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Sound Devices MixPre-10M

Portable Multitrack Recorder & USB Audio Interface
Published July 2018
By Hugh Robjohns

Sound Devices MixPre‑10M

Compact, portable, capable of overdubbing, and packed with preamps — could this be the multitracker we’ve all been waiting for?

The American specialist manufacturers of location sound recording equipment, Sound Devices, have made a couple of appearances in SOS recently — first in November 2017, when I reviewed the diminutive MixPre‑3 and MixPre‑6 location recorders/mixers, and then with the announcement and preview of the groundbreaking MixPre‑10M in March 2018 — and at last we’ve had our hands on one long enough to give it a thorough workout!

Dial M For Musician

Although derived from the series flagship MixPre‑10T location recorder/mixer, the new MixPre‑10M variant is a genuinely innovative new multitrack recorder/mixer. The ‘M’ suffix references the fact that this model is adapted specifically for the musician — despite the company’s main focus on the location recording world, many of Sound Devices’ engineering team are musicians, and I have the impression they designed the 10M largely to meet their own musical interests and requirements!

The principal difference between the MixPre‑10T and 10M models is that the latter’s DSP engine has been massively re-engineered to enable proper multitrack operations of overdubbing and bounce-downs, as well as incorporating a high-quality stereo reverb and a vocal Air‑EQ effect. The design ethos was to provide a very high-quality, but easy-to-use and entirely self-contained recording/mixing system specifically for musicians and singer-songwriters, avoiding all the distractions and complications associated with computer-based workstations, while still retaining the ability to fit conventional DAW post-production workflows when required. And the result is a genuinely professional 12-channel multitrack recorder/mixer that can be slipped into a (large) pocket!

So, the MixPre‑10M can be thought of as a modern re-invention of the classic ‘portastudio’ concept, featuring eight absolutely superb ‘Kashmir’ mic preamps in a total of 10 physical inputs to a 12-channel multitracker and mixer, with 24-bit/96kHz capability. In addition, the MixPre‑10M can also be used as a fully class-compliant USB interface with Mac platforms, and via a downloadable ASIO driver for Windows platforms. Configured in this way, it provides 12 input and four output channels over USB, and low-latency direct source monitoring for its 10 physical inputs. Although a few other companies already offer desktop digital multitrackers, the MixPre‑10M’s portability, simplicity, convenience, feature set, and superb sound quality really do make it unique.

As we were going to press, Sound Devices announced that smaller, and much more affordable, ‘Musician’ models of the MixPre should be available by the time you read this.As we were going to press, Sound Devices announced that smaller, and much more affordable, ‘Musician’ models of the MixPre should be available by the time you read this.Although the MixPre‑10M is less expensive than its sibling 10T model, it might still stretch the budget a little too far for some. But as we went to press Sound Devices announced the release of two brand-new models, the MixPre‑3M and MixPre‑6M. These offer the same 12-track capability, and the same array of overdub, punch-in/out, and bounce operations, reverb and Air‑EQ effects, metronome, Q-points, and mix-rendering facilities as the 10M, but the hardware offers fewer physical inputs and comes at much lower prices (less than the original MixPre‑3 and 6, in fact!). And for those ‘first adopters’ who have already invested in an original MixPre‑series recorder, Sound Devices now also offer a Musician Plugin software upgrade (for $99) to bestow the same capability in the MixPre‑3, -6 and -10T platforms, too.

As there’s a lot of commonality in the overall design, facilities and general operation of all the MixPre family models I won’t repeat the detail too much here — please refer to the previous MixPre review (http://sosm.ag/sound-devices-mixpre3) for more background information. An excellent user manual and quick-start guide are also available on the Sound Devices web site. Instead, I’ll concentrate here mainly on the unique features of this new model, and especially on what it’s like to use.

Feature Overview

The MixPre‑10M is built on the same mechanical platform as the flagship 10T model, and shares most of the same core facilities. However, to differentiate the two products and to allow cost savings for the 10M variant, most of the 10T’s amenities relating exclusively to location film/TV work have been omitted. Consequently, the 10T’s two BNC connectors on the left-hand side panel (which provided timecode/video and word-clock sync in/out) are absent from the 10M, as is the HDMI socket on the right-hand panel (for timecode and transport commands from a video camera). This means the 10M’s sample rate can’t be synchronised with other digital equipment at all. It has also lost the ability to decode Mid-Sides mic arrays but, while these diminutions might make the 10M frustratingly restrictive for the more adventurous potential users, it won’t matter at all to the intended user — the typical singer/songwriter.

Other than that, the 10M has exactly the same audio and computer connectivity as the 10T. There are eight mic/line Neutrik Combo jack/XLR inputs (four on each side), each using Sound Devices’ outstanding ‘Kashmir’ preamps; two mini-XLR (TA3) balanced line outputs; and 3.5mm sockets for an unbalanced stereo line output and an unbalanced input. The last is selectable for mic (with plug-in-power) or line purposes, and can also be substituted for the 10M’s internal ‘slate mic’ for instant acoustic scratch-pad recordings. A third 3.5mm socket provides a powerful headphone output, while USB-C and USB-A ports cater for connection to a computer, external hard drives, or a keyboard (for text entry and remote control).

The inputs and outputs are arranged across the two side panels, with the PSU cable emerging in a different direction from a corner. The two mono/stereo outputs can be configured to deliver different signals.The inputs and outputs are arranged across the two side panels, with the PSU cable emerging in a different direction from a corner. The two mono/stereo outputs can be configured to deliver different signals.

Power Options

A supplied eight-AA battery pack clips onto the rear panel, and while many users will look on this only as an emergency backup power supply, it’s actually genuinely practical to record on location using AA cells if you use the right type. Incidentally, if power is lost during a recording, the 10M returns to its state prior to the power interruption, meaning no previously recorded audio is lost or corrupted; the only loss is any track(s) that were being recorded at the time of the power disruption.

Sound Devices MixPre‑10MBack to the AA cells, the challenge in using them to power the MixPre is its consistently high current drain. In combination with the inherently high internal resistance of conventional alkali batteries, this means that the battery voltage tends to collapse quite quickly, and so alkali cells give a relatively short working period — I managed little more than an hour, in fact! However, the actual running time is highly dependent on things like how many channels are providing phantom power at once, and the current draw of the connected mics, as well as the brightness of the MixPre’s indicator LEDs and LCD screen (which are independently adjustable).

Thankfully, the chemistry of rechargeable NiMH batteries provides a significantly lower internal resistance and so this type of battery typically lasts more than twice as long as alkalis, and being rechargeable the practical running costs are considerably lower, too. But the best running time undoubtedly comes from lithium-ion AA batteries such as the ‘Energizer Ultimate Lithium’ type. I bought a pack of 16 (so I had a spare set available) for about £20$25 and managed a four-hour recording and mixing session very comfortably on just one set, with the battery indicator still showing around 25-percent capacity remaining when I turned the machine off.

Nevertheless, although Li-ion AA cells are reasonably convenient and reasonably affordable, anyone contemplating lengthy and regular battery-powered sessions would definitely benefit from investing in Sound Devices’ optional MX-L battery mount. This clips onto the back of the recorder in place of the AA pack and carries one or two high-capacity rechargeable Sony L-type lithium-ion batteries — a configuration that would easily last all day and be far more cost-effective in the longer term. The only downside is that it increases the size and weight of the package noticeably.

The MixPre‑10M, like other models in the MixPre range, can be powered in a number of ways. Not only does it come with an eight-AA battery back and a power supply with a neatly engineered screw-locking connector, but an optional accessory allows you to run it from Sony’s exceptionally long-life rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.The MixPre‑10M, like other models in the MixPre range, can be powered in a number of ways. Not only does it come with an eight-AA battery back and a power supply with a neatly engineered screw-locking connector, but an optional accessory allows you to run it from Sony’s exceptionally long-life rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.Alternatively, the MixPre’s rear panel also sports an ‘industry standard’ 4-pin Hirose socket, which accepts 10-17 V DC from an external battery pack or mains supply — and I’m very pleased to report that Sound Devices have included a universal (100-240 Volt AC) line-lump mains power supply with the MixPre‑10M (appropriate mains power supplies are optional extras for all other MixPre models).

While the ability to work on battery power occasionally is a very welcome feature, anyone working indoors will probably use the included mains power supply, and that’s what I did for most of my time with the MixPre‑10M. The only point to bear in mind with this configuration, though, is that the MixPre’s audio ground is connected directly to the mains safety earth through the power supply, so ground loops become a possibility when recording from Class-1 (grounded) mains-powered sources.

Instruments & Headphones

Alongside its eight phantom-powered mic preamps, the 10M can accept inputs at line level or from active instruments such as keyboards (though note that for passive guitars you’ll need an external DI box).Alongside its eight phantom-powered mic preamps, the 10M can accept inputs at line level or from active instruments such as keyboards (though note that for passive guitars you’ll need an external DI box).A couple of other points are worth raising while I’m talking about the MixPre‑10M’s connectivity. First, unlike most ordinary computer interfaces, the 10M has no dedicated high-impedance instrument inputs, just ordinary balanced mic and line inputs (both with a 4kΩ input impedance, actually). This means that if you want to record passive electric or bass guitars directly, rather than miking a cabinet loudspeaker, an external DI box or a suitable line-driving pedal will be necessary. (Instruments with active pickups, as well as electronic instruments like keyboards, can be connected directly without needing a DI box.)

Also, as there’s only one — albeit pleasingly powerful — headphone output socket, if more than one person needs to hear the backing track at the same time you’ll need a splitter cable or, preferably, an external headphone distribution amplifier (connected either to the unbalanced 3.5mm line out or the balanced TA3 outputs). The small fly in that particular ointment is that the unit doesn’t ship with TA3-to-XLR output cables, so if you want to use this facility you’ll have to invest in the appropriate cables as an optional extra. This is rather disappointing; Zoom include the same adaptor cables with their much less expensive F8 location recorder, so I’m quite surprised Sound Devices haven’t!

Setting Up

Like the family’s smaller models, the MixPre‑10M has anti-slip pads top and bottom, along with a threaded quarter-inch socket and retractable stud for attachment to tripods and cameras — and I found that mounting the 10M on a camera tripod was actually the easiest way to use it. This is because the touchscreen display is slightly recessed (for protection) and that means it’s not the easiest thing to see or prod accurately when the 10M is sitting on a desktop below the eye line. One solution is to angle the unit upwards by propping the front on something, but then it tends to slide around when you poke the screen (which you need to do quite often). Sound Devices’ solution is an optional accessory called the PIX-Base, which is a bespoke mounting plate that can be adjusted for height and angle. However, as I didn’t have one of those, I used a camera tripod which meant I could set the recorder up at eye level, it didn’t move around when I used the touchscreen, and it also made plugging and unplugging cables easier.

Operating the MixPre‑10M is much like the smaller models, with the same recessed power on/off slide switch on the left-hand panel, the same rotary controls for adjusting and accessing the input channels, the same illuminated knob collars indicating channel signal levels, the same touchscreen menu paradigms, and the same rotary encoder on the right-hand panel to adjust the headphone volume and change menu parameters. The most obvious difference, though, is that instead of the MixPre‑3 and 6’s dedicated transport buttons, the 10M, like the 10T, has a neat little joystick: push down for play, up for record, left/right to fast scroll or jump between cue-marks, and press to stop (and a double-press resets to the start of the current song.) Initially I thought this joystick looked a bit flimsy — but Sound Devices know exactly how to make a robust and reliable professional recorder, and the joystick is and feels very positive and reliable; it works very well indeed.

Right On Q

Another nice feature is the plethora of track position locator options. For example, in playback mode, pressing the joystick to either side instigates a fast-wind in the appropriate direction, initially at double speed or, after holding for five seconds, at 16x speed. Alternatively, from Stop mode, pushing the joystick to either side jumps to the previous/next stored Q-point (up to 20 cue marks per song can be stored). There’s also a proper ‘scrub’ mode: with the machine in play or pause modes, the ‘scrub’ function is activated by pressing the right-hand panel’s encoder knob, and then turning it to select speeds of stop, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 4, 8 or 16x normal — and all speeds between 1/8 and 2x deliver audible playback.

There are actually five different types of Q-point: Play-in, Record-in, Record-out, Stop and Cue-mark. As I’ve already intimated, the last is used to indicate different parts of the song for easy navigation, such as chorus, verse, middle-eight and so on, with up to 20 per project (and they are always numbered sequentially from the beginning, even if a new cue mark is added between existing ones). The default numbering can be supplemented with text labels, and the marks are embedded in the files in a way that can be read by many DAWs, including Adobe Audition and Cockos Reaper (those being the two I tested it with).

In contrast, there’s only ever one each of the Play, Stop and Record-in/out Q-points. The Record-in/out marks are used for setting up an automatic punch-in/out region, while the Play-in and Stop Q-points determine the pre-roll and post-roll regions either side of an automated punch-in. Setting all of these Q-points is done from a dedicated menu, accessed by pressing the ‘Q’ button on the home display, and the various different Q-points are stored simply by tapping the appropriate screen button at the right time during playback, or while stopped or paused at the right time point. Q-points can be previewed to check the timing accuracy and, if necessary, the stored time can be nudged in either direction in 0.1 second increments.

Switched On

When first powered up, the MixPre‑10M takes about 10 seconds to fully spring into life. The SD logo in the left-hand corner lights immediately, but the screen remains black for about five seconds, which is a little disconcerting. It then shows the firmware version for another four or five seconds before finally displaying the home screen and loading the last-used project.

The recessed touchscreen’s logical menu structure gives you quick and easy access to various functions and meters.The recessed touchscreen’s logical menu structure gives you quick and easy access to various functions and meters.

This home screen specifies the loaded project name at the top, along with the current power source (and remaining battery capacity, if applicable). Below are arrayed the current play time, a ‘Q-points’ menu button (which also shows the current cue mark), and the main system menu button. Moving further down, a horizontal bar-graph meter shows the stereo mix and below that are 12 vertical bar-graph meters for the individual tracks. Each meter’s track number changes colour to indicate the current play or record-arm status, and the meters merge together for stereo-linked tracks. It’s quite a logical arrangement but, for the record, solid red means the track is armed with input monitoring; red with a green outline means armed but monitoring the track’s playback; solid green indicates a non-armed playback track; grey is a non-armed track; and black means the track has no input assignment.

A white box enclosing a group of track meters indicates the current assignment of front-panel knobs. That’s necessary because there are eight knobs but 12 tracks — the top four rotary knobs always control the mix contributions of tracks 1-4, but the lower row can control tracks 5-8 or 9-12, with the selection being made simply by pressing the appropriate group of bar-graph meters in the screen. When the fader assignment changes, if a corresponding knob is moved its current fader setting is displayed in orange at the top of the screen, along with the previously stored value for the relevant channel. The mix contribution of that channel only changes when the two fader values are matched, at which point the text changes to black and the knob takes over live control of the channel’s contribution to the stereo mix.

In the home display’s bottom left-hand corner is a time-remaining indicator for the memory card, which slots into the back of the unit behind the battery pack. SD, SDHC or SDXC cards are all acceptable provided they are ‘Class 10’ or faster. Cards up to 32GB capacity are formatted as FAT32, while larger cards (up to 512GB) are formatted with exFAT. These are standard formats now, although it should be noted that exFAT is not compatible with older computer operating systems (Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.6.4 Snow Leopard and earlier).

As with other MixPre models there is only one SD card slot, but files can be backed up automatically to a fast thumb-drive or USB drive plugged into the machine’s USB-A socket, if required. Source tracks are recorded as individual mono WAVs with a maximum size of 4GB, but long-running tracks are automatically split into separate, sample-accurate contiguous files at the 4GB threshold when necessary. This is a divergence from the other MixPre models, which currently store recorded files only in the poly-WAV format.

The machine’s menu structure is very similar to other MixPre models, with the first page offering sub-menus for configuring Presets, Projects, Inputs and Outputs. The second page introduces 10M-specific functions, such as Reverb and Metronome, as well as Record — to select the stereo mix-rendering formats (stereo WAV or AAC at various bit-rates from 32 to 256 kbps) — and formatting the SD Card. The last page looks after a connected USB drive, configures Shortcut commands, and accesses the core System and Powering arrangements. Each of these main menu topics opens one or two sub-menu pages to access the various options, but it’s all very simple, logical and easy to use, with nothing more than a few clicks away. However, for really fast access to often-used menus, a front-panel toggle switch marked with asterisks can be user-programmed as a Shortcut to either of two pre-selected menu pages. The current options are Project, Q-points, the solo/mute screen, the SD card, line-up tone, or the metronome.

Starting A Project

Recording with the MixPre‑10M is based on a ‘project’ — basically a directory folder on the SD card in which all relevant tracks and session settings are stored. A new project is created simply by opening the main menu and pressing the Project button on the first page. Existing projects can also be opened, copied or ‘trashed’ from here, but creating a new project just requires a selection of sample rate (44.1, 48, or 96 kHz) and a text name. With a project loaded, the metronome level, tempo, time-signature and count-in can be set up (if required), and then the appropriate channels initialised for recording.

Pressing the rotary fader knob for a channel accesses its menu page, with buttons to arm the corresponding track for recording, select solo or mute and enable input monitoring. One potential ‘gotcha’ here is that the mute button actually kills the recording track, not just its mix contribution! But the solo mode is safe, as the soloed track is only heard on the headphone output and doesn’t destroy the stereo mix.

An input button selects the recording track’s physical input and type — options include balanced mic or line, the aux (3.5mm) input, USB, the stereo mix bus (or individual left/right channels), or the metronome click. The preamp input gain and phantom power are also configured here.

This extensive input routing system means that any physical input can be recorded on any track, conveniently minimising the need for constant replugging when overdubbing. Bounce-downs can be achieved quickly and easily too via the stereo mix bus. Also, if the MixPre is connected to a computer, it allows audio to be played directly into the recorder via USB, while simultaneously adding new tracks in sync, using the 10M’s physical inputs with direct low-latency monitoring.

Unlike the other MixPre models, the 10M’s channel knobs always operate as faders contributing to the stereo mix bus, with unity gain at the 12-o’clock position and a range of -50 to +20 dB (plus mute when fully anti-clockwise). In contrast, preamp input gains are adjusted by first pressing the gain button on the selected channel’s screen and turning the encoder on the right-hand side panel. Forgetting to press the gain button first — as I often did — results in the headphone level being changed instead!

In balanced mic mode, the preamp’s gain runs from +6 to +76 dB, and -20 to +30 dB in line mode (similar ranges apply to the aux mic/line input and the USB inputs). With such expansive ranges it’s very unlikely that there will ever be problem sources, no matter how loud or quiet. A horizontal bar-graph meter at the top of the channel menu shows both average and peak levels, changing from green to yellow at -20dBFS and then to red at -12dBFS — a very sensible colour scheme, which encourages a good headroom margin. The light ring around the channel fader’s base also changes colour to indicate input levels, changing from green (signal present) to red at -12dBFS, and orange if the limiter operates (the limiters are switched on by default but are transparent most of the time). When soloed, the channel’s light ring shows a flashing orange, and steady red when muted. The less obvious mode is a pulsing orange that occurs if the physical fader position differs from the stored position after reassigning ‘fader banks’ (between tracks 5-8 and 9-12).

On the channel menu’s second page, buttons are provided to adjust the mix pan, high-pass filter (off, 40, 80, 120, or 160 Hz), polarity inversion, and stereo linking of adjacent odd/even channels (which are then adjusted together using the odd-numbered channel’s controls). As I mentioned earlier, the 10M doesn’t include a Mid-Sides decoding option for linked channels (unlike the other MixPre models), which I think is a bit of a shame.

Two other controls on this menu page are unique to the 10M’s ‘Musician’s firmware’: Reverb and Air. The first is effectively a post-fader aux send to a built-in stereo reverb processor, the output of which returns into the stereo mix bus, and every channel can contribute to the reverb processor if desired. In contrast, the Air‑EQ effect is only available on one channel at a time (and isn’t available on linked channels), for which the control determines the strength of effect, adding an attractive high-end ‘airy sheen’ intended for vocal tracks. Some odd processing artifacts are audible as the Air level is changed, but they disappear once the desired setting is established. The reverb and Air‑EQ effects appear in the stereo mix (and headphones), but are not recorded in the source track at all. That said, both of these effects can be embedded into source tracks, if desired, via bounce-downs.

At first glance, the reverb processor might appear rather crude, but it actually sounds pretty good and offers Plate, Room and Hall modes with controls to adjust the pre-delay (up to 40ms), decay time (0.1 to 5 seconds), and HF damping (scaled 0 to 20). Okay, it’s not a Lexicon or a Bricasti, but it’s perfectly acceptable for ‘comfort reverb’ while tracking, and it is a very useful facility when mixing down in the machine to create a demo or fast-turnaround release.

Performing musicians might want to use the MixPre‑10M as a high-quality playback source while simultaneously multitracking and mixing in the live instruments to feed a PA. To that end, a dedicated menu page allows the balanced (TA3) and unbalanced (3.5mm) outputs to be configured independently. Both can carry either mono or stereo versions of either the stereo mix bus or the headphone bus, and their output levels can be adjusted downwards over a 40dB range from a maximum +10.8dBu at the balanced outputs and +7.8dBu at the unbalanced outputs.

The stereo mix bus option is just the stereo mix created by the channel faders (and reverb return), obviously, but the headphone bus can be configured independently to carry any desired combination of the 12 source tracks and the separate left and right stereo mix channels, as well as any soloed tracks. The default option, naturally, is for the headphones to monitor the stereo mix bus, but four custom configurations can be stored as dedicated headphone presets for instant access.

The eight rotary controls, with their striking illuminated surrounds, double up as push-switches. The first group of four always controls channels 1-4, while the second can set the level of channels 5-8 or 9-12.The eight rotary controls, with their striking illuminated surrounds, double up as push-switches. The first group of four always controls channels 1-4, while the second can set the level of channels 5-8 or 9-12.

First Recording

So, with inputs connected, levels set, tracks armed, and monitoring organised, all that’s needed is to push the joystick up to start recording. If the metronome is turned on the click track count-in starts, the meters show the individual track levels and stereo mix, and the track timer increments from zero.

Although the MixPre‑10M works, to all intents and purposes, like a traditional analogue multitrack recorder — new takes on the same armed track appearing to overwrite previous efforts, for example — each recording is actually retained as a separate file and logged individually in the machine’s ‘History List’ (uniquely identified with a file name comprising the chronological track recording order, date and time). So no take is ever lost, and previous takes can be retrieved and substituted for current takes, if required, directly from the History List menu page.

In practice, a complete track can be built up very quickly and surprisingly easily, reassigning the appropriate physical inputs to different tracks and overdubbing parts as necessary. Once completed, the entire recording can then be mixed on the fly using the track fader knobs, pan controls, reverb and Air‑EQ as appropriate, and rendered as either a stereo WAV or AAC file on a thumb drive (for example). This makes it possible to share a mix almost immediately with other members of the band, or upload to social media very speedily and easily.

Alternatively, all of the project’s individual (active) tracks can be exported as mono WAVs (all starting from the project’s zero time), making it very simple to import and align them in a DAW for post-production elsewhere. Or, if other musicians have the same model of MixPre running the Musician Plugin, the entire project folder can be shared so that they can continue adding tracks and remixing the project independently. (So folders can be shared between two 10Ms, or two MixPre‑6s, but not between a 10M and a MixPre‑6, for example.)

My initial project with the MixPre‑10M involved copying a stereo guide track of a friend’s new song onto tracks 1-2 over a USB connection from my computer (v2.20 firmware should be available by the time you read this and will allow the direct import of WAV files). I then made a few cue marks to aid navigation and started recording a Hammond organ part onto tracks 3-4. This took a few takes as my musical ideas evolved, and then I added a piano part onto 5-6, doubled the bass guitar line (via an Orchid Electronics Micro DI) on 7, and added a synth counter melody (via the same DI) onto track 8, for which I set up an automatic punch-in/out.

The whole process was ‘direct’ and remarkably straightforward and, as my familiarity with the machine grew, I found I could really fly around the project, selecting inputs, arming tracks and overdubbing parts very quickly indeed. The almost total absence of any technical distractions allowed complete focus on the music and my performances, and I found that very refreshing. It made recording music rewarding and fun — the way I remember it being with my first four-track tape recorder 30-plus years ago — rather than technical and cumbersome! As a direct consequence, I discovered a level of enthusiasm that I find hard to maintain with my DAW setup, and I really wanted to plug things in and record musical ideas which I could then embellish and build upon. Some of this allure came from the convenient portability of the unit, allowing me to record things away from my DAW and normal ‘studio’ space, but also because the machine could be up and running in just 10 seconds, meaning I could record a take almost instantly whenever the mojo struck!

At a technical level, the sound quality of the MixPre‑10M is completely beyond reproach. The Kashmir mic preamps are very quiet and neutral-sounding, and have masses of gain available from quick, precise controls. The headphone amp is clean and powerful, coping easily with both the low- and high-impedance headphones I tried. The input high-pass filter options cater for all eventualities, and the Air‑EQ effect is controllable from off, to barely there, to completely over-the-top, but really nails that popular, bright, breathy, vocal character (if only I could sing!). And finally, the reverb’s Plate, Room and Hall modes each have their own distinct characters, and I think Sound Devices’ decision to include a reverb processor in the 10M’s software was inspired — it really enhances the independent, self-contained nature of the machine. I found it performed admirably as a ‘comfort’ effect when tracking vocalists by building confidence and helping the tuning, but it’s also a very welcome and useful addition when knocking out a scratch stereo mix.

Conclusion

The MixPre‑10M is utterly brilliant! It sounds superb, and is so remarkably fast and easy to use that I found it completely addictive and genuinely inspirational. The machine’s basic operation is highly logical and intuitive, although reading the manual reveals many clever shortcuts and semi-hidden features to make using the machine even more of a joy. But everything works exactly as it should, with pleasing precision and minimal fuss or distraction, which is essential in keeping the brain’s artistic right hemisphere fully in command. Nevertheless, while it’s entirely possible to record and complete a mix entirely within the MixPre‑10M, it’s also just as easy to render the individual tracks and export them to a DAW to indulge your engineer’s left-hemisphere skills!

Although I was a little disappointed with the absence of Mid-Sides decoding, TA3 output cables and word-clock sync options (and getting into the battery pack is not as obvious as it should be), none of these shortcomings — if indeed they can even be called that — will bother most potential customers.

Sound Devices have been very prompt in resolving the few small bugs in the initial firmware, as well as enhancing the recorder’s usability. As I mentioned earlier, v2.20 of the firmware should be available by the time you read this, and I’m sure they’ll continue to develop and augment it further in the months to come. Nonetheless, with the review model’s v2.10 firmware installed I found this to be an extremely impressive and desirable multitrack recorder/mixer, and all the more so given its attractive pricing and remarkable combination of features and versatility.

For anyone needing a portable multitrack recorder with the ability to overdub and bounce tracks, there is no real competition, and for anyone wanting to get away from the distractions and complications of traditional DAWs, the MixPre‑10M offers an outstandingly attractive solution. Having spent a few weeks with the MixPre‑10M, I’m not sure I’ll be able to live without one...  

Alternatives

There is nothing else currently on the market offering true multitrack functionality with as many tracks in such a compact and portable machine.

Published July 2018