limiting
Each of the 32 channels has an associated Channel screen from which you can setup any channel parameter. Trims, faders and bus sends for Channels 13-32 are controlled through their channel screens which may be accessed via the Menu or by using the star toggle switches + PFL toggle. For physical fader and trim control of channels 13-32, you can use a third party control surface.
AES42 on 2 inputs (1 and 6) for use with digital microphones. AES3 on 1,2,5,6.
12 Analog Outputs- 6 TA3 auxiliary, 1 3.5mm unbalanced stereo auxiliary, 2 10-pin hirose (L,R), and 2 XLR (L,R) outputs
8 Auxiliary outputs which can be routed and tracks assigned, useful for an output/mix for PA speakers on stage LR, another for on-stage monitors, another for a pre-function room, another for green room, another for subwoofers (machine can handle as low as 10Hz), and more via Dante CAT5 output for IFBs. The Scorpio has 2 CAT5 connectors protected by a sliding door. You can set a delay for each send of up to 500ms. I love this because unlike on the previous SD recorders/mixers, you can create a unique bus mix for a monitor speaker for vocalists, a completely different mix for another monitor speaker for Keys, another different mix for a pre-function room, another different mix for in-ears for Bass, another for in-ears for drums, and of course a completely different mix for main house speakers, etc, all independent from each other. That's 8 aux outputs, although X7/8 is a 3.5mm unbalanced stereo output.
2 Comm Returns plus 3 other stereo Returns A1, A2,B1, B2,C1, C2
Bluetooth antenna for long range remote use with Sound Device's upcoming app called "SD-Remote" to control the device with a tablet or smart phone. This is an "Android Companion App, large metering and timecode display transport control, and metadata editing". This will not work with Wingman.
LED Light-up trim pots on the front panel which is very helpful if you have many tracks on the small LED display.
6 Large Fader, 6 small faders AND 12 trim pots on the front panel unlike the 688.
2 SD card slots (No CF slot)
256 GB SSD
You can set an individual limiter on your headphones to protect your ears
Selectable variable pre-roll time up to 5 seconds and POST-roll time up to 10 seconds in case you prematurely record, you can cut without creating and having to delete a new file.
Delay of up to 500ms on all outputs and up to 50ms on each individual input plus +48V phantom power and polarity features integrated on all 16 inputs
Additional TA5 input for a Headset
Dual L-Mount powering AND charging along with dual TA4 DC inputs (2 NP batts or 2 plug in power, or 1 of each, for example) operating in series, not simultaneous, for long run times. The TA4 is new, as previous SD recorders used 4 pin hirose. This has TA4 for the extra 2.5x amperage than the hirose that is needed for this power hungry device and it also can supply smart battery info unlike the previous hirose connector.
The Scorpio can charge the L-mount batteries while in use. If you plug into house power, for example, you can charge your attached dead L-mount batteries through the scorpio with no additional charger. So, you don't ever have to remove the L-mount batteries and they do not stick out from the back of the unit.
Power Management system where if you aren't using something, it shuts it down completely to save battery.
Full I/O matrix. Each physical input can be routed to any combination of buses, tracks, and outputs
The Scorpio features Sound Devices’ latest and best mic pre-amplifiers with an all new design. According to Sound Devices’, these pre-amps have the smoothest sound and lowest noise of any pre-amp in the company’s history.
In a later release of Scorpio firmware, Mix Assist and Dugan Auto-Mix will be supported but only available for the first 16 channels. This is still great for live-conferences.
Menu system is similar to 600 series but SD recommends a few hours of hands on use for 600 series users to learn. I am a 664 owner and played with the Scorpio for about 10-15 minutes and was getting a handle for it pretty quickly considering.
Gotham Sound has a very helpful detailed video explaining and showing the Scorpio and will be selling the unit around the end of May.