Audio/Video, Hardware, Opinion

Sound Devices 664 vs Zaxcom Nomad Lite


Sound Devices and Zaxcom are battling it out again, rocking the production sound world with their new all-in-one recording solutions – but who will come out on top?

Sound Devices? 664 Field Production Mixer
Sound Devices? 664 Field Production Mixer

Sound Devices unveiled their new 664 Field Production Mixer at IBC 2012 (International Broadcasting Convention) in Amsterdam last month, along with updates to their PIX Production Video Recorder line. The 664, projected to start shipping to many anxious sound engineers in late October, is both a 6-channel high-bandwidth mixer and a 10-track production recorder, capable of recording all inputs and output buses. There is even a built-in Ambient Lockit-based timecode generator/reader for accurate sync with the latest cinema cameras.

The 664 can simultaneously record Broadcast WAV files to CF and SD media, and can even assign different track combinations to each card. They advertise the LCD screen to be readable in direct sunlight, which is a great for outdoor productions. And all of this is held together inside a metalized carbon-fiber body and feel that Sound Devices owners are accustomed to.

However this new contender is quite a beast, weighing in at 4.75 pounds (2.1 kg), and 12.6" (19.8 cm) wide. In-bag sound mixers will most likely have to find a new solution, especially if they want SD?s CL-6 addon mixing console to the 664, that will add 6 more line-level tracks. SD will also make a production case that will accommodate for this setup, but for those who already love using audio bags by Portabrace or Petrol (like me), we?ll have to wait and see.

One possible downside is that it can only record up to 48 KHz sampling rate, while other products can record at 96 KHz and beyond. But Sound Devices is making it clear that the 664 is focused toward production dialogue, where 48 KHz is a standard. This may be a dealbreaker for SFX recordists who need the most dynamic range. While it should be possible to enable higher sampling rates in future firmware updates, SD probably wants to differentiate this model with their 7 series recorders, and product releases in the future.

Zaxcom?s Nomad Lite Production Sound System
Zaxcom?s Nomad Lite Production Sound System

Zaxcom has been successful since this year?s NAB Show back in April, launching their full line of Nomad Production Sound systems. This powerful mixer was modular at the factory, meaning that its specs could be upgraded to the next model within the same housing. They started with 6, 8, and 12-channel models that could record 6, 8, and 10 recordable tracks respectively. Zaxcom has since shifted their Nomad line during the past few months, introducing a 4-track ?MAXX? model, keeping their 10-track and 12-track models, and now – the Nomad Lite.

Depending on the model, these production systems can be fully integrated into the rest of their product line, including the built-in ?ZAXnet? IFB transceiver that could wirelessly control Zaxcom monitoring and microphone hardware. The LCD was also advertised to be readable in direct sunlight, but according to user reviews, the experience widely varied.

The Lite, announced last week, is a 6-channel, 10-track sound system similar to the Nomad 10, with most of the luxury features removed or disabled at the factory. This direct response to the 664 still provides the same recording and effects options as the rest of the line, but without wireless transceiver, Wi-Fi, or AES options. For what it can offer, the Nomad is still shorter and lighter than the competition, weighing in at 3.8 lbs (1.7 kg) and 9.9?? (25 cm) long.

Which begs the question: Who was first?

Now that?s big: SD?s 664 and CL6 combo vs. SD?s 788T and CL8 workhorse (photo cred. Trew Audio / Coffey Sound LA)
Now that?s big: SD?s 664 and CL6 combo vs. SD?s 788T and CL8 workhorse (photo cred. Trew Audio / Coffey Sound LA)

According to responses by Sound Devices reps on the JWSound forums, the 664 has been on the drawing board since before they introduced their PIX video recorders at NAB. Of course they?ve had the 552 Production Mixer since 2009, a 5-channel mixer and 2-track model, which the 664 effectively succeeds.

At the same time, the sound community caught their first glimpse of the debut line of Nomad models around this year?s NAB Show. So while Zaxcom may have been first to push an all-in-one ENG form factor solution of these specs into the market, Sound Devices improved upon products they have already manufactured. This does not, however, discount the quality of Zaxcom?s products. The Nomad, despite buggy starts fixed thru multiple firmware updates, is still a strong contender.

It all comes down to what product line the sound operator is already used to. Both companies have a long history of great gear, and both product lines have their respective similarities in workflow and aesthetics. Already got a Fusion or Deva, with lots of Zax IFB?s and transmitters to match? The Nomad is for you. Has Sound Devices been your weapon of choice during your career? Give the 664 a shot.

The SD 664 and Nomad Lite are focused towards the ENG/EFP field sound engineer who needs to mix in-the-bag and on-the-go. Both will set you back at a competitive $4000, which is an investment priced just right for those who need this workflow. Until users can experience the units themselves come late October, it?s difficult to say which platform will come out on top.

One thing?s for sure… it?s a great time to be a field sound engineer.

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