Before the widely known SSL 4000 G and E series consoles, Solid State Logic built six 4000 B series consoles. They have modeled the entire signal path of a hardware channel strip from the 4000 B, and made it available as a plug-in. Some of the unique features of this channel strip emulation include a modeled Jensen transformer mic pre, a dynamics section, de-ess functionality, and modeled dbx 202 “black can” VCA fader. The result is a rich and colorful sound, quite different from the more commonly emulated SSL 4000 and 9000 series plug-ins available from other manufacturers.
Typically for me, an SSL channel strip is my go-to for drum tracks and often vocals. After instantiating the 4K B plug-in across all drum tracks in a working mix, I could immediately hear the difference in fullness and, frankly, quality when compared to a third-party popular SSL channel strip plug-in, one I have used for years. In addition, there is a definition in the low mids that seems to carve out space and separation between the kick and snare – and this is just on the default setting! I’m embarrassed to say that while testing out the 4K B, I realized just how lackluster the other channel strip emulation I’d been using was – a good reminder that all plug-ins have a characteristic sound, even at their default settings.
With the 4K B preamp emulation engaged and turned up a couple clicks across all the drum tracks, the sonic outline of each drum became clearer – a similar effect to pulling up faders on a high-quality console. The fundamental frequencies of the toms and snare had more definition, and the transients were tighter. The dynamics section is my favorite part of the 4K B channel strip. The compressor in this plug-in is designed to be more like the classic SSL bus compressor. Ratios are fixed, with 2:1, 4:1, 10:1, and “ds” as your options. Variable Threshold and Release knobs are provided, but there is no Attack setting. This means we get no fast attack option like other SSL console compressors. The same goes for the Gate/Expander section; there are only controls for Threshold, Range, and fixed Release settings. This compressor has a bit more of an elegant gluey sound than the punchy/grabby sound of the traditional 4000 series compressor, and I dig it. It really excels on drums, piano, and vocals.
The “ds” mode in the compressor section has two parts. When the compressor’s ratio is set to “ds” it is a fixed 10:1 ratio that reacts to high frequency information. When the release is set to “ds” it is a variable release time between 30-50 ms, which is a bit faster than a typical SSL compressor release. While it may not be the most tweakable de-esser on the market, it works beautifully without ever getting into lisp territory. In addition to vocal de-essing, this feature is also excellent for taming high hats or super bright cymbals in overhead and snare mics. I love the simplicity here! The result is being able to get better sounds in less time. I was able to get a thicker, and more glued-together drum sound by just using the 4K B where I’d generally be stacking up inserts with saturation plug-ins, channel strips, and extra tone shapers.
The Gate/Expander section is much more musical and accurate than a competing channel strip I typically use. With the SSL, it’s so easy to dial in, and it works so well that it gives me that feeling of “Ahhh! This must be what working with the real console is like!” The 4K B plug-in made me feel like I was clearly working with a superior tool than I had before. Its blend of simplicity and excellent tone makes for much easier mixing.
There are a host of features added to the channel strip emulation that bring the classic into a modern workflow, including a mix control for parallel compression, pre/post routing for EQ, Filter, and Dynamics sections, key input for sidechain compression (with a sidechain listen), and Width control when the 4K B is inserted on a stereo track (which sounds quite good, especially with stereo Coles 4038 [Tape Op #15] on overheads).
To really enhance the experience, the 4K B channel strip plug-in offers full integration with the SSL 360º plug-in mixer: A global mixer where you can view and tweak all of your SSL Channel Strip (including Channel Strip 2 based on the 9000 series) and Bus Compressor plug-ins in a console-like experience. And, if you’ve got the SSL UC1 or UF8 [Tape Op #144] control surfaces, you can operate all the 4K B parameters with your hands on physical knobs. The 360º app is not required for use and is a free separate download. At first, I was a little turned off by the idea of using an assistive application because I’m so used to the Edit and Mix windows in Pro Tools. Still, I’ve found the 360º app very useful for viewing all of my parameters and settings across all my drum tracks in one place – without having multiple plug-in windows open and cluttering the screen! I don’t use it all the time, but it provides a quick console-like workflow for engineers and mixers that are used to that layout. My only minor critique is that the GUI is a bit dark, making it somewhat challenging to read in specific lighting. But slight criticism aside, I’ve already changed my default dynamics plug-in in Pro Tools to the 4K B channel strip, and I believe it is helping me achieve better sounds quicker and with less digital mangling involved. What’s not to like about that? The 4 KB is part of the SSL Complete subscription (from $24.99/month; terms and conditions apply), which includes all SSL plug-ins. Free two-week trial for everyone. No cost for UC1 and UF8 owners.