The Sound Manifesto (TSM) has been
using the SignVideo ENG-44
for over a year in the field, and so this review is based on our own
manufactures the ENG-44 at a typical cost of 330 GBP or 530 USD - that's
seven times cheaper than a Sound
Devices 442 or an SQN-4S.
Sign Video supply you with a paper Operator's
Manual but have no digital copy to download. Here
is TSM's version of the SignVideo manual. You should also want to read
Fred Ginsberg's Beginners
Unfortunately, the original Operator's Manual
lacks some important info. I'd like to see more technical
details about each aspect of the mixer, including a comment about meter
ballistics and output limiting. A few diagrams, charts and tables would
be welcome too.
The mixer specs, which can be found either in
the Operator's Manual or on the SignVideo Web
site, look reasonable on paper, so I won't dwell on them here.
After using the mixer on several productions,
the following list of issues spring to mind:
The "VU" meters are not VU meters since they
don't have the required ballistics (300 ms rise time and fall time).
Neither are they PPM meters (10 ms rise time; 2.8 s fall time). SignVideo
engineers tell me they are "instantaneous
peak meters" ("zero" rise time).
The mixer has no battery check option, so you
have to remember when you last changed your batteries and hope they
were fully charged!
The battery compartment is cheap and unreliable.
In our case, the plastic drawer popped-out, causing power loss. SignVideo
replaced the drawer and things improved but it's still awkward replacing
batteries without strong fingernails.
The input XLR connectors do not have a clip to
lock the XLR cables firmly in place.
48 V Phantom power is available to each channel
but not "T" power.
The Master gain control varies the line-up tone
as well as the output gain of the mixer. Therefore, once you
set up your line levels, you can't subsequently adjust this control.
Unfortunately, the Master gain knob is very easily knocked and
so constant checking of levels is necessary.
SignVideo unhelpfully fails to publish in the
specification for the ENG-44 the maximum input level or the input
clipping level. This makes is difficult to predict and track-down
microphone overloading problems.
We found in high SPL environments that the XLR
inputs are easily overloaded by our Sennheiser MKH-416 microphones.
Unfortunately the mixer has no input limiting or any indication of an
input overload condition.
The output limiter cannot be switched off.
In general, the output limiter of the ENG-44
works in a rather idiosyncratic way (read the final remarks in our Techncal
Note below) which makes the mixer unsuitable for critical applications.
External power is supplied via a push-in coaxial
power plug that can easily be dislodged. I would like to see a locking
arrangement on future models..
The Power On/Off switch should be nearer the
front panel of the mixer rather than in some inaccessible location at
the bottom of the bag. .
"No cigar" for the Boom Operator's
Headphone output (see the Manual). It's just too noisy to be
of any real use and too inflexible without a dedicated volume control.
There's no direct access to a dedicated Technical
Support hotline on the SignVideo Web site.
Our ENG-44 has no serial number, making it difficult
to trace for insurance purposes and in case of theft.
Bearing in mind the price, this is a good value-for-money
mixer with sufficiently quiet electronics and enough features to satisfy
any low-budget production.
Since SignVideo are unwilling to state accurately
how the metering or limiting behaves, it is unsuitable for more critical
After living for a year with the anxiety of overloading
inputs, erroneous output limiting and uncertain metering, we found ourselves
hungry for a better specified mixer with a few more features. We replaced
our ENG-44 with a Sound Devices 442.
The SignVideo is now retired and serves as our
If you would like to know more about the technical
side, in particular how to calibrate the ENG-44 mixer, just click here.