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Old October 18th, 2016, 11:56 AM   #1
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Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

I wrote this originally as an Amazon review on this mixer, but thought I would share my thoughts here as well for anyone who might be interested.

Finding a quality field mixer when you don't have the funds for something from Sound Devices can be difficult, so I hope that this helps someone.

This is not a Sound Devices mixer. Hopefully that is obvious. Sound devices, in my opinion, is still the gold standard of field audio mixers. But, even the Sound Devices 302 is $1600. This guy is only $500.

Considering how much cheaper this is than a Sound Devices mixer, it holds up really well. I would say it outperforms almost every other mixer that even begins to approach this price point. It has the core features that are necessary for production, like tone generator, return audio monitoring, ability to output simultaneously to a camera and external recorder, and phantom power.

What I truly love about this mixer is the audio quality. It is absolutely superb. All the audio that passes through this mixer is clear and has a beautiful transparent quality that I have only seen matched by those mixers made by Sound Devices or in recording studios. The pre-amps are extremely quiet. You can really crank up the levels and have virtually no detectable noise.

I do video production for a living. Having spent ten years in broadcasting, I am now a full time freelancer. Even though I mainly work as a DP/camera op, there are still times I need my own sound kit. Not having the funds to build out a full kit around a sound devices mixer, I eventually settled on the ENG44a and I have no regrets. The mixer is the heart of my kit, I also have three Rodelink wireless lav systems and a Rode NTG-1 on a boom pole. A breakaway cable feeds audio to the camera, and carries camera return audio back to the mixer for monitoring, so I can actually monitor from the camera, not just what I am sending out to the camera. I also utilize one of the 1/8" outputs to feed a Tascam DR-05 recorder to record backup audio to the camera, or in cases when shooting dual system is a necessity.

Regularly I shoot on projects where a professional sound person will come in with their high end Sound Devices setup, with high end Sennheiser mics and all sorts of accessories. And, there audio is truly great, no doubt about that. But, their setup costs several times what I spent on mine. There have been times that a shoot has gone late, or we added in some additional days, and had to use my sound kit. In editing, it has been truly difficult to tell which audio came from the Sound Devices mixer when Sennheiser microphones and which came from my Sound Excellence mixer with Rode microphones, costing a fraction of the other system.

In the past I have had experience with some other budget field mixers. Most recently, with the Rolls MX422 and the Azden FMX42. The Rolls was horrible. I do not understand how it can have a positive review anywhere. I guess it has a nice feature set, but the audio quality just was not there. The preamps were horribly noisy. If you cranked up the audio, there was a definite, loud, hum. Even at its best, the audio from it, I can only describe as slightly muffled or distorted. It lacked the cleanness and transparency that I get with the ENG44. The VU meters were innacruate, not matching the output levels at all. Even when sending tone to the camera, one channel was at a higher level than the other, and there was no way to adjust this. When actually shooting, the VU meters bounced around so much that they were completely useless.

The Azden FMX42 is quite a bit better than the Rolls, but still falls short of the ENG44, at least in my opinion. It still doesn't have the same transparent quality to the audio that the Sound Excellence mixer has, though it can sound very good, the ENG 44 sounds better. The preamps are also way quieter than the Rolls mixer, but still not quite as quiet as the ENG44, though it is pretty close. The biggest issue for me with the Azden was the VU meters. They tended to bounce around a lot when I used it, making it very difficult to accurately monitor levels. By contrast, the ENG44 mixer has wonderful, very bright, LED VU meters that are fast, accurate, and responsive. With it, monitoring levels is simple, you just look at the VU meters. The VU meters on the Azden make this challenging.

I know I kind of rambled a bit here, so, to summarize, The ENG-44a is the best field audio mixer I have ever had the pleasure of working with outside of a Sound Devices setup that costs way more. The audio quality is amazing, it is extremely usable, well built, and has the features necessary for truly professional use. It really holds its own on professional shoots against the big names in the industry when other budget mixers, like the Rolls and the Azden, falter.
Attached Thumbnails
Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer-12987129_10206676262167008_5130014441708573186_n.jpg   Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer-13001264_10206676262287011_5126365955579656226_n.jpg  

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Old October 18th, 2016, 01:45 PM   #2
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

Yes, I agree the performance of the ENG-44 mixer greatly exceeds its modest price. A significant downside, however, is its mechanical design and construction. In particular, the switches are remarkably small, fiddly, and vulnerable. Keep the unit well protected or those little plastic switches will break if you look at them wrong.

I bought my unit back when it was made by Sign Video (ENG-44 Field Portable Audio Mixer), but the current product from Sound Excellence (ENG-44A Field Portable Audio Mixer) appears to be identical. Perhaps from the same people under a different company name.
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Old October 18th, 2016, 02:29 PM   #3
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

I don't have any hands on experience with the original ENG-44 from Sign Video, so I can't compare. The ENG-44a, however, has several small improvements to address some of the most common criticisms of the original.

According to the Sound Excellence website, the primary differences in the 'a' version are that the transformers are now shielded, it is immune to a phantom power output connected directly to its output (not sure why you would do that), improved low-cut, and improved grounding.

I do agree about the switches probably being the biggest negative of the mixer. I haven't had any problem so far with mine, but it lives in its porta-brace field mixer bag, so it is reasonably well protected. The rest of the mixer is so solid, or at least it seems that way, that I really am left scratching my head as to why they went with those switches.

My wishlist for an ENG-44b would include improved switches, first and foremost. That would be followed closely by a pan control knob, instead of a 3 position pan switch, a hirose connector for camera connection, and built-in SD card audio recording.
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Old October 20th, 2016, 03:30 PM   #4
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

I likewise can't afford an expensive field mixer , so I have an Audio Technica AT 4462 .

Long discontinued , but it is a decent budget field mixer and used ones can still be picked up on eBay for modest amounts .

Example

Audio Technica AT4462 4ch Field Mixer Portable Line Mic Microphone Pres Amps | eBay
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Old October 21st, 2016, 05:47 AM   #5
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

"...so I have an Audio Technica AT 4462."

These were a great mixer. Used pretty extensively in the Japanese TV production industry some years back. We still have one. Six mono inputs or two mono and two ganged stereo pairs. We also have two of the FM modulators than could go into the mic lines. These have audio outputs to give the on air presenters inner ear IFB. Talkback to the presenter was FM modulated back along the mic line, quite a clever arrangement. Still works very well and would still use it on a live cross should one have to be done.

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Old October 21st, 2016, 08:33 AM   #6
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

I first used one which belonged to a company I did bits of freelance work for , about 20 years ago .

Then a couple of years back I spotted one on eBay for a very reasonable buy it now price , snapped it up and was very pleasantly surprised to receive a mint example , which still seemed brand new , in the original box with instructions .

I made up a short multicore to link to my camera , allowing my onboard stereo mic to feed down to the mixer , and a stereo return pair back to the camera , then in the mixer bag there is currently one wireless receiver , and three other short XLR tails which can be used for other mics .

I can count on my fingers the number of times I've used it , but I can send a centre panned presenter mic back to the camera , with low level stereo ambience underneath , which works quite well sometimes , depending what I'm doing .
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Old October 25th, 2016, 12:50 PM   #7
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

This mixer has come up here before. I have allays been interested in it but currently don't need another mixer. But thanks for the reminder it is out there.

What I can add is don't buy a Rolls mixer. I have one of their four channel field mixers I bought well over ten years ago. From the day I bought it I was sorry I did. It is a Rolls, I did not have high expectations of it. However the pre amps are junk. Even at normal levels with a robust feed they are noisy. It was quickly sent to my AV bone yard. All I wanted it for was a small light travel mixer for interviews when over packing travel bags was a concern. Dirty audio is dirty audio, I cant use it.

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Old October 26th, 2016, 02:16 PM   #8
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

Sorry to say I had an ENG 44 mixer but I got rid of it as the switches and overall build quality were not very good.

I ended up with two of the Twelco mixers as they had better facilities and build quality.

Having said that I also have an old Shure 6 channel mono mixer that works great too and two Canford ASC three channel mixers that are great for expanding inputs on a camera and live uplinking with IFB's and they have proper PPM meters and a cracking limiter on board.

Keep an eye out for these ASC mixers as they are no longer made but offer very pro quality and facilities and can be had for around $150.

http://www.canford.co.uk/News/343_En...production-run
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Old October 27th, 2016, 12:02 AM   #9
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Nattrass View Post
Sorry to say I had an ENG 44 mixer but I got rid of it as the switches and overall build quality were not very good.

I ended up with two of the Twelco mixers as they had better facilities and build quality.

Having said that I also have an old Shure 6 channel mono mixer that works great too and two Canford ASC three channel mixers that are great for expanding inputs on a camera and live uplinking with IFB's and they have proper PPM meters and a cracking limiter on board.

Keep an eye out for these ASC mixers as they are no longer made but offer very pro quality and facilities and can be had for around $150.

End of an era ? ASC Minx mixer enters last production run - Canford News
I'm wondering if there might be a build quality difference between the Sign Video ENG-44 and the Sound Excellence ENG-44a?

Build quality seemed to be the biggest criticism I came across when researching the mixer, before I purchased it, but these reviews were all in regards to the original version. Personally, I don't find the build quality of the ENG-44a to be that bad.

True, it is no Sound Devices, but it is in a solid metal housing, the knobs all feel smooth, solid, and responsive. The switches are smaller than I would like, but they all feel solid, slide smoothly, they don't wiggle. Nothing about it feels cheap or poorly done to me.

To me, the build quality is way better than the Rolls mixers, and at least on par, if not a step above the Azden and Tascam devices I have used.
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Old October 27th, 2016, 11:45 AM   #10
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

I see nothing that suggests the version from Sound Excellence isn't IDENTICAL to the version from Sign Video. The switches are miniature, plastic slide switches which would be OK for internal configuration settings (like the switches on the bottom of the mixer). But they are a major vulnerability as operational switches exposed to the outside.

Those switches were my most surprising discovery when I bought my unit. They are really an anomaly when compared to the rest of the product. They are very fragile and not up to anything but lightweight, hobby applications, IMHO.
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Old October 27th, 2016, 01:17 PM   #11
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

I agree that it certainly looks identical to the one I had.
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Old October 27th, 2016, 02:28 PM   #12
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

I was fascinated by the Sound Excellence website. It is a page right out of the web circa 2000. If I had come across it on my own without knowledge of the company still existing I would have assumed they were gone. They have about four products, all from the SD days, and mostly centered around RCA connections.

If they have found a way to beat the reality of low price vs. quality and getting what you pay for I would love to see some updated products from a company like that. I know of no company that has ever been able to offer a Sound Devices quality pre amp for a low price. If their pre amps are even close that would be impressive. That alone is what makes this mixer interesting to me.

Sound Excellence: Home

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Old October 27th, 2016, 03:51 PM   #13
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

Yeah, I do agree those switches are definitely not ideal. It is perplexing why they were chosen, when the rest of the unit seems so solid. However, I don't think they are the absolute worst things in the world, just not the best.

I attached to this post a couple quick samples from audio recorded on my setup. Sorry the samples are so short, but I was trying to stay under the upload limit for file attachments here. Ultimately, I kept getting an error anyway, so I put them up on my site.

Here they are-
http://adamgrunseth.com/eng44a1.wav
http://adamgrunseth.com/eng44a2.wav

The first file was recorded using the Rode wireless lav mic, through the mixer, and ultimately recorded on my Tascam DR05. The Tascam was connected to the mixer via the mixers unbalanced, 1/8" mic level output, as the Tascam DR05 doesn't support line level inputs.

Other then being trimmed for length, to keep the file size small, the file hasn't been changed in any way. The levels are exactly as recorded, and there was no noise removal added.

The second file was recorded using a boom mounted Rode NTG1 shotgun mic, powered from the mixer, and recorded to my Canon C100 camera. Line level audio was sent from the mixer to the camera via a breakaway cable.

Sorry, I know these aren't good scientific samples. They were both lifted straight from projects that I did, not some setup to show things at their best. Both videos were being shot in reasonable quiet outdoor locations, but not controlled environments.
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Old October 31st, 2016, 12:55 PM   #14
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

Interesting that this mixer is making a come back. I liked it a lot years ago as there wasn't really much on the market that directly compared for under $500. Nowadays, I'd also be looking at :

Zoom F4 (includes free recorder!)
Sound Devices MixPre-D
juicedlink Riggy Micro

The PSC DV Pro Mix DV Promix 3 is similar.

Here are some audio samples I recorded a few years back with the ENG44 with the RODE NT1A:

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Old October 31st, 2016, 04:06 PM   #15
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Re: Sound Excellence ENG-44a Field Mixer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Guy Cochran View Post
Interesting that this mixer is making a come back. I liked it a lot years ago as there wasn't really much on the market that directly compared for under $500. Nowadays, I'd also be looking at :

Zoom F4 (includes free recorder!)
Sound Devices MixPre-D
juicedlink Riggy Micro

The PSC DV Pro Mix DV Promix 3 is similar.

Here are some audio samples I recorded a few years back with the ENG44 with the RODE NT1A:

Panasonic HPX170 Audio with Field Mixer on Vimeo
I find it interesting that you brought up the Zoom F4, MixPre, and the DV Pro Mix, as I was considering all of those, along with the ENG-44a, when I was putting together my sound kit.

Ultimately, the Sound Defices MixPre was just a little out of my price range, but more importantly didn't have the number of inputs I needed. Minimum, I needed at least three inputs, but four was highly preferable.

The DV Promix seemed like a strong contender, but I had a hard time tracking down any audio samples recorded with it, and I still would have preferred more inputs. It also lacked a tone generator, which was something I really wanted, as well as a slate mic.

I really liked the Zoom F4, and it was a really hard choice for me between the ENG-44a and the Zoom. The Zoom had some things I really wanted, like a built in recoder with the ability to record all the inputs without mixing them down, and time code in/out.

However, I ultimately chose the ENG-44a as it just was a better fit for my production style. For one, it has a slate mic, which we actually use all the time when shooting dual system. Also, I often have to hire local sound guys and had my kit off to them to use while I run camera. The Zoom is more menu driven, while the ENG-44a is a lot easier to just start using. Everything has a dedicated button, switch, or knob, and there is no menu.

So for me, it really came down to the Zoom and the ENG-44a, but because of the way I work, the ENG-44a ended up being the best fit. Though I really did like the Zoom, and in the future I may end up moving to it, or its successor.
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