SignVideo ENG-44 Field Mixer

by Eddy Grabczewski

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 personal experience.

SignVideo 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 Guide.

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:

PROS

The ENG-44 feels physically light, being made of aluminium, and lacks the feel of quality you get from an SQN or Sound Devices 442. Nevertheless, it's pretty robust and has most of the basic features required of a general purpose field mixer. The body has two removable "strap ears" that make the mixer significantly deeper in your bag but provide some protection for the gain controls.

Its quiet electronics gives very good sound recording quality - no problems with the noise floor, since this is lower than our Sennheiser MKH-416 mikes.

Battery life is approximately six hours (using four AA Uniross 2500 mAh rechargeable Ni-MH batteries, typically running two Sennheiser MKH-416 microphones on 48 V Phantom power with Sony MDR-7506 headphones).

The "VU" meter scale is made of green and red LEDs whose brightness is controlled by a switch.

There's a red limiter LED at the end of the "VU" scale that becomes brighter in proportion to the amount of limiting taking place. Note, the limiter acts only on the output channels.

CONS

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.

CONCLUSION

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 applications.

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 emergency backup.

TECHNICAL NOTE

If you would like to know more about the technical side, in particular how to calibrate the ENG-44 mixer, just click here.