Gear Icons: Solid State Logic
15.11.2021

Gear Icons: Solid State Logic

SSL iconic consoles
Words by Liam McShane

Content Creator Month: A look at the iconic British manufacturer's parallel legacies across music and film

SSL’s decades-long dominance of the professional audio world is evident in a multitude of ways, the first, and most immediate, being the sheer volume of successful records recorded and mixed on SSL consoles. 

To get an idea of the ubiquity of SSL consoles in professional studios in the last 30 years, consider that Billboard’s Studio Action Chart at one point, estimated that 83 per cent of number one hits in the US were recorded through an SSL console, such is the brand’s overwhelming dominance in Professional Tracking/Mixing in the musical realm.

Summary:

  • SSL consoles have long been the benchmark of the professional audio world with many of the world’s successful records being recorded and mixed on them.
  • The British company’s latest release of the UF8 studio controller and the UC1 plug-in controller puts them at the forefront of modern innovation, while staying true to the tried and tested technology layouts and usability.
  • Their 2 and 2+ desktop interfaces have already proved their popularity among the new generations of content creators

Read up on all the latest interviews, features and columns here.

At the sonic level, the British company has permeated the very language of the recording studio, with the SSL name becoming a metonym for the slick, polished-yet-punchy sound that mixes display after taking their journey through the famed whisper-quiet preamps, edgy dynamics modules, precision EQ’s, and revered bus compressors – and of course making full use of the SSL’s state-of-the-art routing matrix. 

To say that SSL are part of the culture would be an understatement. Over the course of the brand’s history, they have garnered a reputation in the space reserved for only the select few, becoming one of the most trusted and respected icons in all of audio.

Along with Neve and API, they make up the holy trinity of the classic console manufacturers, but where the latter were primarily known for their beautiful saturation and sonic gravitas in a mostly musical context, SSL’s pure, crystalline capture, endless headroom, and focus on workflow and routing parlayed perfectly into the world of film and TV post-production, giving the brand an enduring legacy across two very different corners of the professional market – music and film.

As many brands with a history of making strictly professional gear begin taking their first steps into the home studio market, (and from there into the even newer world of content creation), it is SSL who have emerged as the one best positioned to make the transition into the kind of scalable, desktop solutions required of the modern creative. 

The brand’s 2 and 2+ desktop interfaces in particular have already established themselves as a favourite of the new generation of content creators, and we are now seeing some of SSL’s other desktop offerings making their presence felt in the burgeoning creator market, as productions become more sophisticated and creators find themselves taking on an increasingly professional workflow.

Again it’s that word, workflow, that keeps popping up and suffice to say, it is this innate, intimate understanding of professional processes and work habits (acquired from over 40 years as industry leaders in studio and post-production), that has allowed SSL to adapt so naturally to the rapidly changing face of modern studio, with a practicality and nimbleness few other manufacturers can match. 

colin sanders ssl

Today, in the context of professionally compiled, multiple source applications like broadcast, post-production and SFX (as well as their younger sibling, content creation), that nimbleness is more than paying dividends. 

Far from the days of large scale consoles, in 2021, it is the humble DAW controller that has become the norm in post studios worldwide. The mobility, tactile functionality and obvious time-saving benefits they offer provide too much of an incentive for an industry that prides itself on rapid turnarounds and strict deadlines. With a legacy so closely aligned with routing options and efficiency of workflow in the professional space, it’s no surprise that SSL have made the shift so seamlessly into these kinds of hybrid, console-free workflows. Given their history in the space (and their acronym), you might even say it’s the logical next step for the brand.

The UF8 is SSL’s latest studio controller and exhibits all the forethought and attention to detail you would expect from the legendary manufacturer. The premium small scale desktop control solution is an absolute go-to for anyone looking to take their mix workflow out of the box and onto a set of faders, but with a level of scalability that won’t require excessive upgrades down the line. 

For the maturing content creator, especially those who are primarily used to an in-the-box workflow, the UF8 serves as the perfect entry point into the ‘console’ style workflow preferred in professional mix circles, providing all the visual and haptic upside that comes with mixing through fader banks and rotary dials (and with the option to chain units together as your mixing needs expand). 

SSL UF8

For the seasoned pro, the UF8 serves as a delightfully portable fader option for location and post work, absolutely ideal for riding dialogue or for getting in-the-box desk mixes ready on the fly. The naturalness of the navigation/display and the portability/stowability of the unit itself, makes it your new best friend for any small scale mix applications or minimalist studio setup requirements. 

Allowing simultaneous control of multiple DAWs at once, the UF8 is designed to handle any high-pressure, post, or content related task you can throw at it and with its multi-purpose master encoder for timeline navigation, advanced track banking, and mouse wheel emulation for precision tactile control, it is a controller that serves as both an ideal gateway into advanced production workflows while simultaneously furthering the classic SSL workflows we all know and love.

But fader balancing, sub-mixing, and ease of layout are just one part of the equation and as anyone with any SSL console experience will tell you, half the fun is in the brand’s industry-defining approach to in-line and bus processing.

The UC1 is a plug-in controller designed to link seamlessly with your DAW of choice, faithfully recreating the SSL processing experience in the digital realm. Designed to control SSL’s proprietary Channel Strip 2 and Bus Compressor 2 plugins, the UC1’s layout features hardware controls for every parameter found on these plugins, themselves emulations of SSL’s legendary bus compressor and channel strips as found on their consoles. 

This allows for an authentic SSL mixing experience without the price tag of a full-sized console, with the UC1 also linking seamlessly with the aforementioned UF8 DAW controller to allow for a fully modular, scalable layout reminiscent of a mini SSL console, especially with four UF8 units and a UC1 unit all linked at once.

SSL UC1

A small LCD screen on the UC1 unit displays crucial information such as the name of the track you are working on and numerical values of knobs being changed in real time, but does not distract from the haptic function of the controller.

With navigation a priority, SSL have craftily added the ability to quickly select presets on the screen, useful for quickly processing tracks that you already know what you want to do with. SSL’s 360 software links with your DAW of choice to offer a meta-view of the processing you have performed on all of the tracks in your DAW, displaying a virtual console where you can quickly organise your processed tracks and add bus compression to taste. 

Sometimes, learning to use a studio controller can be a lot like learning to type again, especially after years of being conditioned to believe that the computer mouse is the ideal control peripheral for audio work (hint: it’s not). The kinds of tactile workflows that defined the big console era evolved that way for a reason, and products like the UF8 and UC1 are a perfect reminder of what it feels like to mix audio in its natural habitat. For anyone working to deadlines or pulling eight hour days at the controls, the freedom of movement and speed such workflows allow for are both physically liberating and economically efficient. Time is money after all.

Where products like the UF8 and UC1 get it so right is in their combination of old and new, staying more or less true to the tried and tested SSL way of doing things with the same basic layout, same familiar colour coding and rotary controls, but combining this with a bounty of modern innovation and scalability at the integration level, that increases their flexibility ten fold.

For a company that has been designing cutting-edge consoles for nearly half a century, it is hard to imagine the task of workflow innovation being in better hands.

peter gabriel ssl

Check Solid State Logic’s website for more information, or to buy the UF8 or the UC1.