The SSL 4000 G Series bus compressor has been copied, emulated, reworked, and rehashed by both hardware and software manufacturers for years now. It seems every plug-in developer has their own take on the stereo compressor, and I’d bet most readers have at least one in their library. So, to be perfectly honest, I was a bit uninterested when Universal Audio first announced another new-and-improved emulation. But, every time UA remodels one of their pre-existing plug-ins, the improvements are always considerable, both in sonics as well as in features. That again proved to be the case here.
UA’s engineering team worked closely with Solid State Logic on a complete ground-up re-design of the original SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor plug-in, modeling the nuances of the in-console compressor as well as the FX G384 rackmount unit. A quick A/B comparison between original and new plug-ins made the enhancements immediately apparent. Even with no compression, the updated plug-in sounded clearer and more in-focus, as though the original were 1080p and the redesign 4k (I really hate puns). Simply running a mix through it sounded different, much in the way hardware often adds a mysterious, hard to describe, extra spice. With levels matched for 1–2 dB gain reduction, the updated SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor had more punch, a clearer midrange, and increased detail in the stereo image. I hate to be so vague as to say it sounded more hi-fi, but it sounded more hi-fi.
All the usual controls you’d expect on an SSL bus compressor are of course present (attack, release, ratio, and makeup gain), with both a sidechain filter and mix knob added for greater flexibility. There is also a Headroom control for adjusting the internal operating level of the plug-in, which changes the compression onset. This lets you drive more level into the plug-in without pinning the compressor, allowing for more tonal variations.
We’re hitting a point where most analog classics have been modeled and replicated in some capacity, certain pieces more than others. Thankfully, there are developers, like Universal Audio, who always seek improvement, and the new SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor is just that — an improvement. And it’s this forward push for that extra 10–15% that’s going to keep digital technology moving forward. I hesitate to ever call a piece of gear the “best,” but this is certainly my favorite SSL G Series compressor plug-in on the market. If you’re a fan of SSL-style bus compression, then I highly recommend having a listen for yourself. ($299; www.uaudio.com)