Do you miss the crunch/vibe and gnarl of a crusty 80's vintage 4000/6000e. Not that im an expert on SSL's, but half the mojo of them particulary in the 4&6K's was the way they sound when they get hit hard at inputs and the way the mix buss works when its close tobeing maxed out.
Was the automation the clincher in making the jump to the 9000 given the relative archaic nature of SSL auto in 4&6K series? Or was it that ultimation was more intuitive to the methods and fashion that you mix in?
I grew up at MediaSound using a Custom Neve 8068. When I went independent in 1984 and was forced to go to SSL in other studios, I freaked. Aside from the first reliable computer to come out, which I didn't need at the time, the EQ's were just awful and the sound compared to the Neve was tiny and crunchy. As SSL improved their Desks, I began enjoying the sound better but still missed the low end and mids of the Neve.
I first began developing my multibuss compression idea when the 6000 came out using three sub stereos. I was able to get the sound I was looking for in the 6000 so I didn't miss moving away from the 4k series. Then the 8000 came out with four sub stereos and I gravitated towards that one since my approach had developed to the level of needing more sub stereos. Still, I was using alot of Neve outboard to give me the bottom end I missed in the SSL.
While in France mixing a record on a 6000, I went to their recording room that had the new 9000J series. The engineer was recording an orchestra. When the tympanis came in I was floored by the sound of the bottom end. I couldn't believe how beautiful the top end air of the orchestra came across. Finally, I had found a desk that had the bottom and open top end that I had been missing from my sound.
The down side of this amazing new desk was finding the sweet spot and dealing with the computer software glitches. It didn't take long for me to find the desk's faults. First let me explain for some of you what this “sweetspot” thing is. We like to drive the desk to it's limit in order to get a desired sound. This is achieved by how far up we ride the faders when mixing. Somewhere on each desk there’s a sweet spot where the desk comes alive. It's a fine line that we ride between saturation and distortion. These desks have a lot of headroom and as you get closer to the rails (out of headroom) you begin to go into a gradual distortion. On the Neve, the saturation gave us even harmonics. The result being a nice warm musical sound. On the SSL, the saturation gave us odd harmonics. The result being a crunch type sound. The closer you got to the rails the more the desk's sound became apparent. It was hard to make a desk break up so we felt safe in the fact the sweet spot had such a large window to play in without going into bad distortion.
All that changed with the release of the SSL 9000 series. They completely changed all the critical components of the signal path by redesigning the circuit boards. The design was now based on a directcoupled circuit meaning they removed the coupling capacitors within the signal path. No more transformers, no more caps. The result was great bandwidth and a large dynamic range but it didn’t go into a gradual distortion. When you hit the rails, you knew it. It sounded like digital crap out. That nice place where my faders always ended up for so many years was no longer the sweet spot. It was a place where your mix hit the third rail on the subway . My mix would be feeling great and then suddenly guitars or anything transient would touch that “third rail” and an ugly digital glitch sound would fly by my ears. The sound of your mix frying with no place to go but down in smoke. You know what it means to have to take the faders down to another level? The sound of the mix changes drastically. Of course, it was in the process of finding out why the problem was occurring that I learned about the redesign. So I realized now the sweet spot on this desk was lower down on the fader. After a few months I settled on around –20. The desk opened up in ways I’ve never heard before. But still, there would be the occasional vocal or percussion that might hit the rail for a micro second. I found an easy solution. I put the channel strip compressor into the chain on the offending track, pull up the threshold button for quick attack and pull up the ratio button for peak. I keep the threshold at 1 so it’s not active. This simple solution would be enough to keep the transients from touching the rail without working the compressor. Problem solved.
The other discovery I made to avoid overloading the channel input is to bring down the individual channel line trim so each track is reading around "0" on the VU meter. It's easier and i think sounds better than bringing down the output of the tracks in Protools.
When I mixed on the 4k series I was always in vca mode, so when the computer was on, the faders never moved. I didn’t like the option of motors in Ultimation. The Neve was also VCA. I knew the sound very well. When I first began mixing in the 9k I stayed in VCA mode but over time I realized the sound was more open using the motors and of course I got used to seeing the faders move. The downside of the motors was the bottom end not sounding as tight but that was an easy fix since the motors bottom end was so open. The computer was a hundred times better once the software glitches were resolved.
A couple years ago they came out with the 9000K. I recalled stems that I had mixed on a 9000J. The desk was sonically impressive. The overall sound is about 5-10% better. It also addressed the two limitations I have on the 9000J, one being the foldown to stereo mixing for 5.1 in the center section and two being the ability to send both small and large faders to A-D busses. The computer is also way faster.