Amber Technology | Expect to pay: SSL 2 - $369, SSL 2+ - $469
The entry level audio interface market is currently a densely populated place. Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more choice, along comes SSL with the 2/2+, a USB powered, 24bit/192khz device at a competitive price. But how does it stack up against the rest?
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Solid State Logic consoles are a mainstay in professional studios around the world. It’s been said that more number one hits have been recorded on SSL consoles than any other console combined. SSL are renowned for their incredible preamps, EQ and bus compressors.
With decreasing demand for large scale studios, SSL has started their transition into prosumer products with the SIX desktop mixer released early in 2019.
Now, the SSL 2/2+ is designed to take over as the center of a small home/studio setup. Comparing the different models, the SSL 2 is aimed at individuals looking for a quality interface boasting 2 ins, 2 outs, a headphone output and the legacy 4k switches while the 2+ is aimed at collaborators adding a second headphone output, MIDI in/out and an unbalanced secondary output pair.
The 2/2+ looks like an SSL product. Using the classic blue/red colours from their existing products, the 2/2+ maintains a sleek and professional aesthetic. The angled front panel not only looks good, it provides an ergonomic workflow whilst keeping all the cables out the way via the back panel.
The pots feel sturdy and responsive and the large monitor level pot goes all the way to 11, one for the Spinal Tap guitarists in all of us.
The unique part of this audio interface is the legacy 4K button on the input channels. Modelled after SSL’s 4000 series consoles, this button adds subtle but rich harmonic distortion to the input signal and a high frequency boost around 16khz. It’s an easy way to instantly add that airy, professional quality to any input signal.
I was surprised to find out that all the 4K processing is analog, so no, it’s not just a gimmick. During testing, I found that I left 4K on while recording everything that went through the 2/2+.
The A/D D/A conversions which are arguably the most used part of an interface are definitely the best in this price range. SSL has utilised AKM technology, to achieve 24bit/192khz conversions that sound about as clean as you can get.
Recording guitar, bass, synths and vocals were all a breeze through SSL’s own quality preamps with the instrument, line and hi-Z settings. The noise floor is incredibly low and whilst recording very quiet sounds through a microphone, the noise floor was barely audible. The preamps brought out a quality in sounds I couldn’t get while using other interfaces of the same price range.
SSL have also provided a monitor mix pot that gives you zero latency monitoring of the 2 input channels. During testing I found that the input side was always significantly quieter than the USB side and it was necessary to turn up the monitor/headphone output quite loud to compensate.
On the 2+ model the ability to route the second headphone output to outputs 3/4 with the flick of a switch is a welcome addition that makes working with other musicians a breeze.
The SSL 2+ has two pairs of unbalanced outputs which are marketed as easy connectivity to DJ mixers, but with easy accessibility to 1/4” to RCA cables I would’ve preferred the outputs to be balanced.
Another feature that could’ve elevated this interface to the next level would’ve been the ability to switch between both outputs with a button. Although, these are both just minor gripes which most users won’t be affected by.
The SSL 2/2+ is USB bus powered, meaning you don’t need to use a separate power supply to run it. Usually, this is a trade off between the ability to run at low latency and having a tidier setup, but I was surprised that during testing, latency performed quite well compared to other interfaces that have a dedicated power supply.
With a modest home setup, I was able to get latency without glitches to under 5ms, more than suitable for most applications.
Along with the physical interface, SSL have bundled in the SSL Production Pack including 2 of their native plugins and a 6 month licence for the rest of their plugin range. These plugins are the real deal and do a stellar job of emulating the sound of the aforementioned SSL hardware components.
Also included are light versions of ProTools, Ableton Live, Native Instrument’s Komplete and a large sample library from Loopcloud. This alone would be enough to sway an individuals first time foray into purchasing an audio interface.
Overall the SSL 2/2+ is a fantastic sounding, well performing audio interface with high quality components. It joins the competitive market of entry level studio gear, placing 40+ years of technology into a product that although is a little more expensive than others, outperforms them all.
If you have a little extra money to spend on an interface, this should be the one.