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Sound Devices MixPre-3 II Multichannel Recorder Review

Rate this portable recorder

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 84 78.5%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 14 13.1%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 5 4.7%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 4 3.7%

  • Total voters
    107

SMJ

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I began using the original Cantar X on a project training film production mixers in Ireland and managed to blag a free loan for 8 weeks. I had been to the UK product launches earlier which was given with typical Gaelic flair. It was easy to remember the essential operation and operate with gloves without looking down - just a click left or right on the rotary control very similar to the switch on a Nagra IV-S (and about the same size and similar weight). Also had a Zaxcom Deva II and a Soundevices 744T at the same time for comparison. The ergonomics of the Cantar X became second nature after a few days and much easier to manage the cables compared to the octopus world of the SQN4S + 2 x Sound Devices 744T + 4 Radio Mic receivers to achieve the same source count. The Cantar X was ideal in situations where you didn't want to lug a sound cart across a farmers field just because the director wanted a particular tree in the back of shot. The website has some very impressive use cases for the X3.

The design philosophy was simple, everything important faces down or tucked in underneath out of the weather rather than poking out the side. All operational switches knobs etc. are waterproof. Batteries and recording media have dual redundency. Yes, it was bigger than an SQN4 and recorder but was more flexible in operation. Ideal for multi-mic interviews, music or complex film dialogue in remote locations. Easy to provide iso recordings and a director's 'rushes' preview mix at the end of the day. The X1 was IEE1394 Firewire and would record to an internal or external firewire drives and had a slot-in DVD RAM recorder option.

Would love an X3 or even a Cantar mini but I can't afford €15,000 and I'm retired now anyway. There is a good trade show walk-around at Cantar X3
 

shal

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I am a owner of Sound devices MixPre 10 II (the big brother of the unit tested here).

This device is IMHO excellent but not easy to use : a lot of setup that can influence the result.
it can be a nightmare for non-professional (like-me).
I personnaly tested this yesterday (I perfrom a concert and record it with the MixPre) it take 15min to be sure to have the good setup....

A little test that I perform with the Mixpre:


I will send a mail to Sound Devices, so please avoid to send another mail ;)
=> Done
 
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DLS79

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I am a owner of Sound devices MixPre 10 II (the big brother of the unit tested here).

This device is IMHO excellent but not easy to use : a lot of setup that can influence the result.
it can be a nightmare for non-professional (like-me).
I personnaly tested this yesterday (I perfrom a concert and record it with the MixPre) it take 15min to be sure to have the good setup....

A little test that I perform with the Mixpre:


I will send a mail to Sound Devices, so please avoid to send another mail ;)
=> Done

Imo, when 32 bit recording hit the seen (with the Zoom F6 I believe), the entire industry was in a rush to get something to market. During that rush, I think a lot of bad design and implementation decisions were made, and said decisions have made life harder for the end users.
 

shal

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Imo, when 32 bit recording hit the seen (with the Zoom F6 I believe), the entire industry was in a rush to get something to market. During that rush, I think a lot of bad design and implementation decisions were made, and said decisions have made life harder for the end users.

Perhaps, but the 32bit is only accessible with "advanced" setting. I personnaly use this settting because I need this "divine" functionnality
Again: it's complex machine, so easy to have a crazy configuration .
 

DLS79

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Perhaps, but the 32bit is only accessible with "advanced" setting. I personnaly use this settting because I need this "divine" functionnality
Again: it's complex machine, so easy to have a crazy configuration .

I was referring to the underlying hardware.

When they changed the underlying hardware to support 32 bit, they had to rework the software and ui. The software rework Imo got rushed and make life harder for end users. for example more settings to set and validate.
 

Spocko

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II multichannel recorder and audio interface with headphone output. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $895.
View attachment 330218
It is a cute, compact and rigid recorder. Gain control for Channel 2 has a stiffer feel which I imagine is designed to let you find it in the dark by feel. The LCD on the right is bright and touch sensitive. It is a bit small for comfortable manipulation but can be done. The user interface is a bit odd in that there is no scrolling and you have to learn to click on "..." to go to the next page. There are a myriad of inputs and a few outputs:

View attachment 330219

I dread testing this class of device as it takes hours to figure out how to do even simple things. The MixPre-3 was no exception. I installed its ASIO driver but it would keep complaining that it was not seeing it. Windows wouldn't recognize it either. Eventually found a reference that said if that cable connection icon is orange, it means it is not getting power from USB cable. This, despite the fact that it worked fine locally with USB power. I switched USB cables and now Windows recognized it, but its own ASIO driver would not. Swapped out for a third and beefier cable and this time, the driver found it. Strangely, the icon remained orange even though everything worked.

Beyond the USB interface issue, there was fair amount to learn as to how to configure the unit and get it to work the way you want. It took an entire evening and I "think" I figured it out but without an app or good indication from the device what it is doing, it is hard to really know.

For testing, I treated the unit as an audio interface. Recording and playback from SD-card should result in the same performance.

Sound Devices MixPre-3 II DAC/Headphone Amplifier Measurements
Using the 3.5mm output, we get this performance:
View attachment 330220
Trying to get anything beyond 1 volt results in clipping. That is disappointing as I expect to at least get 2 volts out if not 4 volts. Using what we have, SINAD which is sum of noise and distortion lands the MixPre-3 II in the last place of all line interfaces tested:
View attachment 330223

Fortunately there is a headphone output which generates higher voltage and better performance:
View attachment 330224

Still short of 16 bit quality though. Excluding distortion where the problem is, noise performance is good at max volume (left):
View attachment 330225

You could hear noise with sensitive IEMs though given the 75 dB on the right.

The real head-scratcher came when I tried to sweep the unit to measure its power into 300 ohm load with headphone gain set to max:
View attachment 330227
Looking at the output voltage directly, we get this limiting behavior:
View attachment 330228

I don't know what is going on here. Going with what we have, output level is quite low (spec is 300 mwatts!) to get you much volume. In other words, it is the typical checklist item in audio interfaces. Let's move on to ADC.

Sound Devices MixPre-3 ADC/Microphone Pre Measurements
The odd behavior continued when I was not able to get the MixPre-3 to produce higher level than -7 dBFS:

View attachment 330231

If you turned up the gain more, nothing would happen to captured audio levels. Fortunately our measured value matches company's spec for SINAD. Unfortunately, this is not very good number:
View attachment 330232

Frequency response is nice and flat as it should be:
View attachment 330234

Dynamic range is very good:

View attachment 330235

Not so good is the frequency variability as far as distortion:
View attachment 330236

I grabbed an FFT at 7 kHz to see what is going on:
View attachment 330237
There is a lot of unwanted noise but most of it is ultrasonic.

Sweeping IMD level shows distortion rising pretty early:
View attachment 330238
Noise level is good though as indicated earlier.

I have recently started to measure the microphone preamp "effective input noise (EIN)." This is a draft measurement as there is some fogginess in how to measure this number in the context of a line interfaces that digitizes input (as opposed to pure analog preamp). Here is a comparison to a few other interfaces:
View attachment 330239
As you see, the performance of MixPre-3 II is fair bit worse. While the front panel says it goes to some 90+ dB of gain, anything over 49 dB does nothing.

Conclusions
Objectively, there is little to hang your hat on that you are getting a performance optimized recorder/line interface here. None of the tests show what I would want to see in a professional product. Headphone output is quite bad. DAC has a lot of distortion and too little output. The ADC falls in the poor category of all interfaces tested but is not as bad as its DAC.

Someone is going to say for recording a microphone this is all fine. I am not a user of these products but as long as you don't pay a premium for performance, then you may be right.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Great review! I also bought this model because it had all the features I wanted but ultimately, sold it when my workflow changed. I replaced it with the RME Babyface Pro FS then replaced that with the Neumann MT48 which is what I use now.
 

Bergante

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I was referring to the underlying hardware.

When they changed the underlying hardware to support 32 bit, they had to rework the software and ui. The software rework Imo got rushed and make life harder for end users. for example more settings to set and validate.
The software flexibility, hence complexity, was exactly the same in the first generation before 32 bit recording was a thing. The main change is a more powerful SoC that now allows the usage of real time noise reduction for example.

They were using dual ADCs in the first generation in order to improve SNR.

Coming from straightforward recorders I was a bit puzzled at first, I admit. But once I grasped the block diagram! wow!
 
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leebergtally

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I don't think this belongs in your otherwise excellent reviews. As you noted this device is really for location microphone recording. It is not intended primarily as an audio interface. Having worked as a location sound recordist I really don't care that much about the line inputs, outputs and headphone amp (unless I'm getting a line level feed from somewhere such as a press box). I care more about the quality of the microphone preamps and how much headroom I have for recording. Sound Devices mixers are noted for their excellent microphone preamps and compressor limiters. At the end of the day I'm taking the SD card out and giving the files to my clients for post production. At under $900 this is a budget item in the Sound Devices catalog and a good value for a three input recorder.
 
Last edited:

ocinn

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Sound devices is one of the “industry standards”. I feel like the testing methodology here might have been a bit flawed and thus, results aren’t completely accurate to the peak performance the unit is capable of.

HOWEVER, this is indicative of the average performance that someone who didn’t religiously study the manual would get, and therefore deserving of critique. The testing circumstances were quite normal, and unlocking higher performance with complex and inconvenient methods sort of negates the whole purpose behind a field recorder.

Looking forward to @Rja4000 findings.
 

BadAudioAdvice

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I received the unit back, and can confirm a few things:

1. Unit was in 'Basic' mode. (unit was shipped for testing in Advanced mode - can't say when it was put into Basic mode)
2. Basic mode has limiters enabled, and the menu option to turn them off isn't available.
3. I can replicate the 1Vrms line out value Amir observed when the limiters are enabled.
4. Turning off the limiters enables close to 2Vrms output on the line out - which is about all I can test with the equipment I have on hand.
5. Low-power mode did not have an effect on the line out.

Without other equipment to test the other functions (e.g. headphone output, ADC), but given what was seen by the effect of the limiter, there is a high likelihood that peak performance in other areas would be higher than what was measured.

My test setup:
IMG_0512.jpeg


With limiters enabled:
IMG_0513.jpeg


With limiters turned off:
IMG_0517.jpeg
 

Blumlein 88

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I received the unit back, and can confirm a few things:

1. Unit was in 'Basic' mode. (unit was shipped for testing in Advanced mode - can't say when it was put into Basic mode)
2. Basic mode has limiters enabled, and the menu option to turn them off isn't available.
3. I can replicate the 1Vrms line out value Amir observed when the limiters are enabled.
4. Turning off the limiters enables close to 2Vrms output on the line out - which is about all I can test with the equipment I have on hand.
5. Low-power mode did not have an effect on the line out.

Without other equipment to test the other functions (e.g. headphone output, ADC), but given what was seen by the effect of the limiter, there is a high likelihood that peak performance in other areas would be higher than what was measured.

My test setup:
View attachment 332329

With limiters enabled:
View attachment 332330

With limiters turned off:
View attachment 332332
I've seen this with a few complex devices. Sort of blame the company for making it hard to know how it works, but some things can only be so simple and experience using them is needed. Too bad you didn't know this to pass it on.

You could do a loop back measurement could you not? Not the level of Amir's AP, but might show something worthwhile. Either REW or Pkane's Multitone can work pretty well for this.
 

darrellc

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Sound Devices MixPre-3II has a "journalist" mode where you can mostly lock down a device configuration when handing off to a user who doesn't have a couple of months to get up to speed on how it works. Designed for exactly this kind of scenario. I've never used it, not sure if it really would have helped here.

I use my MixPre 3II infrequently, and I always have to refresh on operating instructions and test to make sure I've got it set up properly. It is a really flexible device but that means a lot of complexity for the new or casual user.
 

Rja4000

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I've created a new thread with more measurements in Advanced mode.

See here:
 
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d3l

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Thanks for the right measurements. This a great example that you should really know what you're doing when working with pro equipment.
 

Rja4000

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This a great example that you should really know what you're doing when working with pro equipment.
Pro equipment is often quite straightforward.
This device here is quite special, and its use is all but obvious.
 

Bergante

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Pro equipment is often quite straightforward.
This device here is quite special, and its use is all but obvious.
It is not an audio interface. It is a production mixer and recorder that can also work in several other modes.

And movie production sound equipment is probably the least well known pro audio gear outside of their speciality.

If you use it as a recorder the basic mode is as straightforward and foolproof as it can get!
 
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