UC1 SSL test: SSL sound (and feel) in the DAW?
Price $ 849 / Â£ 595
Contact Solid state logic
SSL’s channel strips and stereo bus compressor are rightly considered studio classics, and SSL has been offering them as software for a few years. Now the British pro audio firm is adding a bit of tactility in the DSP area with the UC1 controller. It’s a well-designed and attractive device and the plugins that come with it look fantastic, but its usefulness depends on your determination to escape the chains of the mouse and the screen.
UC1 is a button-by-function hardware interface for controlling the new Native Channel Strip 2 and Bus Compressor 2 SSL plug-ins, both available in AAX, AU, and VST3 formats. These are accompanied by plug-in mixing software called SSL 360 Â° which gives you access to multiple channels and compressor plug-ins.
Since UC1 is just a controller, the plug-ins themselves do the signal processing. The Native Channel Strip 2 plug-in is based on the familiar SSL 9000K series consoles. It consists of a 4-band parametric EQ and variable low-pass and high-pass filters, as well as a dynamics section with independent compressor and expander / gate elements. You can also change the routing order of EQ, filters, and dynamics, and switch EQ between E and G series specifications. This is the standard SSL tariff; in other words, solid, but with few frills.
There are several SSL style channel strips, some of which are SSL trusted. However, according to SSL, this latest version has improved audio fidelity and reduced processor performance thanks to âAnti-Crampingâ technology. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, EQ cramps are an asymmetry in frequency and phase response between 15kHz and 20kHz. Other manufacturers use DSP-intensive oversampling to counter this effect, but the SSL approach does not require any oversampling or additional delay compensation. Since this is a channel plug-in that you are likely to follow, this is a point in favor of SSL.
Performing a quick tone test comparison with the UAD SSL E channel strip reveals that the UA version generates more harmonic distortion, associated with a more conventional âwarmerâ analog sound.
The Bus Compressor 2 follows in the footsteps of its hardware and software predecessors with only a few minor modifications. Unlike the hardware, the software has a Wet / Dry Mix control (for parallel compression tasks), the software adding upsampling options and more Attack, Release and Ratio parameters. Upsampling improves fidelity when using faster dynamic control settings, but with a significant CPU increase, so maybe best used sparingly on larger projects and exclusively when mixing.
Both SSL plugins look great, and while they don’t offer any unusual frills, they are convenient and easy to use, which brings us back to UC1.
The button layout by function is parallel to what is on screen for both plug-ins. Parameter knobs control continuous (step-less) encoders, with visual feedback from small arrays of circular LEDs around each. This is good for getting an idea of ââthe relative parameter changes, but you have to look at your computer screen or the built-in display to see the actual values ââof the parameters. It’s certainly not as immediate or engaging as the standard potentiometers found on SSL analog equipment. That said, the buttons and knobs are largely solid and responsive, and generally feel good quality, with each section clearly laid out.
However, it’s a shame that those parameters which are scaled in nature (such as the bus compressor time and ratio controls didn’t have notches for a more realistic feel. It would also have been nice to see some of the knobs ” backlit “software go to the controller. There are a lot of gray buttons on the device.
The UC1 is very easy to use, with SSL bypassing the fact that you might have their plugins scattered across a mix (and not necessarily on every channel) with the 360 ââÂ° Plugin Mixer. This stand-alone software does not do any processing or routing itself, but rather acts as a navigation aid, with each subsequent instance of the Channel plug-in getting its own mix channel location and all Buss Compressor instances being displayed on the side. The overall effect is like building a virtual SSL console, with plug-in / channel selection achieved by clicking on the appropriate area of ââthe software window or using the select buttons on the hardware.
However, the 360 ââÂ° mixer could offer more zoom options to maximize its usefulness; currently the GUI is either very small or too large to fit on the screen.
Second, the hardware configuration has the dead center of the bus compressor section. This splits the channel strip in half, disrupts signal flow and measurement, and makes the experience less consistent when switching from hardware control to software control. For those who only use the Buss Compressor occasionally (i.e. on buses), this also represents a large area of ââwasted space. Maybe SSL wanted to keep the analog VU meter as the centerpiece of the controller. Either way, the layout could have been optimized and just as convenient in a smaller footprint.
Getting potential users to spend Â£ 595 on a dedicated controller for two specific plugins is a big demand, and there is no news yet as to whether it will officially support SSL plugins. authorized third parties. There is also strong competition from Softube’s Control 1 system (which offers more and varied types and brands of treatment). Other companies such as TC Electronic allow users to rediscover their design heritage through plug-ins and dedicated hardware controllers. However, TC tends to target individual effects with smaller, button-heavy material.
However, SSL is no ordinary business, and it has created a tremendous legacy on the back of audio excellence. Plus, when you factor in that the plugins alone cost Â£ 238 each, it starts to look more like a bargain.
Ultimately, the attractiveness of UC1 depends on how far you want to travel to escape the mouse and screen, and whether you’re happy to stick with an SSL-centric approach to processing and channel compression. If you do, then this is a quality kit.
- Plug-ins available in AU, VST and AAX
- SSL workflow and console ergonomics
- Native Channel Strip 2 and Buss Compressor 2 SSL plug-ins function-controlled button (included)
- SSL plug-in mixer (hosted in SSL 360 Â°) to view and control channel strips and bus compressors from a single screen
- Display for reading the value of the parameter under control
- Plug-in presets load directly from UC1