We live in a DAW world, and that world provides us with ultimate recall and almost-infinite processing choices via hundreds of plug-ins. But we still want more! Now we crave the artifacts, coloration, and familiarity of analog processing. We miss the pleasant saturation of real tubes and the midrange crunch of slightly overdriven amplifiers. We want digital convenience and analog processing. What can we do? Well, several manufacturers have come up with simple solutions to that problem in the form of analog summing busses that have unity or fixed-gain inputs for recall simplicity and high-quality analog summing amps to subtly add color to our digital world. Interfacing with these boxes from our workstations is easy enough: just take multiple analog outputs from the digital interfaces, plug them into the summing amp, and take a stereo out from the summing amp back into the DAW or a 2-track recorder.
In the case of the TUBE-TECH SSA 2A, there are 20 inputs to which you can connect the outputs of your DAW as well as any other analog sources that you may want to combine. TUBE-TECH is well-known for their very high-end tube compressors, equalizers, and mic preamps. The SSA 2A fits in this family with its 2RU-height, blue chassis with retro- looking stereo meters and one very big, vintage-style output knob. Oh yeah, there is also a nice red power lamp and power switch. The back panel is where the business takes place: four mono inputs, eight stereo inputs, and one set of stereo outputs, all on XLR connectors. This box is extremely well- built, with transformers on both input and output and real, high-voltage tube electronics inside. My unit ran very warm- almost too hot to leave your hand on for more than a few seconds. That translates to high-power, high-headroom, clean analog electronics.
All that aside, how does the SSA 2A sound? Very nice! In this case, nice means clean, fat, warm and true. The SSA 2A doesn't color the sound of the outputs as much as it provides the mix with a larger soundstage and very pleasant high-frequency openness. I had the opportunity to compare this summing box to another very respected box, and they each imparted a slightly different quality to the mix. Both boxes improved the mix in subtle but different ways, and both could find their way into my rack. The TUBE-TECH SSA 2A did have a slightly "fatter" soundstage, even while its frequency response sounds very flat and true. This fatness is probably due to the tube saturation in the summing amp. I like this unit very much, and every DAW mix I ran through it benefited from the tubes and transformers inside the box. The only control on the whole unit (besides power) is a large, stepped rotary output control that is calibrated in 23 steps from -10 dB to +10 dB of output gain. I usually turned the gain knob only one or two clicks in either direction to keep my levels where I am used to, and the analog meters on the unit were extremely accurate and helpful in setting levels and providing visual feedback.
The SSA 2A has a street price of a bit over $3,000, and that may seem like a high price for a simple box, but this summing amp can not only provide a definite sonic advantage, but it also gives you summing options that no self-contained DAW can provide. The SSA 2A is definitely another tool for my toolkit!
($3895 MSRP; www.tube-tech.com)