Over the last week, I’ve had some time to spend with the new SSL Live L500 mixing console. My friends at CCI Solutions dropped one off for me to work with for a while, and it’s been fun spending time with the new desk. Overall, I will say I like the desk. It’s pretty clear the software is still in its 1.x release (1.8 at the time of my testing), but I think they are on the right track. Going through the whole desk will take several posts; today we’ll just hit some of the highlights—sort of a hands-on first impressions bit.
A Big, Bright Screen
The centerpiece of the console is the giant 19” daylight visible touch screen. This is one of the biggest screens I’ve seen on a mixing console. While we didn’t take it outside to see how bright it is, I can tell you indoors with the brightness all the way up, you need sunglasses. The LED indicators get crazy-bright as well. The screen is a multi-touch display, so you can pinch, zoom and scroll, much like an iPad. Maybe I’m spoiled with so much time on my iPad Air, but the SSL screen feels a little sluggish. Touching is not quite as accurate, nor responsive as an iPad. Still, it’s not bad, and certainly as good as any from DiGiCo or Yamaha.
SSL says their, “[B]eautifully considered and organized graphical user interface provides comprehensive control of the entire console environment.” Comprehensive? Yes. Beautifully considered? Ok, it looks pretty nice. And I guess it’s pretty well organized.
One has to remember that there is a lot going on with this console. It can handle 192 processing paths, and each of those paths have a lot of options. So coming up with a way to present all that information to the user had to be a challenge.
It Is Unique
Sometimes I found myself searching for a way to do something, only to discover it was a screen away. It’s not a bad interface, but it is very unique. I have to keep reminding myself not to compare my speed on the Live to my normal speed on any DiGiCo console. I am so intimately familiar with DiGiCo that I can get to anything on any of their desks very, very quickly. The SSL is a whole different beast. This is not bad, it’s just different.
Sometimes, the British conventions can be amusing as well. For example, to select a bank of fader in a tile (a tile is one of the three collections of 12 faders), you press the “Call” button next to the digital scribble strip. When routing an effect into an insert, you select the send route, then press “Make.” It’s not hard once you get used to it, but it’s a bit unintuitive.
Like most large format consoles, there are many ways to do anything. For example, to edit an EQ, you can double touch the EQ icon on the screen for the channel you wish to edit. That brings up the EQ menu on the big screen, and you can touch and drag the curve around to your heart’s content. Or you can press the select button above the fader and the channel appears in the Selected Channel fader strip. SSL has dedicated an entire second, smaller screen and 19 knobs to a complete channel strip.
Working this way can be pretty quick, though with all those knobs, you spend some time figuring out which one is wired to which control. After some use, I’m sure this would become second nature. Or you just work on the big screen. The encoders above the faders also map to certain controls in certain modes, though it’s not always clear which ones.
Like any new, complex console, this will take some time to really get used to. Coming soon is version 2.0 of the software, along with an off-line editor. Personally, I love having the off-line software for learning. I learned the DiGiCo and Avid that way, I’m sure I’ll spend some time with the Live software once it’s out. Most things are a touch or two away, so once you know where to look, functions come up pretty quickly.
It Sounds Good. Really Good.
Of course, no one expected SSL to put out a console that doesn’t sound good. I was given a bunch of tracks to play with (I couldn’t use mine as they all have to be converted to 96 KHz first), and I chose the original studio tracks from Boston’s More Than A Feeling. Now, for a guy who grew up listening to Boston over and over and over, this was a treat. I know that song inside and out, and it sounded fantastic on this desk.
I love to test out compressors in a new console by really digging into them with vocals to see how they react. I hit Tom Scholz’ vocal with a good 18 dB of gain reduction and it just sounded better. Plugins like the Listen Mic Compressor worked wonders on the drums, and I like the tube emulation they have available.
The EQ responded pretty much like I wanted it to, and there are plenty of options for curve styles. 144 of the channels have the very cool All Pass filter available, which allows you to do a phase shift at a given frequency without any amplitude change. I’m still playing with that to get my head around what it’s doing. I hear v 2.0 of the software will have some tools for helping with that.
There is so much more to say about the SSL Live, but we’ll wait until next time. Of course, there will be the inevitable comparison between the Live and the DiGiCo SD5. As I spend more time on it, you’ll hear more. Stay tuned!
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Last year at NAB, SSL was doing private, super-secret showings of their new Live console. OK, it wasn’t that super-secret, but it wasn’t on the show floor. We saw it at Gurus a few months later, but the software clearly wasn’t ready. Almost a year later, I finally have some time to get hands-on with the desk, thanks to my friends at CCI Solutions. Today’s post will serve as an introduction to the console, later this week, I’ll post some of my thoughts after spending time on it.
SSL is clearly loaded for bear with this console, as the specs are most impressive. You can chose from 972 (yes 972, that is not a typo) possible input and output paths. Mixing takes place with 192 processing paths (144 with full processing, 48 dry). Any of these paths can be channel inputs, stem groups, auxes or masters. A 32x36 matrix handles output routing. The matrix can also be split up into 4 separate mixers, each with up to 32 inputs. Of course, the “dry” channels have at least as much processing as many digital and analog desks out there.
Local I/O on the console consists of 16 mic/line inputs, 2 talkback inputs, 16 outputs, and 8 AES inputs and outputs. Optional are another 16 analog ins and outs, plus 4 more AES pairs. Standard equipment also includes 2 redundant MADI pairs on coax that can be split into 4 if redundancy isn’t required. You also get two redundant optical MADI pairs, and a dedicated optical MADI “FX Loop.” But wait, there’s more! If you need more than that, you can also add another 2 pairs of MADI coax bringing the total MADI I/O to 12.
But there’s still more! SSL’s Blacklight optical connection (optional) will carry up to 256 channels of MADI at 96KHz over a single fiber. The Blacklight connects the console to an SSL MADI Concentrator which breaks out to 8 redundant pairs of MADI. Of course, the stage boxes and MADI concentrator also have more MADI outputs for sharing with other SSL Live desks.
Tons of Processing
The new SSL-designed Tempest processing engine operates at 64 bits delivering 24 bit/96KHz audio that is flat from 20-20KHz with a THD of 0.005%. The internal architecture is extremely flexible allowing you to assign processing paths as needed for the event. You can arrange any of the standard channel processing blocks in any order you like. This would make it easy to put the compressor ahead of the EQ or even high- and low-pass filters, for example. In fact, you can even put the fader before the compressor if you want to. The entire channel signal chain is easily rearranged.
That much I/O and processing power is certainly impressive, but it’s worthless if you can get to it all quickly and easily. SSL chose to outfit the Live with 36 faders in three 12-fader “Tiles.” Each tile has 5 scrollable layers with 5 vertical banks each. Thus, each tile could have 25 possible fader layouts. The faders are assignable via drag and drop and can be color-coded. For even easier visual identification, SSL included their Eyeconix visual labeling system. Each of the touch-sensitive, motorized faders has its own 14-segment input level meter, plus dedicated gate and compression meters.
The centerpiece of the console is a large 19” multi-touch display, which SSL claims to be daylight viewable. After a few minutes on the desk, I can tell you that it’s bright. In fact, if the stage lights go out, you could turn the desk around and use the desk. Of course, it’s dimmable. In use, the screen acts much like a large iPad, making quick work of setting up the console, interacting with EQ, FX and other channel processing, and quickly seeing what you’re working on.
If you prefer a more hardware-based approach, a focus fader located in the master tile follows the currently selected channel. This channel gives you complete processing adjustment control via a 7.5” touch screen and over a dozen dedicated knobs and buttons. In fact, there are a lot of dedicated buttons on the surface; above each fader are solo, mute, select and query buttons. The last button in that list quickly shows what is routed to or from that fader. In addition to all those features, SSL included 3 solo paths and 2 dedicated talkback paths.
Full SSL Effects
Of course you would expect to have access to the signature effects and dynamics capabilities SSL is famous for, and you won’t be disappointed. EQ, dynamics and even a “noise and warmth” section help give you that distinctive SSL sound. Also included is a full suite of reverb, delay, and modulation effects. They even threw in an audio toolbox for signal generation, precise SPL metering and a built-in FFT analyzer.
Even with all the hardware controls, the surface doesn’t look cluttered, and the software is beautifully designed. SSL designed the console to be customized for each user and event, with no single way of working. Reconfiguring faders is as simple as dragging and dropping on the touch screen. You can mix and match inputs, outputs and VCAs in any order you wish.
The SSL Live appears to a console that will handle just about anything you throw at it, and do it with ease. I spent a few hours on it last week and came away impressed. Next time, we’ll talk about actual impressions.