A multi-disciplinary journey in music, sound, and field recording.

Bigger Toys to the Big Guns: The Sound Devices 702

Posted: July 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: field recording, gear

(Part 3 of a 3-part series: Part 1 | Part 2)

If you read my take on the Fostex FR2-LE, I hope I left you with the impression that is has some incredible strengths, but some physical interface issues that I just didn’t find ergonomically user friendly, and therefore not creatively enabling. I ultimately found refuge in the Sound Devices 702 digital field recorder.

The Sound Devices 702 digital audio recorder, affectionately named "the Battleship."

Full Metal (Noise) Jockey: The Sound Devices 702 digital audio recorder.

Sound Devices has taken the world of production audio by storm with bulletproof products whose price, while higher than many consumer models, establishes a new value baseline. Professionals have far more advanced models than this: models with more tracks, time code, and such ( those who can spend 6 bills swear by the Cantar, for example). For me, this unit has hit a sweet spot.

  • HD Audio (24-bit, 192kHz)
  • Built to operate in intense heat and bitter cold
  • Amazing interface for such a complex device
  • The brightest LED’s I’ve ever seen anywhere
  • Ultra-flexible signal routing (mono, dual mono, XY stereo, or MS stereo)
  • Visual output concentrated on only one side
  • Richly tactile control knobs
  • All-metal construction
  • Recording to multiple cards or disks at once
  • Small (about the size of a hardcover book)!

I’m not sure what to say here that others haven’t already said elsewhere about this very impressive machine. But upgrading to this level of machine reminded me of several lessons that, despite my advancing years, I still don’t always learn.

  • Rent the nicer unit before buying the cheaper unit. I spent almost 50% of the cost of the 702 on other recording devices on my way towards it, and I should have rented all of these units, if possible, to really assess their usability characteristics. (On the other hand, the Zoom H2 is ultra-light and can be taken where the 702 can’t, and now I have a backup with the FR2-LE in my gear closet, so all three still do get use.)
  • Be bold with your research, specifically searching the name of the product you’re evaluating along with terms like “glitch,” “problem,” “error,” and even “catastrophic failure.” These little boxes are all expensive, objectively, so know what you’re getting into. Product and industry forums are your friend.
  • High price never means perfection. “High price” is subjective, and you can never assume that next level up will solve all your problems. Even the 702 has its quirks, often due to its inherent (usually beneficial) complexity.

At the end of the day, every device – from watches to cars – has its quirks and strengths. Just know what headaches you can live with and which ones will drive you crazy. A consumer’s self-knowledge is as important as feature sets. For me, the (very limited) caveats of the 702 don’t get in my way, which frees my mind to really focus on the recording.

Today’s audio clip is a 30-second snippet of some frogs in a riparian canyon not far from my home. It was an incredibly blustery day, hence the mid-high frequency hiss in the background. I hunched down as best as I could on a tiny dry patch in the middle of a stream. I had to sit for about five minutes for the frogs to start up again, being spooked by my presence. The frogs remained unseen, but one must have been right in front of my shotgun mic, pretty loud and clear.

[Røde NTG-2 mic, Sound Devices 702 field recorder]

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