SSL has officially dived into the crowded sea of interface making with the intent of bringing a professional level of sound quality to music makers of all levels. The SSL 2 is a simple two input USB-C affair with facilities for playback via its rear-facing single headphone and stereo TRS monitoring jacks. Level is adjusted via a large SSL blue knob, with a separate small control for Phones. Monitor Mix is set by another single knob rotating clockwise from 100% Input playback to 100% USB (computer) listening – an effective process reminiscent of the old Digidesign Mbox [Tape Op #30]. Simple, yet effective: Five knobs, five connections, some buttons, and a dream.

Right away, you'll notice the Legacy 4K (indicating 4000 series console, not 4 kHz) buttons below each of the two channel's gain adjustment pots on the SSL 2's top charcoal grey panel: It's this feature that we're most interested in. Legacy 4K mode imparts "an all-new analogue enhancement effect." At first I was skeptical of printing any "enhancement effects" to my tracks from a box that costs just over $200. But here's what's happening based on my understanding: 4K mode engages an additive circuit to the input path, resulting in a pleasant, high-frequency boost with some "finely-tuned" second-order (and a touch of third?) harmonics, resulting in a thickened presence. Once I hit the 4K button (red when active), I never switched it off. At the risk of publishing an oxymoron (I've been called worse), I found that this feature offered an unusually subtle and transparent distortion: A little thicker, but never stodgy or crunchy – bright, but not bite-y. I have been reassured by SSL that the 4K feature employs an all analog circuit with no DSP.

In addition to the preamp features mentioned above, each of the channels provide for mic (w/ option of +48V phantom), line, and, instrument-level inputs selectable via dedicated buttons on the corresponding channel. The bare preamps (without 4K) offer a gain range of 62 dB (nice) with good transparent headroom for basic clean recording tasks – you'll get more than your money's worth here! But like I said: Once engaging the 4K button, I never went back. Even on acoustic guitar and bare vocal, this feature gave me a nice push with a mix-ready vibe. I'm not prescribing to use the 4K feature in every situation – folk music and podcasting might not be appropriate applications.

Though simple and utilitarian, the SSL 2 is sturdier than one would expect at this price point. Just slightly larger than a paperback book, it's easy to throw in a backpack for on-the-go recording tasks. This interface is bus-powered, so there's no need to worry about a wall wart. I appreciate the signature (and tall) SSL knobs, but this prevents throwing the unit into some smaller laptop bags – shorter controls would be better here. Also, I would've preferred a headphone jack on the front panel instead of the back. Small dings aside, you'll be stoked when you first open the box, install the drivers, plug it in, and start working in less than five minutes – absolutely a no BS affordable interface that stands out from the pack. In the crowded sea of 2-channel interfaces, the SSL 2 offers a level of quality and fidelity above most boxes I've seen in its class.

The SSL 2+ adds a second headphone jack with dedicated controls, MIDI I/O, and an extra stereo output (unbalanced RCA) for just $50 more. Both interfaces include necessary USB-C cables, and the SSL Production Pack with SSL Native and AAX plug-ins, Pro Tools First, Ableton Live Lite, Native Instruments Hybrid Keys and Komplete Start, plus 1.5 GBs of Loopcloud samples.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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