Ever since I acquired a rack-mounted DAW interface, I didn’t think I had much need for a smaller, portable interface. However, when I recently had the opportunity to record a grand piano outside of my home studio, it struck me how much of a pain it would be to extricate my existing interface from my patchbay (not to mention my other interface, which is connected via SMUX for more inputs and outputs). Yes, I could do it, but it makes the opportunity less appealing.

Thankfully, Solid State Logic sent me their new SSL 12 USB 2.0 interface, which is far more portable than my rack gear (it fits easily in a tote bag or small backpack) and is bus-powered; plug it in to your laptop and you’re ready to go. Packed with four SSL preamps, the SSL 12 gave me more mic’ing options than smaller portable interfaces, which are often limited to two preamps. For piano, I settled on two mics over the strings and a set of stereo mics further back in the room. The preamps sound good, which is not usually the case with an interface of this size. Like the smaller SSL 2 [Tape Op #138], the SSL 12 includes "Legacy 4K" buttons under each of its four input channels. Emulating the sound of the SSL 4000 series console, these boost the high end and add a bit of crunch, but with a subtlety (dare I say reticence) one would expect of any British “piece of kit.” Like Gear Reviews' editor Scott McChane's experience reviewing the SSL 2, once I turned on the 4K option I never turned back. Each of the four inputs accepts mic or line sources via combo XLR connectors on the back, with further per-channel options for +48V phantom power and a high pass filter (75 Hz with an 18 dB per octave slope). Additionally, the first two inputs also include HI-Z instrument inputs conveniently located on the front panel. With MIDI in and out the SSL 12 can also serve as an interface between your computer and keyboards. On a recent demo for indie rock band Fine Motor, I used the instrument inputs to record a Nord Electro keyboard in stereo and one of the SSL’s mic pres to record singer Casey Bell through an SE V7 [#122]. Casey sings quietly, and using about 75% of the available gain, I got a good clear signal.

What if you want to record more than four inputs at a time? The SSL 12 includes an ADAT input for 8 channels at 44.1/48 kHz or 4 channels at 88.2/96 kHz, which makes this interface a contender for full-band or multi-mic drum tracking. It features two stellar-sounding headphone outputs with independent volume controls. With a few tweaks in the included SSL 360 software, you can customize each headphone mix. You can also customize the four outputs, meaning you could send four additional mono signals (or two stereo signals) to an external headphone amp and there’s even a helpful talkback mic.

When it comes time to mix, the four balanced outputs allow you to hook up two sets of stereo monitors, or monitor through one pair and save the other two for effects sends or outboard bus compression. The largest knob on the SSL 12 controls the monitor level, and yes… it goes to 11. The SSL may not be the ultimate interface for analog or hybrid mixing, but if you mix in the box you could very happily use this as your main interface. The stereo field was impressively wide, with a clarity throughout the frequency spectrum that you would expect from SSL. The SSL 12 is a very versatile interface – small enough to sit on your desk or carry with your laptop, but big enough to record a band and manage your monitors for in-the-box mixing. Speaking of mixing, SSL has also included perpetual licenses for their helpful Vocalstrip 2 and Drumstrip plug-ins, not to mention 3-months access to the complete SSL plug-in collection and other software. I enjoyed tracking with the SSL 12 in my home studio, but I especially appreciate how its portability opens possibilities further afield as well.

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

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