Solid State Logic Xlogic X-Rack by Glenn Bucci
SSL XLogic X-Rack with Silver Dynamics and EQ.
The XLogic modules are derived from components in the SSL 9,000 and older 4,000 series consoles. SSL designed the X Rack (which can hold up to 8 of their modules) so many pro and project studio owners are able to obtain the SSL gear and their sound at a more affordable price. These modules are taller than 500 series audio gear. One advantage of this design is the knobs are more spread out and not as tight as 500 series modules. However, with 500 racks being popular, SSL wisely designed several of their black series modules in a 500 format as well. Their 500 series modules have been incorporated in their wonderful XL desk.
These X Rack modules include four or eight channel input modules (which fit in one of the 8 slots), SuperAnalogue or their VHD (Variable harmonic drive) mic pre’s, Black Series Dynamics and EQ from their 4,000 series which has the reputation of being a little crunchy and their Silver Series from their 9,000 series which is clearer and more flexible for boosting or cutting. When comparing the two series, they both have that SSL family sound. Besides customizing the rack with the modules, you want, you can save up to 32 presets in the X Rack. To save your settings, you just push the round blue knob and hitting the save button. When you want to go back to the settings you desire, simply move the blue knob to the preset you want and put the knob in. Then on each module, you turn the knobs (if you see a LED light that is red, turn the knob counter clockwise and if the LED is green turn the knob until it turns off). I found this very easy and quick to setup. To remember what number, you saved on a channel, many DAW’s have a notepad area on the Arrange page you can use.
This review will be focusing on the Silver Series which are their SuperAnalogue Design. The circuits in their 4,000 Series use conventional electronics while their 9,000 design exclude nonlinear electronics in their signal path. Part of this reason is they wanted to obtain as close as possible to straight wire with their circuits. Anything that converts electricity into something else and back again is nonlinear. For example, transformers change electricity into magnetism and then back to electricity. One of the benefits of not having transformers, capacitors, or valves in an audio signal path is the increased speed of response of the circuitry. SSL SuperAnalogue gear react very fast which provides a snap kind of attack.
The X-Rack chassis is a 4U 19" rack housing with a premium grade power supply, MIDI IN/OUT connections and a Mix Bus Link port that enables two X-Racks to be cascaded. The X-Rack is very well built and thankfully not as heavy as I would have expected it to be. There is an auto sensing power supply that can operate 100-230 V without adjustment. Besides having the ability to recall your settings, you can copy settings from one channel to another and the light on each knob will tell you when you got the controls are in the right place. The X Rack is very clean looking with an LED screen on the right side along with the buttons to save your presets. The total recall computer stores all the switches and knob positions for all the modules installed. Compared to 500 series gear, I much prefer the X modules that are spread out which are easier to operate and visually see details. The extended spacing is like working with horizontal rack gear but in a vertical position.
VHD Input Module
Many times, engineers want a signal to be rounder or have 2nd or third harmonic distortion which when done right can provide a pleasing warmer sound. SSL realized this which is why they developed their VHD (Variable Harmonic Drive) input module. Without activing this circuit, this pre-provides a clean detail sound that sounds wonderful on classical instruments or even an acoustic guitar. This drive circuit was added to this mic pre-which uses a 100% analog signal path. It gives the option to dial in either 2nd (tube color) or 3rd (transistor color) harmonic distortion or a blend of the two to your source material. At lower gain settings, it adds a gentle character which I personally like a lot. Higher settings can add some heavier distortion to you signal if you so desire. You can always add color, but you can’t take color away. Some have said the SSL 4,000 is better for rock and the 9,000 better for hip hop type of music. However, if you use colored mic pres from company’s like Manley Labs, Neve or the SSL VHD for rock music and then run the Silver modules afterwards, this blending approach of colored pre’s and clean dynamics and EQ can provide a great option in getting a wonderful punchy solid sound. Solid State Logic is owned by musician Peter Gabriel. As someone who was in the band Genesis and later recorded solo material, his experience in the studio offers a deep insight on what musicians want. This brings a unique approach on designs over those who are just audio engineers.
SuperAnalogue Dynamic Module
The dynamic VCA- based compressor/limiter module has switches and knobs that feel solid. All rotary controls are continuously variable. There is a ratio from 1 to infinity (limit). This unit does not have a makeup gain control however the auto makeup gain works well. If either tracking or using it at the mixing stage, I could obtain great results on instruments and vocals. With the regular attack time which is program dependent it varies from 30 to 30 ms. The compressor reacts very similar to plug-in channels strips SSL emulations I have by controlling the transients and smooth the top end a little. The difference with hardware however is it sounds like your adjusting the signal, while the plug-in sounds like you’re on top of the signal. The hardware also has a little clearer sound vs the plug in as well. Now when you push the fast attack time button it goes to 1 millisecond. I found this helps the compressor to react a lot quick and it adds a punchy character which helps a bass or guitar track move forward in a mix. It’s can tame fast peaks that the program attack could not do as well. The upper mids are softened and the makeup gain does seem to make the signal a little louder which I like. In using my SSL emulated plug ins, they provided good results but they could not get the punch, great transient response and open sound the way the hardware does. SSL also added a hard knee control option which really can squash signals when needed.
There are two five segment LED lights; the green is for the gate/expander and the yellow and red are for the compressor. I found the meters to be a helpful aide on how much the signal is being affected. Depressing the Key button routes signal received at the module rear key input to a sidechain which makes this unit even more flexible. The reap panel includes input and output XLR’s and a switch that lets you switch from +4 or -10. The one thing I wish it had was more numerical numbers around the ratio knob so if you wanted a 3.1 or 5.1 ratio you could just dial it in. Though this compressor sounds great on a 2 bus, it’s not able to get the same results as the SSL 2 Bus compressor.
The gate/expander can work very quietly and stay out of the way. There is no annoying chatter going on when it kicks in and out. It has a range, threshold, expansion button which is a smoother gate that is not as abrupt. There is also a fast attack, hold knob, bypass button and a link feature that allows you to link another dynamic module gate/expander. I generally setup the expander with a range of -10db which works quite well. When a singer is not singing on certain sections, you can remove any music bleeding from headphones or any breathing sounds you don’t want picked up.
SuperAnalogue EQ Module
This is a fully featured EQ with high (1.5kHz – 22kHz) shelf or bell, and a low-band (40 Hz- 600 Hz) which is also switchable between shelving or bell curve. The lower mid-band (200 Hz- 2.5 kHz) has a variable Q control. The higher mid band (600 Hz – 7kHz) also has a variable Q control. There is a Selective Mode' E & G curve selection, enabling independent switching between E Series 'Black' & G Series EQ curves for the high/low bands and the two mid bands to create a uniquely versatile EQ design. There is a bypass switch for A/B comparisons. Many people like to boost EQ, but I will tell you if you need to have surgical EQ cuts on a track, this EQ is one of the best in this area which can help bring out other freq’s when doing so. It of course sounds fantastic with boosts which provides a solid sound with a great response time. I will admit this EQ has become one of my favorite EQ’s. It helps bring an exciting forward sound that does not alter the original signal. With using the right mic, mic placement and pre to get the sound you want, this EQ will then take over to give a sense of forward urgency to guitar, bass or drum tracks. It can also remove nasal issues on a vocalist or help unclutter certain issues you might have.
The SuperAnalogue circuits of the Silver series are neutral and will not add a lot of warmth or mojo. What they do provide is a super clear, detailed, in your face sound without sounding hard. When adding the dynamics and EQ together on a track, it almost sounds like your removing tissue from the front of your monitors. It provides an openness and depth to your mixes that no other gear that I have heard. I put a band’s 2 bus mix through the SSL Dynamics and EQ and the guitar player told me the gear made the song sound like a record.
The SSL hardware is still at a higher level of sound compared to emulation SSL plug ins out there. It also provides more fun in the studio as your working with knobs vs a mouse. If you just use plug ins for mixing, it feels like you are just working with software programs as it does not provide you with a full recording studio experience in my opinion. Granted we all can’t afford a lot of high end gear, but if you can afford a select few, the X Rack should be considered if you want a modern punchy sound. This does not happen often when I review gear, but since this made such a positive impression, it’s staying in my rack.