Why I’m buying a Sound Devices MixPre 3

Meet the new MixPre 3 and MixPre 6

Meet the new MixPre 3 and MixPre 6

For years I’ve been wondering why Sound Devices didn’t make something like my MixPre – which is an amazing little mixer – but with recorder built right in. Maybe to protect their high-end recorder mixers? Maybe too hard to fit everything into such a small package? But as more and more companies like Zoom began offering affordable versions of such a device, it became apparent that Sound Devices was leaving a LOT of small filmmaker dollars on the table that other manufacturers were only too happy to grab.

The dream comes true

So this year at NAB, Sound Devices finally turned my fantasy into reality by announcing two mixer/recorder devices: the MixPre-3 and MixPre-6. For about the cost of the original MixPre, you can now buy a full-fledged multi-track recorder that offers those incredibly pristine Sound Devices preamps. In fact, they’ve gone one better, and are shipping them with pre-amps that are even quieter than their professional 633 mixer/recorder! What’s more, both of these little miracles can be controlled and monitored from an iPhone app. Thank you Sound Devices!

The reason this is so huge for me is that it will allow me to throw away half of my sound bag, and consolidate to a single device, instead of two. This means less battery requirements, less bulk, fewer cables and fewer failure points. Additionally, I use a workflow in which my producer logs interviews, and for that, the iPhone app allowing her to see the audio timecode will be invaluable.

A new benchmark for small-production audio

The only physical difference between the two devices that I can see without getting my hands on one is that one has 4 individual XLR inputs and one has 3. So the MixPre 6 can record more individual tracks. There’s also one minor difference on the front – the MixPre 6 has an asterisk button that presumably allows super-easy annotation of the interview by pressing that button when you year a good sound byte. I use hand-written log notes, so that’s not a big thing for me. And I pretty much rarely do more than a two-person interview, so the ultra-compact 3-channel MixPre 3 is going to be PERFECT for my needs. And the price is so awesome: can you believe all of this from Sound Devices for $649?

The only thing missing from this mixer/recorder is XLR line outs. The only option to output to a camera is via a 3.5mm unbalanced jack, and that means I won’t be able to use it with my breakaway cable. So for shooting interviews, I’ll stick with my MixPre – Tascam DR-70D combo. But for audio-only interviews, which are the foundation of cinematic storytelling, the MixPre 3 is perfect.

This recorder/mixer is clearly on its way to becoming the new gold standard in audio recording for small documentary productions. Sound Devices is going to sell a ton of these, and I can’t wait to put mine to work.

7 thoughts on “Why I’m buying a Sound Devices MixPre 3

  1. Fergus Hammond

    “The only option to output to a camera is via a 3.5mm unbalanced jack, and that means I won’t be able to use it with my breakaway cable. So for shooting interviews, I’ll stick with my MixPre – Tascam DR-70D combo. ”

    Hi Dan,

    Can you explain what you mean by this comment? I was doing some reading on recording audio (I’m a still photographer looking to branch out) and came across your blog and this post. What’s your camera/audio setup for doing audio?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Dan McComb Post author

      Hi Fergus,
      When I shoot an interview, I send the audio into a mixer/recorder, and then out to the camera from there. Professional mixers have XLR outputs, which are “balanced” as opposed to 3.5mm jack outputs, which are unbalanced. The difference is that unbalanced outputs are more prone to interference. So sending an unbalanced signal to a camera isn’t the professional way to do things.

      Reply
  2. Terence

    Hi Dan, and thanks for your review. Just relaying my recent story regarding the MixPre 3/6, and why I went nuts and ended up buying a Sound Devices 633 (Yikes!). Like you I think, I was initially blown away by the new kid on the block. Let’s be honest, this really is a game changer. I actually had one ordered from Trew Audio a few days after it was announced. This was based on the top-level specs released by Sound Devices and first impressions by reviewers at NAB. What put me off eventually and as I dug deeper (important to me at least) were: 1) the quirky powering options, particularly that weird right-angle NP-F Li-ion battery caddy, and 2) the odd implementation of gain staging options for recording ISO tracks, which is mostly what I work with. You cover both of these issues well in your review, so I won’t elaborate further. I just knew that these would be ongoing frustrations, which is kind the story of my audio upgrade path – a series of compromises. Like rubber ducks, you push one issue down and another pops up, all the time spending more money on new gear. Having set out on a major audio upgrade quest (kind of the fix to end all fixes), and clarified my priorities, the 633 became the obvious choice, otherwise, why not stick with the gear I already use (a MixPre D digitally into a Marantz PMD661). So I bit the bullet and went ahead and swapped out my order. With the 633 there’s no jerry-rigging of dual cable USBs to external power bricks. A full day plus of power on 2 NP 970s that sit nicely in an audio bag. All the gain-staging options you could ever want for trim and fader control when recording ISOs. It does exactly what you expect it to do and reliably. It inspires confidence and reduces worry! The cost certainly stung but there’s no going back.

    Reply
    1. Dan McComb Post author

      You sure can’t go wrong with a 633! I keep telling myself I will own one someday, but the difference between $3,300 and $675 is what keeps me excited about the MixPre 3 for now.

      Reply
    1. Dan McComb Post author

      RR, I believe Terence was referring to the fact that the ISO tracks on the 633 do not allow you to use the faders to control them. The faders only apply to the two mix tracks. It’s wonky, because you would expect that when you dial the gain up and down it would apply to every affected track.

      Reply
  3. Terence

    Yes, that’s correct. The Mixpre-3/6 records ISOs pre-fader by default, in other words at the gain level set by the first gain-stage, i.e, the trim, which is menu driven. You CAN set up post-fader ISO recording in the custom menu. At least then you have the physical pot as an ISO gain control. The problem is that this option disables the trim control entirely, which to my mind makes no sense, and puts the entire gain range on the fader pot. That’s a huge a range on one little knob to allow for easy adjustment in the field. What I want is to be able to ballpark the gain using the trim and then tweak the level using the fader pot during live recording. This is how most pro-level mixers operate, for good reason. I’m not sure why Sound Devices chose to configure the Mixpres this way. The 633 gives the option to record ISOs pre or post fader after the trim stage is set. An added bonus is that both trim and fader are physical knobs, so no diving into a menu system. This thing is ultra configurable in more ways than I had fully anticipated and I have to say I’m loving it. (Sorry for the delayed response).

    Reply

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