Sound Devices got quite a bit of flack from some potential buyers when they released the 8 series mixer recorders because they had last generation AES input specs, with only four input channels available at most on just the highest tier models. With speculation rife as to he function of the "engineering connector" on the top of the units, they have finally revealed that this connector is a powerful interface for connecting to the inner workings of the 8 series mixers.
The first accessory for this connector is the XL-AES, available for all 8 series models. It allows interfacing of four AES pairs (eight audio channels) to be routed to any channel on the recorder. This means that even the 833 can use all eight channels over AES, and the 888 can now have 16 local channels without having to engage the Dante interface.
Critics have said that SD should have thought about this when they were designing the original devices and included appropriate AES connectivity on the base device. Some have also criticised the ergonomics of the new AES interface describing it as a "barnacle" on the top of the mixer. In truth it will prevent some compact configurations of radio mics in bag setups where you might want all of your packs flush with the mixer...
It's also very very cheap (£170), suggesting that the XL-AES interface is actually just a relatively simple box with TA3 connectors wired to the multipin on the recorder; with the actual AES electronics already built into the recorder.
Given that, I see it as quite likely that we'll be seeing a number of much more advanced interfaces similar to SL6 becoming available through this connector, probably with better form factors.
The second big fix for the 8 series is the most recent firmware update. It's stabilised the platform, reducing lock ups and freezes, and also massively reduced power consumption of the recorders, bringing them down closer to other mixers on the market allowing 2 hours to be gained from a standard 98Wh battery. The last thing they did was change the GUI for the three band EQ, making it much more like a full sized high end digital mixer, which is a nice improvement.
The idea of moving up to one of the 833 or 888 mixers is definitely a much more exciting prospect after these updates. I'm hoping to bring in an 888 sometime next year all things going well, so that I can retire my trusty Zoom F8 to backup duties. It's worked hard for me over the last few years and my recent radio mic upgrades have put me in a good place, with only one upgrade left to make I'm looking to jump up to a high end flagship recorder mixer and the 8 series is looking like the place I want to move to.
Visit Sound Devices for more info: www.sounddevices.com