I don't think there's a single working engineer that hasn't heard of SSL. However, many engineers fail to realize that SSL is also a manufacturer of outboard gear, not just large-format consoles. SSL has quite a range of outboard processors, including mic preamps, numerous recording channels, a summing module, a well-appointed DAW, and even a plug-in processor. The last time I used an SSL console was years ago, when my friend Jim Sorensen and I recorded a Cat Power single. So when I unpacked the box that SSL recently sent me, I handed the XLogic SuperAnalogue recording channel and the Duende FireWire processor to producer Neil Mclellan (The Prodigy, Carl Cox, Oasis, Nine Inch Nails, Erasure, etc), who's written some great reviews for Tape Op in the past. Neil's spent many a fortnight (isn't that British for "a couple weeks"?) driving the faders of various SSL desks ("consoles") around the world. After two months of use, his comments are below. But first I should explain a few things.
The XLogic Channel is a direct descendant of SSL's flagship XL9000K console, and it combines the mic preamp, compressor, gate, filters, and EQ from the console into a 1RU-height rackmount unit. As well, there's an optional A/D converter card for it. The Duende is a rackmount DSP-powered processor capable of running 32 channels (at 44.1/48 kHz, 16 channels at 88.2/96 kHz) of SSL's EQ and dynamics as AU and VST plug-ins. A digital emulation of the acclaimed SSL stereo bus compressor is also included. As Neil explains, he had some stability issues with Duende that couldn't be solved by tech support, and some users on SSL's online forum attest to experiencing similar problems, while other users are having no problems at all. But it does seem that the staff at SSL is working hard to address the stability issues. A software update (along with a new plug-in called Drumstrip) will be available in March. With that said, here's Neil... -AH
The XLogic SuperAnalogue Channel is absolutely amazing. It has a transparent mic preamp that's beautiful to record with, especially on vocals. I used it just this weekend on an Angela McCluskey track and also on a Burt Bacharach cover for Hersheys with George Harrison-style acoustic guitar and male vocals.
The EQ? Admittedly, I didn't go into the E-series setting much-I thought it was okay-but the G-series setting I loved. Really beautiful high end. Not hard sounding at all. SSL really have an understanding of how to put air on a sound, all the way up to the frequencies that you can't even hear. So what you do get is natural across the whole spectrum. Even for bright vocals that would otherwise get sibilant. With the SSL, you can add highs, and it still sounds just wonderful. Great for a whole range of voices-from Angela singing jazz to Taxi Taxi's Terence Bernardo and his indie sound. I wasn't afraid to commit it to tape, but be careful with the Bell switch because it can add some harshness, which you may or may not want. However, I do wish it gave me more control of the bottom end. I used the LF band more for taking out. When adding low end, I found it a bit muddy. For low end, I prefer the EQ from Prism Sound. And the Neve V-Series is more musical and tunable on the lows.
The low and high-pass filters sound really great and work really well. The filters are really important for getting a track to sit right in a mix. And they're great for rolling off a little of the bottom end while recording vocals.
Compression? It didn't have as much "thwack" as an SSL G-Series channel compressor. It felt much smoother-great for vocals and things like that. But it didn't scream at me, "Wow, I want to put this on a snare drum!" I was pleasantly surprised on one end, but disappointed on the other. But it does however have the fast-attack button, with which you do get a more "this
is an SSL" effect. So in the end, I'd say I get more use out of this compression chain than with the G-Series compressor. The Expander/gate sounded clear; it didn't screw with the transients too much.
The unit is really well laid-out. XLR inputs on front and back (switchable from the front), and a hi-z setting for a 1/4" instrument input on the front as well. In terms of where all the buttons and knobs are, everything feels right. And by the way, you can place the filters and EQs where you want them to be. You can move them before or after the compressor. Or put them in the sidechain for frequency-conscious dynamics. The thing is really just a joy to use.
Overall? Brilliant. Really musical. Great set of inputs, outputs, and controls. A pair of XLogics would take care of about 95% of all the recording one would need in today's project/small studios... so worth it as an essential, all-round amazing recording/mixing tool. You can't go wrong.
As for the Duende, I have to start off by saying that I just kept having erratic problems. On four different Pro Tools rigs: two HD and two LE on laptops. While recording a vocal, all the delay compensation would go out of whack in PT HD. With EQ and mix bus compression, I'd go into record something, and it would suddenly have a huge delay on it. I'd fiddle with taking it in and out, and the extra delay would sometimes be there, and after switching off delay comp and then turning it back on, the delay would go away. Sometimes it wouldn't do anything to the signal. Switching off the Duende sometimes helped. Otherwise it was a total restart in PT, which is a fucking nightmare. Other times I'd be playing back a mix, and all the EQs would drop out. Sometimes doing a bypass (clicking while holding the modifier key in PT) would make them come back. Other times I'd even get a half-beat out of all the channels with Duende plug-ins after hitting the stop button.
On my 1 GHz G4 laptop with 1 GB RAM, it was so erratic; and it should have taken all the stress off the CPU, but it must have been sucking CPU power out of my computer. How much of the plug-in actually runs on the unit? Anyone who's thinking you can run it on your two-year-old laptop across all the channels is dreaming. But I did run it on a MacBook Pro, and it was fine. Anything older than that, be warned.
Sonically, Duende's really good. Comparing the EQ to Sony Oxford GML 8200... The Duende filters are amazing. Wicked. The EQ overall is really good. But it doesn't give me as much air as the Oxford GML. But really fast and responsive. I would buy one for the EQ, but the Oxford plug-ins are more reliable.
The channel strip compression reminded me of an early dbx 160 with the single slider on it-same wobble/crunch on the release. But increasing the release, I'd lose a little bit of life out of it. Not nearly as smooth as the XLogic SuperAnalogue Channel, but still really useful. The gates were cool. I didn't use them much, but they sounded like good gates should.
The mix bus compressor is a solid 10 out of 10. The channel strip compressor is 8/10 for sound, 5/10 for reliablity. But the mix bus compression is 10/10. It just does everything that it should. It has the SSL boom, the way it tends to put a bit of bass on it. They got that absolutely right. Outrageous. It is so good, I thought I was mixing out of the box!!! I had the best time with that. Completely brilliant all the way through. I didn't just use it on the mix bus. I put it on groups. I put it everywhere. And it was absolutely beautiful. Hit it too hard, get the attack right, set the release, then turn the ratio and threshold down until you're hitting it just right. And it just sounds perfect. Out of this world. Buy it for mix bus compressor alone, if they can get the whole thing running smooth.
(XLogic Channel $3840 MSRP; Duende $1899; www.solid-state-logic.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.