After a series of moves that necessitated selling most of my recording gear, I recently found myself with a stable spot for a small office/studio that’s largely dedicated to working alone. High on my want list were a couple of good preamps and two decent channels of compression. I started looking into DIY lunchbox solutions – and then the pandemic hit. Pretty soon it became clear that I wouldn’t be playing any live music for a long time, and that I should reconfigure my little room for online collaboration, and recording via JamKazam, mostly with my ambient/EDM/musique concrte duo, The Bemus Point. My gear priorities changed, too. Now I’d need a compact mixer: One with stereo line inputs as well as mic pres, and ideally, an effects send and return. It had to sound good enough to commit my performances to the hard drive, but be reconfigurable enough to accommodate my fickle choice of instruments. There were plenty of options out there, but one, in particular, seemed to satisfy my previous needs as well as my new ones – Solid State Logic’s versatile SiX mixer.
The SiX is a small, high-quality analog console aimed at people like me, who typically record themselves or one or two other musicians. It employs SuperAnalogue™ tech inherited from SSL’s larger consoles’ transformerless, high-bandwidth, low-noise design of its signal path, which is entirely balanced from input to output and contains no electrolytic caps. The company says that “a feature of SSL’s SuperAnalogue™ design is moving the circuits roll-off (3 dB at the mix bus) out of the audio pass band (greater than 100 kHz in SiX). This circuit’s frequencies exceed the Nyquist limit of a 192 kHz A/D convertor. A benefit of this is that the phase and frequency response in the 20 Hz to 20 kHz range is drastically improved. This circuit design plays a significant part in translating to the open and punchy sound of SSL.” Though SSL promises pleasing third-order distortion on its two mic/line inputs – and they do indeed sound nice at high gain – the sonic focus of this little console is clarity and openness; qualities hard to come by in the handy but noisy inexpensive mixer that had previously occupied the SiX’s spot on my desk.
So yes, it sounds awesome. But the real draw of this mixer is its almost psychotic level of configurability and versatility. The top panel offers two of the aforementioned mic/line inputs, with separate balanced, top-mounted XLR and TRS jacks, simple one-knob versions of SSL’s classic Channel Compressors, two bands of EQ, a pan knob, and various routing options, including an effects Insert, two (!) stereo aux sends (or Cue sends in SSL’s parlance), and a Mute button that actually routes the channel to an alternate B mix bus. The mic/line channels’ one-knob compressors have fixed release times of 300 ms with a ratio of 2:1; the single knobs control threshold while makeup gain is applied automatically. The 100 mm faders feel solid and smooth.
Alongside the mic channels are two stereo channels with balance controls and sends; their inputs are via TRS jacks. There are five additional jacks on the top panel, including two more balanced stereo line inputs without panning controls. I’m using the external inputs for my effects return from one of the Cue sends, which has passed through an Eventide H9 Harmonizer [Tape Op #107] and the stereo output from my DAW. The fifth input is an XLR jack for a talkback mic – a rarity for a mixer this size. Downstream from the input is – surprise! – SSL’s famous Listen Mic Compressor, which the manual invites you to abuse by employing the mic as a drum overhead. SSL seems vague regarding the specs of this compressor, but it’s delightfully unsubtle.
The rest of the mixer’s top panel is initially intimidating, but ultimately, a legible forest of routing and monitoring controls – and, wonderfully, a simplified version of SSL’s beloved G-Series Bus Compressor, which can be applied to the main mix. This compressor has a fixed 4:1 ratio but gives you controls for Threshold and makeup gain. If you’re counting, that’s four analog compressors in this tiny device (three different types)! The monitoring options are outstanding, with switches that can select the Main mix bus, mix Bus B, and the two external inputs. The Main mix bus is not automatically routed to the speakers, by the way. If you don’t have sources selected, there will be no sound, which may temporarily baffle you. The confusion is compounded by the fact that there are no indicator lights on these switches. But this is one of those things that once you know it you don’t forget. The back panel supplies both main and alternate monitor outputs, switchable on the top panel, and there’s even a mono switch!
The back panel also features XLR Main bus outputs, two sets of outputs for the two aux buses, the output for Bus B, and further I/O via two DB-25 connectors. These offer a couple of alternate inputs for channels 1 and 2, duplicates of various outputs, and the insert sends and returns for the first two channels and the Main mix bus. When you add it all up, you have a total of 12 inputs that you can use for analog summing. SSL also makes a dedicated line mixer/summing device, the X-Desk [#82], with no pres or EQ that has more intuitive controls for summing in my opinion, but the SiX’s sound is clarity-forward, works for summing, and sounds good.
One thing you’re likely to ask yourself when perusing this mixer’s spec sheet, is, “Why doesn’t this feature an onboard two-channel audio interface?” I can only assume that SSL didn’t want to include anything capable of obsolescence or distract from this mixer’s all-analog design; without an interface, the SiX will be as useful in 25 years as it is now. And why would SSL make the price even higher, just to give the user something they probably already own anyway? In 2020, almost all interfaces will do the job. Use the one you already like, and let the SiX sweeten your front end, whatever the future might bring.
The physical design of the mixer is, to my eyes and hands, beautiful. Its controls feel solid and are thoughtfully arranged – cozy rather than cluttered. The removable side panels are angular and modern-looking; if you’d rather the mixer harken back to the company’s seventies DNA, the Czech Republic company Studio Furniture will make you a lovely walnut enclosure complete with padded wrist rest. Check out their work at mixingtable.com. The SiX is unique in its class – a wildly useful, overbuilt utility mixer for the small studio. If you hesitate at the price, think about what you might pay for its features spread across several different devices. It’s an investment, to be sure, but it’s also far greater than the sum of its parts.