|Ease of use||4|
|Bang for buck||5|
Overall: 4.25 || |
The Waves SSL 4000 Collection includes three-modeled plug-ins: the SSL E-Channel, the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor, and the SSL G-Equalizer. Included with the software is a PDF manual that explains each of the plug-ins in a clear and well-written format. Also included is an article from the legendary engineer Bob Katz on mastering. This gives the impression that not only could these plug-ins be used during mixing, but also during the mastering stage. I found Bob’s article very helpful for some basic concepts about mastering. However, if you plan to use the plug-ins for mastering, I recommend reading Bob’s book on the subject (Master Audio: The Art and the Science) for a more in depth explanation on EQ and compression.
Graphically, all three plug-ins are very pleasing to look at, and are of a good size. Each knob has numerical indicators on them to match the look of a SSL mixer. However, when you put a mouse over a knob a small box appears below and gives you a digital number when you increase or decrease the value. You can move from 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 with a mouse pretty easily. Installing them on my PC in conjunction with Cubase was pretty easy. I needed a little direction to get things going, but Waves tech support is first rate, and I was running the software within minutes.
Like all Waves plug-ins, there is the Waves System Bar. These commands include Undo, Redo, Setup A/B, Copy A/B, and save. By pressing the ? button, it will open the manual for the plug-in you are using. In using it in Nuendo/Cubase as a VST, it also includes the read and write buttons for automation, as well as the bypass button.
SSL G-Master Buss Compressor
Waves confirmed that this compressor is different than the one on the E-Channel strip. The compressor on the channel strip is intended for the mixing stage with different instruments and voices. The G-Master Buss is more for mastering or could be used nicely on a group channel.
I ran many different styles of mixes through the compressor, and found it could handle many types of music. The SSL G-Master Buss Compressor can make mixes louder without adding unpleasant artifacts to the music. By clicking the load button, there is a preset for mastering that put the ratio on 4, which is kind of high at the mastering stage. For most mastering situations, many would prefer to use the ratio setting at 2. Using this compressor is pretty straight forward, and getting good results was easy. I found the auto release did a good job on all the mixes I ran though it. This compressor was very effective in blending the music together, while taking the edge off the transients. You can control more or less compression while still maintaining a good sound with its soft knee slope. The ratio setting at 2 is gentle on your mixes while still helping to gel the music. With the ratio set to 4, it affects the mix more, but as long as your threshold is set properly you can get good results. I would use the 10 ratio for limiting, or if for some reason you wanted to squash the dynamics of a song as an effect. Though the ratio settings are limited to only three settings, one of them would be able to meet the needs of most mixes. This compressor makes your mixes punchier.
I found myself preferring the analog button on every mix though the differences is very subtle. The analog button is included with all three plug-ins reviewed here. They add harmonic distortions, which gives a little more of an analog sound that many love. These are also included by default, with the real SSL as well. Lastly, there is a Fade button that allows you to fade in or fade out on a song. Above the button is a Rate-S control, which affects how slow or fast you want the fade to act. I was very impressed with how this control worked and I would not hesitate to use it even with automation controls on a DAW. Though you get more control by a manual fade, this Fade control can do it much more smoothly than a jerking hand on a fader.
High-Pass Filter (white knobs): 18dB/octave, 16Hz–350Hz. Filter on/off switch.
The EQ in bypass leaves the filter in if engaged.
Phase Reverse reverses the phase of the input signal.
Master Output fader controls overall output of the processor.
Trim button (12.0) indicates how much headroom remains before digital clipping. This is the same sounding EQ in the E channel strip however there are some differences. The SSL G-Equalizer lets you create a more extreme EQ than the E-Channel EQ. However, the E-Channel EQ allows for a narrower Q over the SSL G-Equalizer. Waves advised that the G-EQ offers marginally greater gain change than the E-Series EQ, and each EQ offers a slightly different equalization curve. It was recommended to experiment with each equalizer to discover which best suits your specific needs.
I found the G-EQ has a gentle character to it, and only 1–3db is needed to correct or get the sound you’re looking for. If you boost it too much, you will get unpleasant results. The character of the EQ is somewhere between the Waves Linear EQ and the more colorful Renaissance EQ, I found The G-EQ to be very useable on every application I tried it on.
This channel strip is spread out and every control easy to see compared to the Waves Renaissance Channel. My suggestion to Waves is to make the Renaissance Channel screen larger like they did with this plug-in. Waves advised the dynamics section consists of a soft-knee compressor/limiter with an expander/gate. There is automatic gain make-up, which is calculated based on the Ratio and Threshold settings. This assists in having a steady output level. The attack time is program sensitive, and response to the signal that is being fed into it as well. The threshold allows the signal to decay below its opening level. The dynamics can be switched from pre EQ (default) to post EQ by clicking on the CH Out button.
The EQ is a four-band system that allows the Q to be changed in the high-mid and low-mid section. There’s also a high-pass filter (18dB octave) and low-pass filter (12dB octave). The equalizer can be switched into the dynamics side chain by selecting the DYN S-C button. What was said about the G-EQ in regards to sound and workflow is very similar with the E-EQ. Once again, I found this to be a very useable EQ.
In running a bass guitar through, it was easy to get good results quickly. The compressor was able to soften the transients while still maintaining the fullness of the original bass sound. In reducing the ratio and increasing the output, I was able to get a similar sound my UAD 1176. I found the UAD to be a little punchier in comparison, but both did a good job. There was a little amp noise that became more dominant as I increased the gain control. However, the EQ was very effective in eliminating it without affecting the sound of the bass with a narrow band setting. You are able to alter the high and low bands from a bell to shelf slope.
On a main vocal, I found the compressor did a good job in evening it out. Not as smooth sounding as the UAD LA2, but in different situations the SSL compressor could be a better choice. The EQ worked great with reducing the mids and gently adding a little more in the high freqs. The little color added was pleasant. Once again, I prefer to leave the analog button turned on. I was also able to use the gate in removing background noises very effectively and smoothly. I was advised that the plug-in does not have a look ahead capability but has a very fast RMS detector, which handled many situations from putting it with a reverb for snare drum, to getting rid of unwanted background noises. On acoustic guitar, I was able to shape the sound very effectively with the EQ and give it a little more punch in the mix with this channel strip.
I did have some questions that the manual was not able to answer, and Mike Fraid, who is the Product Manager of the Waves SSL 4000 Collection, helped clarify my inquiries.
What type of technology was used to get the sounds of the SSL?
Mike Fraid: I cannot reveal this. What I can tell you is that, in order to get the best sound match on the model, we spent months measuring any possible behavior of the analog hardware, and then slowly modeled every piece of the puzzle until the “picture” was just right. It took us a year of very intensive work, but I think it was worth it.
I think what makes these plug-ins sound so great is the fact that we didn’t compromise on anything sound-wise. We improved the sound and insisted on holding back the release of the product until we approved the sound quality. It had to be practically the same as the hardware unit. We even got a cancellation of 30dB between the real hardware and the plug-in. This is something that I think you can’t get from two hardware units. When we sent it over to SSL for evaluation they were amazed by the resemblance to the hardware units.
Is this a modeling or convolution type of process?
MF: This is a straightforward modeling type of processor. No convolution is involved in this modeling.
Is there anything that you added or that is different from the real SSL equipment besides the Waves systems bar?
MF: The only things we added were some conventional features to Waves plug-in, like a precise digital metering. You can’t have that in the analog domain. We also added the trimming option on the SSL G-EQ. Additionally, we added the option to turn off the “analog” behavior — something you can’t do on the analog unit.
OK, now what kind of slope is used for the fader out?
MF: The slope is kind of an s-shape slope, but it is very unique in design. Toward the end of the fade, there will be a slight sustain before fading out completely. It took us about a month to model the exact curve of the Buss compressor fade.
I was able to borrow an SSL XLogic Super analog Channel strip for a comparison to the Waves SSL plug-ins. Though the analog piece of gear went through an Apogee converter at 88, which the plug-in did not, I found the character of the EQ and compressor to be close to the hardware version. There is a difference but only you can judge if the small difference is worth getting the hardware. There are several SSL plug ins out there by different company's and they don't model the same SSL equipment so it makes it hard to really compare them against each other. Technology on modeling hardware is definitely getting much better compared to just a couple of years ago. In regards to CPU usage, thankfully Waves was able to keep the CPU usage down. I found these plug-ins used about the same amount of processing as my Waves Renaissance plug-ins, which is quite reasonable.
A ballpark price for the Native plug-ins is around $650. I found myself pretty impressed with the sound of these plug-ins regardless of them having the “SSL” name on them. However, knowing that you have plug-ins that give you a very close sound to the high end SSL EQ and compressors does make one feel good since most of us cannot afford an SSL mixer. If you are looking for some good plug-ins that offer a channel strip, nice EQ, and a mastering compressor, the Waves 4000 SSL collection fits the bill nicely