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 976 (yes 976, that is not a typo) possible input and output paths (that's 1,952 total!). 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. Dry paths have no EQ, dynamics or time, but do have 2 insert points and can be routed to any bus type.
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.