Get this. A couple of weeks ago there was a flash flood in my neck of the woods, and rain water came gushing into our basement. Lots of it. In a matter of minutes the entire floor was covered in a brownish liquid, as the carpet tried to absorb it like a thirsty sponge.
All I could do was use our wet/dry vac to pump up the roaring waters, hoping my basement voice over studio would be spared. Luckily, my heroic efforts paid off (the Dutch know a thing or two about keeping the waters at bay!).
The studio was pretty much spared, but the rest of the basement was one wet, damp mess. It took me a few days to clear the space, and dry it out completely. Later that week I started recording again, and the moment I connected my preamp I knew something wasn’t right.
Gone was the crystal clear signal my Audient iD22 is known for. Instead, I heard an unacceptable, annoying electrical buzz that refused to go away.
This could only mean one thing. The moisture had gotten to it, and once that happens, it is pretty much game over. Mind you, I’ve had this stellar preamp since 2013, so it’s had a good run. I knew it was time to find a worthy replacement.
SOLID STATE LOGIC
If you are an audio engineer, you are no doubt very familiar with SSL. You’ll find their mixing consoles in most major recording studios, and more number one hits were recorded with SSL equipment than with any other brand. Their 4000 series is particularly coveted.
Now, what SSL has done is condense everything the brand is known for in a compact, affordable package. I’m talking about solid build quality, pristine analogue microphone preamps, and super clean 24/192 kHz conversion. I’m talking about low-latency monitoring, high-performance headphone preamps, and a special Legacy 4K button.
Each preamp has a 5-segment LED meter for visual level reference. You can plug in microphones that require 48V phantom power, but you can also use ribbon and dynamic microphones like the Shure SM7B without needing a Cloudlifter ($150 in savings right there!). That’s because the preamps have an ultra-low noise floor of -130.5 dbu EIN, and offer a gain range of 62 dB. That’s enough for very detailed and clean recordings.
In the back there are two studio-grade Neutrik mic/line combo jacks, and two 1/4″ outputs for your studio monitors. In addition, the SSL2+ has two 1/4″ headphone outputs as well as MIDI I/O over 5-pin DIN jacks. You’ll also get two pairs of RCA outputs with the 2+ to attach some outboard gear.
THE MAGIC NUMBER ELEVEN
Most voice overs will be quite happy with the cheaper SSL2. I chose the 2+ because I’ve always wanted an interface I could plug two headphones into. My Beyerdynamic DT880’s, which I use for recreational listening, and my Austrian Audio Hi-X55’s which are my editing cans.
What I also like is that both units are USB-powered (USB C & A). No more ugly power brick. If you have an Apple computer like I do, the unit is plug and play. If you’re a Windows fan, just download the ASIO/WDM Driver and you’re in business.
Esthetically speaking, these interfaces have the familiar SSL look and color scheme with a simple, logical setup for the knobs. I particularly like the big blue monitor level knob which goes to…. eleven!
Speaking of the exterior, what’s this 4K Legacy button all about? SSL puts it this way:
Engaging this switch allows you to add some extra analogue ‘magic’ to your input when you need it. It injects a combination of high-frequency EQ-boost, together with some finely tuned harmonic distortion to help enhance sounds. This enhancement effect is created completely in the analogue domain and is inspired by the kind of extra character the legendary SSL 4000-series console (often referred to as ‘4K’) could add to a recording.
Of course that’s just the company talking, so what do I find of this 4K effect? First off, it’s not a miracle cure for bad audio. I’d call this effect a subtle sound colorizer that’s actually quite pleasing to the ear. It adds some mojo to your mix, especially if you’re using a dark sounding microphone. Mind you, once you’ve recorded in this mode, you cannot undo the effect like you would with a digital plugin.
To hear the difference, here’s a short recording, first without 4K and then with the switch engaged. Lastly, you’ll hear me line by line without, and then with 4K. I’ve used my new and “darkest” sounding microphone, meaning the one that accentuates the lows in my voice.
IT WORKS OUT OF THE BOX
What I like about the SSL2 and 2+ is the fact that these units are pretty much self-explanatory. There’s no need to go into a virtual mixer (as was the case with the iD22) and fiddle around with different settings. Everything just works as advertised. The online user guide is easy to follow -even for beginners- and SSL support is very responsive and eager to help.
I contacted them because I had the crazy idea to plug in my brand new shotgun microphone (review coming up), and my Gefell condenser, and switch between the two as I was recording my auditions. Channel 1 (my shotgun) came through loud and clear, but Channel 2 (the Gefell), didn’t send any signal to my Twisted Wave audio editor. The LCD’s were lighting up, but that was it.
SSL rep Tim Shortle kindly explained that my audio interface was perfectly fine. Twisted Wave just wasn’t developed for multi-channel recording.
It turns out that there’s a workaround in Twisted Wave (thank you Sean Daely!). When opening a new file, choose stereo. One microphone will record in the left channel and the other in the right. When it’s time to edit the tracks, you simply copy and paste them to a new mono file so you hear them in both ears. Problem solved!
By the way, these SSL desktop interfaces also come with free digital audio workstations like Pro Tools First and Ableton Live Lite (plus some other cool stuff for those who are into music production).
PROS AND CONS
Let’s end this review with a list of what I liked and liked less. I’ll start with what I liked less about the SSL2+.
There’s no on/off button. What’s up with that? My Audient iD22 didn’t have one either. It’s less of a problem with the SSL2+ because it’s bus-powered, so it turns off when you shut your computer down.
The cord connecting the unit to the computer is too short. My preamp sits to the right of my iMac, and I needed a longer connection. I just don’t like it when you’re excited to try out a brand new piece of gear, and you can’t because of a short stupid cord.
The LED’s don’t show enough dynamic range. It’s a five-step ladder LED meter going from -40 to 0, and I’d like to see a few more intermediate steps. It’s not a deal breaker though, because most of us will set the gain looking at our DAW.
The headphone sockets are on the back. I prefer to have more direct front access. That way, the cords don’t get entangled in a mess of wires.
The 48V phantom power buttons are black and small and they don’t light up when engaged. In poorly lit surroundings it’s not always easy to see if these buttons are pressed down.
Unlike my iD22, the SSL2 and 2+ units don’t have a high-pass filter which I think is a useful feature if you want to cut down on low rumble in your recordings (and your microphone doesn’t have that switch). I’ve attached a Shure A15HP – In-Line Hi-Pass Filter to my unit and it does the job, but you can also filter your audio with a plugin in post.
I’ve read reviews that don’t recommend using low-impedance headphones with these units. Nonsense! My Austrian Audio Hi-X55 cans have a low impedance of 25 ohms, and sound magnificently detailed through the SSL headphone amps.
And then there’s the Legacy 4K effect. Some reviewers love it and won’t record anything without it. Others think it’s just a gimmick.
Now for the pros.
By building these interfaces in China, SSL was able to put them on the market at an insanely low and very competitive price. The SSL2 is a little over two hundred dollars, and the 2+ comes in under three hundred. This includes the production pack software package.
These may be entry level units, but they definitely bring superb Solid State Logic sound quality to your home studio. The overall no-frills design is intuitive and just makes sense. I like the sloped shape, and the controls are smooth and sturdy. This plug and play audio interface is easy to use. You don’t need an external power supply, and yet it has enough oomph to go to 11, and feed a dynamic/ribbon microphone!
In short, the SSL2 and SSL2+ offer outstanding value for money. Don’t let the audio snobs talk you into buying expensive boutique preamplifiers. Spending more cash doesn’t automatically mean your sound quality will get exponentially better.
In fact, the more money you spend, the smaller the audible improvements will be. Who are you trying to impress? Your Facebook friends or your Insta-buddies?
Give me a break!
For a little over two hundred bucks you can get all you need to power your voice over studio with pizzazz!
What’s more, you’ll feel very good about having saved some hard-earned money.
And that’s a logical, solid state to be in!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS SSL did not provide me with a test unit. I paid for it myself, and the opinions in this article are mine and mine only.