Technology - the early days
The original genius of the 4000 Series lay with a recording engineer’s frustrations with the challenges presented by working with pieces of equipment (console, outboard gear and tape machines) that weren’t designed to be tightly integrated. As a user, Colin understood how this got in the way of creativity by causing delays during recording and obstacles to trying things out when mixing. The 4000 put a dynamics section in every channel, cleverly built on the emerging in-line trend by adding bus/tape switching and supercue monitoring, and integrated multi-track controls, including track arming, into the control surface.
To this was added, with a huge contribution from Paul Bamborough (who went on to found Lightworks), the Studio Computer and then Total Recall. As well as providing fader automation, the Studio Computer managed the tape transport enabling simple command lines using dedicated keys to provide valuable support: GO TO V2 located the tape to the beginning of Verse 2 with a preset pre-roll. Total Recall enabled you save and restore the settings of every switch and pot on every channel greatly saving time when a mix had to be revisited.
The analogue electronics took advantage of the latest technology at that time and made extensive use of electronic switching to facilitate the range of routing options. Great care was taken to ensure that the controls of the EQ and dynamics operated in the useful part of the range; this is often cited as the reason they became so popular and contributed to the ease with which engineers could ‘get that sound’. As a result of feedback from a number of customers G Series electronics replaced E Series bringing a combination of overt changes to the EQ alongside a number of improvements to the overall performance.
SuperAnalogue™ circuits and hybrid console/controllers
Analogue design continued to evolve and took a further leap forward with the introduction of SuperAnalogue™ design, first implemented in the SL 9000 J Series console. A combination of elements including a DC coupled (capacitor free) signal path delivered very high bandwidth with extremely low distortion. Although much of the bandwidth is well outside the audible range, the subjective performance is exceptional and exceeds the capabilities of even 192kHz sampled converters.
All of SSL’s current analogue console range including Duality, AWS 924 and AWS 948 are based on SuperAnalogue circuitry. When the first generation AWS was introduced in 2004 it was the first console to combine classic analogue console summing and processing technology with hardware control over DAW’s in a single user interface. A single press of the ‘Flip’ button toggles the faders, first row of rotary encoders and digital scribble strips between showing and controlling the analogue signal path and showing and controlling the DAW mixer. This innovation has continued to evolve and is now at the heart of SSL music production range. DAW control is in many ways a natural evolution of the early SSL console design and the current range still features motorised fader automation, Total Recall and of course transport control.
Digital development and broadcast production
SSL’s digital R&D started in 1985. The first product, the 01, was an eight channel recorder/editor. Next came ScreenSound, an eight track DAW, VisionTrack, a random access video player, Scenaria, the first fully integrated multi-track recorder, editor, digital mixer and video playback system and its multi-format movie post-production big brother, OmniMix. The technology was then scaled up to create the A Series range of digital consoles, released through the 1990's, that spanned applications from Music Production through Broadcast and Post-Production.
The next generation of digital technology launched in 2003 was based on the Centuri platform which delivered much higher channel counts and processing capability. The C100 On-Air console and the C200 production console were followed in 2005 by the C300 Post-Production console, which supports 512 channels in configurations with up to three separate sections and multiple simultaneous mix and stem buses up to 7.1 surround sound. The Blackrock platform was developed by 2008 and supports the C100 HDS and the newer C10 HD On-Air consoles. Blackrock processors and I/O systems can be configured in true dual redundant mode where for the first time the routing system, signal processing and control computers were fully mirrored. SSL also pioneered ground breaking production assistants including Dialogue Automix, C-Play, two fully integrated digital ‘cart machines’, and 5.1 Upmix.
Making the operator’s life easier is a central design philosophy that runs through all SSL’s console products. The carefully thought through approach to user interfaces, consistency of presentation, availability of automation, integration of other control room equipment have all been tailored to the relevant application.
The project studio
SSL's first products designed for the professional project studio were the LogicFX G383 EQ and G384 Stereo Bus Compressor released back in 1991. It wasn't until 2003 that the company reinvigorated its range for this growing sector with the release of the SuperAnalogue™ Channel, Multi-Channel Bus Compressor and 1U Stereo Bus Compressor. In the years since the family of smaller products for Digital Audio Workstation based project studios has steadily grown with high quality DAW I/O systems that combine DAW interfaces (Delta-Link for connectivity to Pro Tools® and MADI-Xtreme for other DAWs) and Alpha-Link audio converters, the X-Rack range of modular analogue processors and Duende plug-ins. The ‘hybrid studio’ approach of bringing together the best of analogue summing and processing with integral DAW control first introduced in AWS and Duality was also carried into the project studio sector. Matrix, introduced in 2008, offered a 40 input summing system, advanced multi-layer DAW control and unique integrated software controlled patch system that remains an extremely elegant approach to integrating a collection of boutique analogue outboard processors at the heart of DAW based workflow. Nucleus, introduced in 2010 took multi-DAW control a step deeper in SSL’s first dedicated DAW control surface.
In 2013 SSL brought a new patented technology to the project studio sector with the introduction of Sigma, the first of a new ‘Ctrl’ line of automatable analogue technology. Sigma is a 16 x stereo channel summing & studio monitor control system which can be fully automated using standard DAW automation data and/or controlled via iOS devices and DAW controllers. These products have given thousands more users the opportunity to use SSL products and brought the SSL sound into a wide variety of production environments.
SSL Live and IP Audio Networking
2013 also saw the introduction of SSL’s first ever console designed specifically for the live sound production industry. The SSL Live console was based on a completely new ‘Tempest’ processing platform and brought a range of innovations to the sector. The console was in many ways a culmination of three decades of console design and offers users an exceptionally ergonomically elegant and extremely versatile mix environment that facilitates a wide range of technical and creative approaches. The console offered the first ever 19” capacitive, gestural, multi-touch screen in an audio console, brought concepts like Eyeconix and the Focus Fader introduced in Duality to live operators, brought SSL’s renowned SuperAnalogue mic pre technology to the live sector, offered true studio grade effects processing with Graphic User Interfaces actually designed for live use rather than studio use, All Pass Filtering on every channel and employed SSL’s Blacklight system for streamlined connectivity to remote I/O via redundant armoured MADI cable.
2014 sees the introduction of a completely new Broadcast I/O and Routing range based around IP Audio Networking. The use of standard IT Ethernet cabling and switching enables the creation of extremely flexible plug-and-play audio networks where an extensive range of devices from a wide range of manufacturers can be simply and elegantly combined. The first release in the range, the SSL MADI-Bridge offers fully redundant MADI to Dante based IP audio Networks with additional front panel headphone confidence monitoring.