SSL Live: Operational First Impressions

She sure is pretty...

She sure is pretty...

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. 

Most of the rotaries at the bottom of the screen do something, but it's not always clear what.

Most of the rotaries at the bottom of the screen do something, but it's not always clear what.

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. 

This is SSL's version of a "channel strip." 

This is SSL's version of a "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!

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by DiGiCo. DiGiCo audio mixing consoles deliver solutions that provide extreme flexibility, are easy to use and have an expandable infrastructure, while still providing the best possible audio quality. Visit their website to learn more.