Even if you've never set foot in a major commercial studio, there's a high likelihood that you're familiar with the SSL name. The company's consoles have become the de facto standard worldwide, with more hit records mixed on SSL boards than any other brand—by a wide margin.
The incredible success of SSL consoles—combined with their prohibitive asking price for all but the most sophisticated of studios—has made the company one of the most (if not the single most) emulated brands in the plugin marketplace. It's truly hard to think of a single major plugin manufacturer that hasn't released one (or five) SSL clone plugins. Slate, IK Multimedia, Native Instruments, Brainworx, Ableton, Waves, and countless others have dipped their toe in the SSL emulation pool.
We've reviewed some stellar SSL plugins here on DJBooth Pro Audio, but none from the good folks at Solid State Logic themselves, at least until now. The company recently made waves with the release of their updated native plugin suite, SSL Native V6, which features a host of absolutely stellar SSL tools. In this review we'll take a deep dive into the SSL Native V6 suite, seeing where it ranks among our favorite emulations of the company's famed analog gear.
Setup and First Impressions
The SSL Native V6 bundle can be downloaded from the official SSL website—you'll simply need an iLok 2 or 3 to authorize the free 30-day demo (or your licensed copy), and the installation process is streamlined and straightforward.
The V6 bundle installs as 9 native plugins in VST/AU format; Bus Compressor, Channelstrip, Drumstrip, Vocalstrip, X-Comp, X-EQ, X-Phase, X-Saturator, and X-ValveComp. As the names imply, some plugins are single-use (like the X-EQ and X-ValveComp), while some are more complete channel strips aimed at specific use cases like vocals, drums, or general channel processing.
The first thing I noticed about the SSL V6 plugins is their strikingly modern GUI's. The graphic choices made by the SSL team seem to be the highlight of most threads discussing the plugins on Gearslutz or other forums, with very few users feeling undecided. Personally, I love the look of the SSL V6 plugins, and they've quickly become my favorite plugins to look at during a session. If you ever pondered it possible to re-create the feel of working in front of a beautifully designed (and incredibly expensive) high-end console, the SSL team has done it here. The plugins look classy, and great on Retina displays.
While the V6 Native plugins vary widely in features, the plugins maintain a consistent aesthetic throughout; there's lots of greyscale and 3D shadows, and each plugin features the same A/B and preset buttons at the bottom of the plugin interface.
Although my experience with the V6 Native plugins was outstanding overall, I did find the preset system to be less than ideal. Instead of being able to browse plugin presets via a native plugin drop-down menu or browser, you'll need to click 'Load' and use the OS X finder to browse each plugin's preset folder—something I'm never a fan of. Similarly, it doesn't seem to be possible to copy A/B settings to each other (i.e A to B, or vice versa), which is a puzzling design choice for such refined plugins; if you're comparing two different EQ settings in X-EQ, for example, and you've used all 10 bands on your 'A' setting, you'll need to recreate all 10 bands and their settings to compare some slight tweaks on the 'B' setting. This seems like a fairly easy feature to fix, and we trust the SSL team will add this functionality in future updates.
According to the SSL team, the Native V6 plugins are not emulations of SSL gear, but rather spot-on digital processors, designed to the same exact specs and performance requirements as various pieces of SSL hardware.
In my time with the SSL V6 Native bundle, I've found myself utilizing certain plugins far more than others. While everything here is top-notch, I do think there are some plugins which are simply more flexible and usable than others for producers working in bass-heavy genres like EDM and Hip-Hop.
When most people think of SSL, one word comes to mind—punch. The SSL compression sound is arguably the most emulated in history, with scores of plugins and hardware devices claiming to mimic the sonics of the famed SSL G Console Buss Compressor. Surprisingly, while the Native Bus Compressor is absolutely stellar, it hasn't been my most used dynamics tool from the bundle. I found the X-ValveComp to be a truly pleasant surprise here and by far the most flexible dynamics tool available in the V6 Native suite.
The X-ValveComp—in contrast to the Native Bus Compressor, which directly emulates the original G series hardware, with no updates—is a thoroughly modern compressor and dynamics tool, offering Peak/RMS detection circuits, parallel blend controls, and a dual HPF/LPF internal sidechain, all of which are highly valuable to producers of Hip-Hop, Pop, Electronic, or any bass-heavy genre. In my testing, the X-ValveComp quickly became my go-to channel and buss compressor when I was looking for that familiar SSL punch and glue with a bit of a modern twist; the plugin sounds absolutely phenomenal, and there are movement and groove you can create using proper attack and release times that are precisely reminiscent of working with real SSL hardware. X-ValveComp is one of the more natural sounding compressors I've found to date, and it just makes everything you put through it sound phenomenal. Plucks, bass leads, drums, and vocals all sit vastly better in the mix with the X-ValveComp, and it's the standout plugin of the bunch in my book. While the Bus Compressor is great, I find the lack of an internal sidechain high pass filter to be a dealbreaker for Hip-Hop and Electronic tracks; unless you're really after a pumping master where the kick is triggering substantial compression, it's hard to get as modern of a sound as other SSL emulations provide.
Similarly, the X-Saturator is an absolute blast to use. Despite a relatively subdued set of controls—Depth, Harmonics (variable between 2nd and 3rd order), Drive, Mix, and Shape—it makes literally everything you put through it sound better, with more punch, bite, and perceived loudness available at the tweak of a knob. The X-Saturator likely wouldn't be my tool of choice if I was after radical, tube-bending overdrive and distortion, but it takes to subtle and moderate drive settings beautifully. The Shape control acts as a very handy enveloping/transient shaping tool in conjunction with the saturation circuit.
The X-EQ is another highlight. Interestingly, the X-EQ is not what you think of when you envision an SSL modeled EQ This is a fully digital, graphic EQ more reminiscent of FabFilter's Pro Q or DMG Audio's Equilibrium than an SSL console. It's more flexible than I expected as well—in addition to offering 10 bands (one HPF, one LPF, two shelving filters, and 6 bands of peak EQ), X-EQ offers a number of models of different EQ designs. Peak filters can be switched between Classic Symmetrical (Constant Q, typical of many analog EQ's and consoles), Classic Asymmetrical (different Q between boost and cut), Proportional 1 (narrower Q above or below 6dB boost/cut), Proportional 2 (similar to Proportional 1, but with more extreme boosts and cuts), Proportional 3 (even more extreme), and several takes on Constant Q filters, referencing a broad range of hardware EQ's. Similarly, both high and low pass filters offer models of hardware filter shapes, including Critical, Bessel, Gaussian, Butterworth (fantastic for steep cuts), and Chebychev, providing a great deal of flexibility in one plugin. While it would have been nice to see some Pultec modeled shapes in the collection here, I was surprised at how customizable the X-EQ can be, especially when using it's great-sounding parallel EQ feature.
As you'd expect from SSL, there's also a number of channel strips in the bundle. My favorite of which is the SSL Native Channelstrip, with 4 bands of classic SSLEQ (in addition to high and low pass filters) in addition to SSL's famed Compressor and Gate/Expander functionality. There have been countless emulations of this setup, and to my ears, nothing gets quite as close as SSL's take on its own hardware—although I'd love to see a high pass filter for the compressor and perhaps a dry/wet control too.
Overall, aside from the lack of parallel blend controls and high pass filters on various compressors, it's an incredible-sounding package of processors suitable for any type of music.
In Conclusion/Recommended For
Is there a new champion when it comes to authentic SSL emulation in the box? To our ears, yes—the SSL Native Bundle V6 is the most impressive and well-rounded SSL emulation we've found to date, which shouldn't be hugely surprising, as the company has one-of-a-kind insight into their hardware designs and specs. While some of the bundle's processors could benefit with some updates that leverage the great aspects of digital processing (parallel dry/wet especially), the SSLNative Bundle is a phenomenal choice for anyone looking for that authentic SSL snap and tone.
- Sounds like the real deal
- Most complete SSL bundle we've found to date
- X-ValveComp, X-Saturator, and X-EQ are all superb
- Preset system could be improved
- Odd A/B behavior
- Some processors could really use parallel compression and sidechain high pass filters