Field Tested Review of the Sound Devices CL-9 Linear Control Surface

I’ve been meaning to do a review of my CL-9 Control Surface for the 788T recorder for many months now, but life and work has had a way of keeping that from happening. The recent Snowmageddeon in Atlanta has given me some time to finally write this review.

Recent Background

I’ve recently made the jump from doing working mostly as Reality Audio Mixer/Supervisor & Commercial Work to Production Audio Mixer on a larger budget scripted series. The differing things I’ve learned in doing that deserve an article on it’s own, but that will have to wait… this is about the CL-9!

My cart is fairly straightforward:

  • PSC Sound Cart
  • 788T w/ CL-9 and USB Keyboard
  • Lectrosonics Field Venue Wideband Low Receiver
  • 2x ALP-620 Antennas with UFM230 Amplifiers w/ 100′ ARG100 Cable
  • 2x Comtek M-216 Transmitters on a Mini-Mite Antenna
  • Delvcam Dual LCD Rack-mount Monitor
  • Trew Audio’s Boombox Boom Operator System

What I like about the 788T/CL-9 Combo:

  1. Compact & lightweight
  2. Low power consumption
  3. Easy to set up and operate
  4. Talk back capability for two boom operators
  5. Internal / External Slate Mic to multiple output options.
  6. Addition of four mix down channels: L / R / X1 / X2 (as with the CL-8).
  7. Ability to rename files while recording
  8. Customizable Keyboard Shortcuts (I use Scene Name, Take, Track Names, Rename Scene, Hard-drive & Menu shortcuts).
  9. Versatile and highly configurable to many different scenarios.
  10. Good price for a rich feature set.

The 788T/CL-9 combo is a great setup and I find it to be reliable, adaptable and the recordings sound great!but I do have some issues I’d like changed or improved:

  1. Arming/Disarming Tracks: I find that it’s too easy to accidentally disarm or arm a track with a slight touch. If you notice this has happened during a recording you can’t re-arm a track without stopping the take. I’d like to see a two button or press and hold arming/disarming procedure implemented.
  2. Shift Mode: Shift mode is meant to give you access to alternative options on the CL-9. I do find it annoying that the Slate is considered an alternative option to the Com2 switch. I slate every take and I would prefer that there was a dedicated Slate switch. If not that, I’d like to see a menu option that allows you to swap Com2 over to Slate as the default in Shift Mode.
  3. Talk Back – No Active Monitoring. Currently, there is no way for my me to actively monitor my BoomOp’s talkback without holding the Com1 switch over. This sometimes leaves my BoomOp feeling out of the loop. The only way for him to get my attention is through the boom. It would be nice if there was a headphone monitoring mode that allowed for me to always monitor Com1 and/or Com2. I have talked an audio dealer about making a box with an LED that blinks when the BoomOp presses the talkback switch. We’ll see how that works out as a work-around.
  4. EQ Curve: There is no visible readout of how the EQ curve is affecting a channel. I’d like to see the curve, perhaps via Wave Agent, in the future.
  5. Fader/Track Letters: In my opinion, the numbers & letters On The CL-9 are too small, especially in lower light. I’ve taken my P-Touch and relabeled the numbers above the faders so I can read and respond quickly to changes in levels to the proper fader. I’ve also added a long thin strip of female Velcro under the faders so that I can attach P-Touched track names (Cast names, Boom 1, Plant 2, etc) that have male Velcro on the bottom. I keep all the unused labels on a piece of Velcro above my monitors.
  6. Attaching The CL-9 Down To Your Cart: I’d like to see a designed place to secure the CL-9 down… perhaps some long holes on bottom corners of the side panels. My current work-around is to use zipties running up and down both sides of the top panel and down into four holes that I’ve drilled into my cart.
  7. Double Tap Record: This almost isn’t worth mentioning, but when I first got my CL-9, I found myself accidentally double-tapping the record button, which advances the take one past where I wanted. I’ve since learned the proper muscle memory and this hasn’t happened in a while.

That being said…

I would highly recommend the combo to any mixer interested in putting together a multi-track cart-based system. There are a few limitations, but I haven’t found any problems I haven’t been able to work-around. Thanks to Sound Devices for a pretty darn good solution!