Softube Console 1 MKII by ISotirov
The software operating the Console 1 is very user-friendly with a slick overview. The integration with PT is incredible. The way it takes control over your Softube and UAD plugins is great. There is of course room for improvement in future, but the team behind it is solid and working hard.
I know the Console 1 is marketed as a midi controller for your very expensive Softube and UAD plugins, but that’s not what hyped me up to write this review. I think the cherry on the cake is the SSL4000 Channel Strip that came with it. This is a very disputed area where some people are not as pleased as me from it’s performance, but I think a lot of it comes down to taste.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the functionality - the plugin can not be loaded on a track without the Console 1 plugin. It’s created with close collaboration with SSL and I think the performance of the Gate, EQ and Compressor are superb. Yes, there are cheaper alternatives and other compressors out there, but I want to compare apples to apples. Having used the Waves and UAD versions of the channel strip I can say this one is my favourite as quality and performance.
BUT WAIT! There’s more… Softube’s take on the SSL4K channel strip includes a “Shape” control in the Gate section, which is essentially a Transient Designer. I must say here I’m a huge fan of the original Transient Designer and the Shape control is spot on. Not the same, but it has it’s own charms.
Another bonus to the SSL4K is the Drive control and the Character control for the Drive (basically a harmonic distortion). I found that the Drive set on 5 brings you that sweet warmness of the analog SSL4K. It has a similar flattening to a tape machine, but if you are looking for that glue this will make you happy.
Even though the compressor is not breathtaking it’s nice of them to throw in a parallel option. The Console 1 has a few more cards in the sleeves like external side-chaining and changing the order of the different processors.
BANG FOR BUCK
Let’s put a different perspective on the price and move aside from the comparison with other midi controllers. UAD’s SSL4K goes for £229. Their price of the Transient Designer is £149 and a decent drive and harmonic dist will cost you another £100-150. That all comes to around £500, which is higher then the price tag of the Console 1 (£420). It is already worth your money and I haven’t even touched on all of the perks I mention earlier like all it’s capabilities as a midi controller or the benefits of saving individual histories in each instance where the plugin is opened. Yes, you can scan across every change you made on each Console 1 plugin and come back to it, which is unseen in DAWs.
I know the integration has improved from the MK1 and it will keep upgrading as the team keeps moving forward. The list of plugins integrated with the Console 1 will expand.
Even though you can load individual plugins from Softube and UAD in the Gate, EQ and Comp you can’t load your UAD channel strips. If you want to load in whole channel strips you have to buy them separately. At first I was disappointed that I can’t take advantage of my UAD API Channel Strip for which I already paid a bag of money. To my surprise the Console 1 was able to strip down the different components of the API and load individually the Gate, EQ and Comp. Talk about integration… Yes the software is smart!
This thing is a heavy war tank and the crew inside is listening to Miles Davis and drinking red wine, dressed in tuxedoes. It feels very rigid and solid yet the oily and slick movement of the knobs makes you feel special. My only comment would be the little white buttons, which feel a bit wobbly. I do feel somewhat comfortable spilling a pint on it and dropping it from my desk, but let’s not turn this into an iPhone drop test.
WHO NEEDS THE CONSOLE 1
If you own a small UAD chip like the one in the Apollo Duo, the bad news is that you wont be able to load tons of UAD plugins, but you already know this. The good news is that you can load a ton of SSL4Ks, because unlike the rest of your UAD library they are actually loaded through the internal CPU of your computer.
If you plan to use the Console 1 to it’s max potential you will have to upgrade to a Quad or Octo. In my case I’m taking advantage of my Duo and Octo to compensate for the weak i5 in my MacBook Pro.
I know many of you are probably asking the same question that was going through my head before I bought the MK2. “Why should I buy a midi controller when I can use my mouse and keyboard? It’s an unnecessary expenditure and instead I can buy another plugin or two.”
Here is my answer:
This product is targeting UAD maniacs like myself. If you are one you know the feeling of spending thousands of pounds on UAD hardware and software and you know there is no way around it once you get hooked with an Apollo. Even if you save your pennies for Black Friday at the end of the year your pockets will be empty. Now trust me when I say this - adopting the Console 1 in your arsenal will have a bigger impact on your mixing then yet another different EQ. There is a reason for the bold caption on the box (“SOUND. WORKFLOW. CONTROL.”). The Console 1 will make you mix more with your ears rather then your eyes. Your mixing will become faster, more efficient and pleasurable. Just as your CPU needs more power for plugins, your brain need space to breathe. If your workflow is better and faster you WILL have more brain capacity for creativity and mixing. And you can’t put a price tag on that!
As to the “SOUND.” - it has to be heard, not read in a review!
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The following is addressed to Softube. I'd love to see support for more then 3 plugins at a time in the Console 1. Some of us like to build complex chains with multiple EQs and Comps and that is missing from Console1.
By holding the shift button you are utilising 5 of the 20 white buttons that select the tracks. I'd love to see at least 10 of them assigned to to empty inputs which I can fill in holding the shift.