788T Multi-Track Digital Audio Recorder Overview Pt. 1

The 788T Multi-Track Recorder is by far one of my favorite recorders to work with. I’ve used this recorder countless times in the field, and considering my transition from studio work to field work, this recorder allowed me to think like a studio audio engineer as I worked as a production sound mixer.

Traditionally, sound mixers worked with less track count due to their job titles only centering on the importance of clean dialogue. The original sound recorder, The Nagra, was a ¼ inch tape machine which only alluded 2 channels of sound at any given time. That standard carried over even when we approached the digital age. Multi-tracking in film and television wasn’t really needed because most scenes were rehearsed thoroughly. Additionally, you only really had two tracks at the most during this time to cement what was being captured, so perfection was key. There was very little room for error during this time. (This is similar to recording to tape for music, if it wasn’t in the take, you re-did the take.)

Over the years, time became an issue. Schedules for locations, talent use, and overall shooting compressed the original available time alluded to the point where there was little time to cement the perfect “take”. People in every field had to adapt to its nature. Multi-camera positions would be used to capture a scene at a time to speed through setups and remarking, rehearsal times become shorter if at all existed, and the digital age finally reached the entertainment industry in the form of instant gratification. To make sure something was perfect became less important and to have it instantly was more pleasing. The production sound mixer had to adapt to the speed of filming, and multi-tracking was the answer.

Multi-tracking, used very often during music recording since after its invention by the great Les Paul, was seldom used by the film industry till about 20 years ago. Some mixers still don’t use this tool as most studios still only request 1 track of audio by the mixer as to not create confusion or delay by the picture editor. “Less is more”. For Independent, Improv, multi-talent comedic, and even documentary style performances, having multi-track capabilities is a necessity and even a life/job saver for the production sound mixer. Thus, the birth of Sound Devices’ 788T multi-track recorder.

The 788T Multi-track recorder isn’t the first of its kind to hit the market. Matter of fact, It falls behind a well respected list of products from other manufacturers that have existed in this industry since Sound Devices formed their company in 1998. Still, I praise this machine among most because the learning curve and adaptability of use for any of their products is non-existent. As long as you can understand signal flow and routing, which every audio working professional in the industry does, and a small familiarity with some form of recording equipment, all you need is a simple 10 to 15 minute walkthrough of the menu and your off. It’s that simple.

Oh! Did I say it was versatile for any occasion? Not only can you have this device as the main brain to your sound cart with a CL-9 addition, it’s very portable by itself with a CL-8 addition also. For example, I was working on an independent film shoot that was scheduling to shoot a feature length film in six days. (Yes, that’s not a typo. 8:1 ratio of footage coverage in 6 days) So the key from the Director was to be light and fast. Even the crew was small, 10 to 15 people tops including talent. Anyway, during one scene, we conducted a fictional AA meeting with over 40 members. There were a few Lines of dialogue between 6 principal characters, 3 characters of which were improvising lines. Even the setup was made up 20 minutes before we started shooting and I felt I had to capture everything every go around. Luckily, I had multiple lavalieres, a boom, an additional microphone loaned by the coffee shop along with a cable, and a stereo microphone to pick up any ambient replies when the group said words in unison. The best part was I was able to run everything isolated into the 788T and also have the CL-8 to build a final mix!!!! That’s over 7 different sources of audio that can be reconfigured later if the Re-Recording Sound Mixer feels something is off in my personal mix. Did I mention I was the only sound professional working on set that day? That’s job security.

Sound Devices’ 788T isn’t an end all be all, but it is a great learning cost efficient device to start with when entering this industry before you even began to expand your use with other recording products. Even if you decide to stick with this device, you won’t be selling yourself short in any way, shape, or form.


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