Sound Devices Scorpio – An Overview & Review
The Scorpio is Sound Devices’ new flagship mixer, and to say it’s a powerful machine is an understatement. While the capabilities of the 8 Series Mixer/Recorders (Scorpio, 888, & 833) are not unprecedented in the sound world, this is certainly a first in a compact bag based field recording package. Coming in at a price tag of $9,900, the Scorpio is an incredible deal for the feature set it offers.
Moving to the 8 Series from a Sound Devices 664 was a huge leap forward. Not only does it simply sound better than the 6 series recorders (688, 664, & 633), but it also has numerous capability increases the 6 series hardware wasn’t capable of supporting. Built around 3 FPGAs and 6 ARM processors; it offers a platform that can be continually improved and optimized by Sound Devices with future firmware updates. As a production sound mixer, the Scorpio offers the flexibility I need to take on any style of production across a wide range of workflows from simple single subject interviews,to narrative productions, live streamed content, or large scale multicamera productions with high channel counts & multiple mixes.
16 High End Preamps
The 32 channel Scorpio mixer features 16 analog inputs with Sound Devices all new 8 series. Often underappreciated, the impact preamps have on sound quality can be significant; Coming from the studio world, I have long had a respect for the influence a high quality microphone preamplifier can have on the sound of your recordings.
These preamps resigned by Sound Devices from the ground up are truly exceptional! The 8 series preamplifiers are incredibly transparent and detailed sounding with ultra low self noise. So far I have had the opportunity to use them on a wide variety of sources, and not only are they incredible in the typical use of dialog recording, but work incredibly well on everything I’ve tried them on so far. Having recorded drums, bass, electric & acoustic guitars, cello, keyboards, and vocals, they are incredibly versatile. If you are interested in what the Sound Devices Scorpio sounds like for recording music, here is a track recorded entirely using the Scorpio for mic preamps, routing, and cue mixes for a full band recorded live in isolation.
In addition to the quality of these analog inputs, they also have an analog high pass filter and limiters built in making the analog front end of this unit worth the price alone.
Nearly Unlimited Routing Possibilities
The scorpio has nearly limitless routing capabilities, making its inputs and outputs incredibly flexible for a wide range of applications. It’s almost like having a digitally integrated and controlled patchbay & multbox built into the recorder.
Input Routing Flexibility
One really unique feature of Scorpio’s inputs is that multiple channels can have the same analog input simultaneously assigned with independent preamplifier levels, as well as analog high pass filters (before the preamp stage) & analog input limiters, This routing feature could be unbelievably useful for recording sources with ridiculously high dynamic range, like in the case of SFX recording (i.e. gunshots, explosions, vehicle FX, etc).
Outside of analog inputs, any channel can be assigned inputs via AES, Dante, USB, Returns, or voa Sound Devices superslot interfaces (SL-6 & SL-2). While any channel can receive AES inputs, AES can only be connected using input 1, 6, or with the XL-AES or the SL-2’s 2 AES inputs (4 channels).
LR Mix Bus & Auxiliary Buses 1-10
A major change in terms of routing from the 6 series going to 8 series is that buses and outputs function individually from one another. There are 3 modes for bus sends; Pre-Fader, Post-Fader, & Independent Send Levels. Being able to not just route channels but create custom mixes with independent auxiliary volume sends is a first for bag based field recorders; Typically a feature only found in large format consoles. Having the ability to do independent mixes opens up the Scorpio’s viability for workflows that demand this capability; Such as music performance videos & live events feeding independent monitor mixes.
Additionally the headphone bus functions as its own bus which can be routed to output X1-X6 which enables you to use that as a ‘Control Room’ output for use with studio monitors that follow PFL & headphone volume changes in a control room scenario.
Buses can be stereo linked to follow the pan control if additional stereo mixes are needed. Furthermore each bus additionally has a built in limiter & independent compressor that can be used to control the dynamics of that bus or prevent accidental overages.
The scorpio has a lot of outputs, L&R XLRs, 6 auxiliary outputs X1-X6 via TA3 connectors, two 10-pin hirose camera breakouts, & two stereo unbalanced ⅛” for X7/8 & X9/10. The L, R, and first 10-pin hirose can be used as 8 channels of AES digital connections. Each of these outputs can have any mix bus routed to it or act as isolated channel direct outs. Each output can be independently set as line level, -10, or mic level outputs.
Dante outputs can also have any channel iso, bus mix, or mirroring analog outputs to the Dante network…
The Sound Devices Scorpio is a 32 input & 32 output Dante interface. This really excites me because it opens up a lot of expandability options for the Scorpio or 888. Dante is a multivendor protocol that allows you to flexibly route audio between devices on a network. There are all sorts of devices available using Dante; for example preamplifiers, wireless receivers, analog line outputs modules, IFB & communication systems, and even other digital consoles.
Using software from Audinate (the company behind Dante), Dante Virtual Sound Card & Dante Controller, you can use the scorpio as a 32×32 audio interface with DAW software. Inversely using ‘Dante Via‘ you can set up a computer’s sound card or external interface (via Thunderbolt, USB, Firewire, etc) to appear on the Dante network and be routed to/from the Scorpio.
Compression, EQ, Auto Mixing, & Noise Assist
When working on productions that are broadcasting live on air or aren’t going through audio post-production where the mix to camera is what will be heard. Having compression, limiting, timing delays, noise assist (Sound Devices’ real time noise reduction plugin that sounds quite good with minimal artifacts!) built into each channel & bus, and channel 1-16 having a 3 band parametric EQ & auto mixing (or smart attenuation of unused mics), Simply put, the 8 series of mixers gives you the tools necessary to deliver a broadcast ready mix (and record pre or post processed isos of each channel).
The 8 series connected via USB C will function as a 2in & 2out USB audio interface. You can assign the USB interface to any channel or any channel or bus back into the computer.
COVID-19 making remote direction/clients via zoom a much more commonplace thing, having a built in USB interface makes embedding audio into the calls super easy. I had one shoot where not only did we feed a mix to remote producers, but the field producer/director wore a lav to talk directly to the remote viewers and their return fed into his wireless IFB allowing him to have 2 way remote communication with remote producers/clients.
SD Remote – Bluetooth Control
Similar to the 6 series’ wingman, SD Remote brings the 8 series of mix/recorders additional feature; Having the ability to change metadata & effect transport controls isn’t where it stops. The SD Remote offers adjustments of Trim & Fader controls for each channel effectively allowing remote operation. SD Remote is still in its infancy has potential for further expansion of control over the mixer.
36 Track Recorder
If all those mixing and routing features weren’t enough, the Scorpio functions as a stand alone 36 track recorder made up of 32 input iso tracks, L&R Mix, and 2 additional armable mix buses. The recorder can record on up to three separate media simultaneously with independent file formats to each card (Mono Wavs, Poly Wavs, or Stereo AACs). It has an internal 256 GB SSD and 2 SD card slots. Having redundancy in media gives you a safety net in mission critical scenarios. I’ve had media cards misbehave before on my 664, but fortunately the issue was only with one card and there was a backup that was unaffected. When recording AACs for transcription on one card, it gives you piece of mind still having 2 cards recording the full resolution WAV files.
SL-6 or SL-2 Integration
The SL-6 & SL-2 are both Superslot receiver accessories for the Sound Devices Scorpio (SL-2 is compatible with all 8 series, SL-6 is only compatible with the Scorpio and 688). Each allows you to integrate slot receivers from the likes of Lectrosonics, Wisycom, Audio Ltd. etc. allowing you to get audio into the mixers without sacrificing analog inputs Functioning as an RF distro for the integrated slot receivers and giving you control over your receivers settings. Whats more is they function as an integrated power distro & power supply for remote active antennas.
Control Surface Option & CL-12 Integration
The 8 series offers 3 supported options for control surfaces; The purpose built CL-16, the legacy CL-12 from the 6 series, and USB control surfaces using the MCU (Mackie Control Universal) protocol. Since I own a CL-12 that’s what I use for my Scorpio. It gives me at my fingertips all the controls I need to properly mix and record 12 channels using linear faders and soft controls.
One of the best things about Sound Devices’ 8 series of mixer/recorders is they are designed with the digital infrastructure under the hood to allow them to continue developing new features & capabilities while enhancing the user interface over time with each new firmware update. Sound Devices is also a small enough company that they actively listen to their user base, and if there is a feature missing from your workflow and you contact them about it, there is a good likelihood they will implement it in future firmware releases if it’s something architecturally possible.