Sound Devices 702t Field Recorder

When I was approached about doing this review, I was a bit unsure as to whether I was the right person. After all, I’m a film and TV composer who rarely ventures beyond the womb-like confines of my studio to do anything, much less record outside.
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But I also live and work in Topanga Canyon, home to hundreds of species of interesting natural sounds — from birds to mudslides. Having always had a secret desire to incorporate some of these sounds into my scores, and being stymied by my lack of a decent way to record them, I realized the 702T might provide me with a chance to finally see if this concept that I heard in my head would work in the mix.

(OUT) SOURCING

I was beginning work on the season-ending episode of Cold Case, and searching for a musical sound design element to serve as a mysteriously threatening thread that could tie a number of investigative scenes together. I kept envisioning a kind of throbbing sustained sound with a lot of menacing activity but no distinctive individual events. I suddenly realized what it was: the bees in the wisteria grove outside my window!

Being a danger-averse, pampered, and somewhat overscheduled composer, I assigned the recording to my staff producer who then did the intelligent thing: delegate the task to our two assistants, Kayla Schmah and Ryan Leach. And this is what they had to say about it.

FIELD OF BEES

“The 702T was very easy to use. It didn’t require any setup time, which is crucial when you are trying to capture an unpredictable sound source. Toggling in and out of record mode creates new takes automatically, and names them sequentially. Furthermore, the 702T is small and light enough to be held in one hand, and feels durable enough to survive the occasional clumsy field recordist.

“Because it uses an internal hard drive and not tape, the 702T was extremely quiet. This helped us avoid getting noticed and stung by the bees we were recording, and preserved the source’s sonic purity. We decided on a JVC MU-Z1 battery-powered condenser stereo mic designed specifically for field work, and connected it via an adapter to the 702T’s XLR ins.

“Sound Devices put all of its functions within menus, and scrolling through them in the heat of the moment can be time-consuming. It would have been nice to have some functions, such as phantom power on/off, on the face of the device.

“We didn’t need to use the 702T’s time stamping or sync features, though a cursory check indicated all was in order. You can transfer files to a hard disk recorder via FireWire, where the 702T looks like another hard drive, and just drag and drop its files.

“Upon playback, the actual recording was stunning in its clarity and depth. When it was played back initially, everyone standing near the speakers involuntarily jumped back in alarm. But to integrate these sounds in a musical track, they couldn’t be so literal. So, we processed them through Ableton Live’s pitch transpose feature and a few filters; this gave us the opportunity to create additional menace, and tune it to the track.

“The fun thing about using a portable recorder with natural sources is the unpredictability of the outcome. Besides the bees themselves, other noises on the recording (birds, wind, a passing jet) provided a textural complexity that is impossible to match with a purely electronic source.”

TO THE AIR

I ended up using variations of our processed bees sounds in five cues, most notably in a scene where the cops discover the dead body of what they think is the title character. At the dub, I was complimented several times by the producers and post-crew on the music, with the “bee moments” in particular garnering praise for their creepiness and life-like quality: thanks, 702T. Now I’m eager to start including hawks, tree frogs, coyotes, and the seasonal Santa Ana winds in future compositions. A mountain lion might be nice as well; I wonder if Kayla and Ryan are available. . . .

Product type: Two channel, two-track, hard disk-based digital audio recorder with timecode.

Target market: Field recordists.

Strengths: Solid construction. Incredibly portable. Generates virtually no noise. User friendly. Preamps lend themselves to stunningly faithful sound.

Limitations: Using menus for critical features can be inconvenient in the field.

Price: $2,650 (list)

Contact: www.sounddevices.com