Zaxcom Nomad: Overview


I recently did a minor review ( which had three blog posts) about Sound Devices’ 788T multitrack recorder and received a large response from the posts. Eventually, I made two friends through twitter, one of which notified me of his ownership of the Zaxcom Nomad and how I should take interest. I literally forgot, until that moment, the Nomad was currently available after debuting at the 2011 NAB show. So, of course I’m writing about it today.

The third conception from Zaxcom after two predecessors, the Deva and Fusion lines, continues to hold up the manufacturers name by not only offering the standards their company built over the years, but also allowing for more flexibility by providing a fluid integration into the flow of productions today.

This company didn’t need to come out and set a mark with digital production, They did that with the invention of the Deva in the early 90’s. They also didn’t need to revise their internal routing systems or add to their effects packages, providing touch screen access and monitoring, or efficient jamming and side monitoring of individual cameras, they did this with the Zaxcom Fusion a while ago. Yet, with the addition of the Nomad to Zaxcom’s products lines, you feel an immediate sense that they have solved all of your production problems with this new piece of equipment; problems you didn’t even think were problems.

Problem 1 Solved: Multiple Trim Pots

Front face of Zaxcom Nomad with Displaying Auto Trim

With the move from two channel recorders to multitrack recorders of the present, everything on the face of the recorder has multiplied as a result. The biggest affect from this is having dedicated fader and trim control for each channel. With the traditional two channels to stay focused on, this isn’t much of a problem, but with the advent of 8, 12, and even 16 channel mixers, it’s more than the average person can handle and would probably take a couple passes at the recording to master the levels. Add outside elements to your mix such as booming, movement, watching for boom shadows and then come back to mixing; it’s highly impossible you didn’t make a mistake at the wheel. Now, that can all be gone with the invention of Auto Trim.

Auto Trim is a patent pending feature on the Zaxcom Nomad that allows you to control each trim parameter on each channel with a single knob (menu knob) on the face of the Nomad. All that’s required is a touch of the selected channel fader which will then notify the mixer that the menu knob is trimming that specific channel. A blue LED located bottom right of each fader illuminates signifying the current channel being targeted.

For production sound mixers with a sound cart, this doesn’t seem much of an upgrade because you’re use to the idea of being planted during productions. For production sound mixers who go at it alone on documentary or even reality style shooting, this feature will quickly become a life saver by keeping your focus off the technical aspects and more on capturing the sound at hand.

Problem 2 Solved: Battery Access

AA Nihm Batteries

If I don’t rent a 788T for more channels, I will use my Deva II which is a dinosaur compared to some of today’s recorders.  One thing I’ve always had a problem with was going mobile. The Deva II takes gigantic blue lithium ion batteries that have a great productive life span for use during production, but are just as expensive as a H4n portable recorder. Many other multitrack recorders probably have the same feel with their specific type of ion battery. You have to have a charger, multiple batteries, and then you have to re-up on batteries because ions lose their charge with time. After a while, you find yourself recharging more often. The Nomad took a different but familiar approach for this.

The Zaxcom Nomad switches it up a bit by accepting AA ion batteries instead of a specific tailor made ion source. This is the same type of battery you would find on a portable mixer. The difference though between a mixer like a sound devices 442 or 552 is that they only route and mix sound internally and then output the sound to a hard disk recorder like a 744t, Deva, or Nomad. This would be the first time I’ve seen this possible on a recorder since there’s a lot more working in the box; you have hard drives spinning to store data, wifi file transfers, sound routing, and the list goes on and on.

What’s so great about this? Battery availability as AA Nihm Ion batteries are common in any place they sell regular batteries due to the fact that it’s the most common battery used for digital prosumer cameras. The average life span is 1 to 3 hours based on usage but I think I wouldn’t mind the trade for time knowing I could grab another pack if I needed to right down the street at my local target, Walmart, Walgreen, gas station, you name it whatever store. I’ve seen it too many times on independent shoots; camera guys taking long pauses to charge batteries or find an extension cable to wire up because they can’t be mobile. Their batteries are so unique that if they wanted to quickly run off and purchase new batteries, they can only find it online or at a specific pro shop. Who wants to deal with that when your in the middle of shooting? The time usage for the AA nihm batteries are low but the availability is worth the trade. I love knowing I can get batteries from any where close by if I really need it. Especially if the mixing scenario requires me to be mobile 100% of the time.

Problem 3 Solved: Integration With Wireless

Zaxnet Wireless System

Zaxcom is simply beast when it comes to their digital wireless monitoring and playback systems. There use of UHF throughout their wireless product line is top notched and patented, meaning basically they own it and no one can recreate it without licensing it from them.  Simply put, all of their transmitters record the audio. It’s then transmitted to UHF receivers and monitor receivers as monitoring playback and storing backup so essentially, the audio stored from the transmitter via UHF radio is the secondary audio. The primary audio stays with the transmitter.

Why is this important? Cross talking frequencies are becoming more common with the advent of wifi, and increasing use of mobile devices. The radio wave space is becoming more condensed so production sound mixers of today fight with a lot of interference.  With the transmitters storing the audio before it reaches the sound mixer via radio, production sound mixers are insured that the audio is not interfered with and if it does sound so on the secondary storage via the recorder, production sound mixers can playback the audio on the transmitter, primary storage, to see if everything was captured efficiently.  I know, a whole story in itself.  So what does this mean for Nomad?

Well, now you have remote control over the playback of the transmitter from Nomad itself. Another virtual controller, you can control playback going to the UHF receiver which is normally attached to camera, or even the monitor receiver which the director can have. you can also set a variety of delays so different people on set can have timed audio match their current viewing preference whether it be 5 second delay for their monitors or no second delay because they are close on the action watching it transpire.  Insane.

Problem 4 solved: Slate Included

Zaxcom Nomad Slate

Front Face of Zaxcom Nomad Displaying Slate Feature

I didn’t know this until I started working on set, but quite simply the sound mixer is gate keeper of time code. So now you need a slate, and if your locking sound to picture by time code, you need a smart slate with a quarts crystal. Frankly, it gets expensive. A used smart slate can still run you anywhere between $750 to $1500 dollars.

The Zaxcom Nomad throws in a smart slate for giggles, considering that the cameras are already jammed with the time code from the mixer, you simply put the mixer into its slate mode, the screen on the recorder displays the time code in a slate configuration and once you “snap” the slate, the time code numbers pause so the camera can get the visual slate time code while the recorder stores a beep to the sound recorder and camera (if the camera is connected via a stereo cable) locking in a specific frame for sync. I commend Zaxcom for incorporating this. It’s a great backup to have if your really remote, you don’t need that extra guy for slating purposes.

These are a few of the pluses mentioned in the video plus more. I’d figured just to highlight a few of my personal favorites. Ultimately, The Nomad is groomed to grow with the changes of the sound mixers tastes. It’s one of the few recorders that’s built to be upgradable over time so you will never have to be stuck with decrepit equipment.

The Zaxcom Nomad also comes in a variety of channels so you can choose if you want to start off with 6, 8, or even 12. Their prices vary respectively. A full spec list is included below. If you can go out and play with this machine, I highly suggest you do.

Zaxcom Noman Production Sound System

Nomad Specifications:

Analog In
Analog inputs 6 Mic/line-level with 48V phantom power
4 line-level (camera return or mix inputs)
Connector 6 x XLR-3F
2 x TA5
Input Range
Mic-level
Line-level
-56 to -26 dBu
-10 to +8 dB
Distortion 0.0015%
ADC Bit-depth 24 Bits
ADC Dynamic Range 135 dB
Clipping Level +28 dBu
Frequency Response 20 Hz to 22 kHz (48 kHz sampling-rate)
THD + Noise 0.0015%
Slate Mic Input External balanced / unblanced with bias
Digital In – Nomad 6, 8 & 12 Only
Digital Inputs 8 (3 AES pair with SRC, 1 AES42 pair with SRC)
Connector DB-15 mini
Sample-rate Converters 4 pairs
Analog Out
Analog Outputs 4 Balanced XLR, 0dBu, -10dBu and -30dBu
3 Balanced TA5 (6 bus) 0dBu, -10dBu and -30dBu
Tape/Mono Output 2 unbalanced 3.5mm, 0dBu, -10dBu and -30dBu
Headphone 1 1/4 inch stereo bus
Headphone 2 3.5mm stereo bus
Output Level 0 dBu @ -20 dBFS
Clipping Level +20 dBu
DAC Bit-depth 24 Bits
DAC Dynamic Range 115dB
Impedance 30 ohm
Digital Out – Nomad 6, 8 & 12 Only
Channel Count 4 AES pairs (8 channels)
Connector DB-15 mini (DE-15)
Source Mix/Direct
Recording
Track Count 4, 6, 8 or 12 – model dependent
Bit-depth
Primary
Mirror(s)
24
16 / 24
Sample-rates (kHz) 44.1, 47.952, 48, 48.048, 96
Head Room 12 to 20 dB
Format Int. Slot-1: MARF II
Int. Slot-2: FAT32
Ext USB. Device: FAT32 – Nomad 8 & 12 Only
File Format Int. Slot-1: .ZAX
Int. Slot-2: BWF-P
Ext. Device: BWF-P or MP3 – Nomad 8 & 12 Only
Dual Disk Recording YES
Max Pre-record Duration (seconds) 10 seconds
Data Storage
Internal 2 x CompactFlash
External – Nomad 8 & 12 Only USB 2.0 High Speed
External Media – Nomad 8 & 12 Only Flash / Hard Drive
Internal Mixer
Mixer Type 32 bit floating point DSP
Mixer Cross Point 16 input x 16 output (Pre-fader / Post-fader / Phase Inversion)
A-D / D-A Conversion size 24 bit
Head Room Selectable 12 to 20 dB
Effects
Delay 0 to 60 mS in .1mS steps
Notch Filter 2 band, 20 Hz to 20 kHz frequency range adjustable
Compressor Type Soft Knee
Compressor Adjustments Attack, Release, Threshold, Ratio, Make-up Gain
High Pass Filter 20 Hz to 230 Hz
Timecode Reader/Generator
Timecode Type SMPTE
Connector BNC
Input Voltage 1-4VPP
Output Voltage 2VPP
Clock Accuracy 1.54 PPM (1 frame out in 6 hours)
Timecode Frame-rates 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97NDF, 29.97DF, 30NDF, 30DF
Zaxnet RF interface – Nomad 6, 8 & 12 Only
2.4 Ghz Transmitter 50mW output power
Frequency Range 2.403 to 2.475 GHz
Modulation type Spread spectrum
Bandwidth 1MHz
Connector SMA female
Power
Internal 6AA 7-9 VDC, 1-3 hours of usage (NiMh)
External 10 to 18 VDC
External Power 8 to 18 VDC @ 300mA
Power Connector Hirose
Battery Meter on LCD display
Physical
Size (H x W x D)
while looking at screen
2.0″ x 9.9″ x 7.0″
Weight 3.8 pounds with internal batteries
Misc
Display Full color sunlight readable LCD
Meters Output / Input / Card
Slate Mic Internal
Serial/RS-422 1 x 4-Pin USB style
Internal Slate Mic YES
Serial Port Zaxcom Proprietary
Compatible with Mix-8 YES

All Specifications subject to change without notice

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