Universal Audio SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor Collection by Diogo C
Plug-In: SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor Plug-In
Developer: Universal Audio
Formats: AAX, AU and VST for UAD2 system on Mac (10.7+) or Windows (7+)
Price: $299 MSRP (upgrades from legacy version are available)
If you hang around on Gearslutz for more than a few hours you’ll probably bump into a discussion thread about how superior analog gear arguably is when compared to digital gear, more specifically plug-ins. The debate gets quite heated when the conversation is about equalizers and compressors, with some certain pieces of gear being particularly magnetic when it comes to passionate arguments, and the SSL bus compressors are definitely on the top of that list. The topic of plug-ins recreations of hardware equipment has been thoroughly discussed on our boards, with many opinions floating around about to what extent that whole emulation enterprise is successful or not and who does it best amongst the many companies attempting to bring that “analog warmth” to our “cold DAWs”. More often than not Universal Audio’s name is thrown into that conversation, given their immense track record on both analog gear and plug-in emulations of classic hardware, which adds an extra angle to the discussion.
This is the scenario where the SSL 4000 G Bus Compressor plug-in comes in, and if that’s not enough controversy here is more: this is a “mark 2” version, featuring Universal Audio’s latest breakthrough on their revered “end-to-end” emulation process. Both the onboard compressor found in the glorious 4000 G series consoles and the FX G384 rack mount unit went through the same meticulous analytical process that made possible the greatly improved versions of the Fairchild 670, UREI 1176, Teletronix LA2A, SSL 4000 E and Neve 88RS channel strips and also other recent UAD2 releases such as the API 2500 and Manley Variable Mu, resulting on a plug-in that is more closely matched to its hardware counterparts than ever before. Universal Audio also took the opportunity to expand the feature set with much welcome sidechain filter (sweepable HPF up to 500Hz) on the detector path and also a mix knob for balancing compressed and uncompressed signals. It’s a better bus compressor on all fronts, and most importantly it’s a version that will stay for the foreseeable future, at least until the next big leap on computing power comes around!
SSL G Series (Legacy - Left) and SSL 4000 G (“mk2” - Right) side by side.
The SSL Bus Compressor in 2017 and beyond
This is question that can be asked about vintage analog gear in general, but one I believed should be asked regardless: is the SSL Bus Compressor still relevant in 2017? Should we care about it? A worldwide famous electronic music producer has recently said on a tutorial video that it “makes no sense” to use a SSL bus compressor on electronic dance music’s kick drum, and I somewhat agree with him. Conversely, many other worldwide famous producers and engineers will swear by it, and it’s safe to say that SSL bus compressors are present on more mixes than probably any other bus compressor in history. So let’s go back to the argument brought by the EDM producer: kick drums such as the one used on many dance music tracks are true headroom killers, but what I’d add is that the statement is valid to pretty much any compression in my opinion, so it’s not about the SSL - it’s about any compressor. After over a decade of working as producer and mastering engineer for many EDM projects I don’t recall ever using a compressor on the mix bus or mastering session, and when it’s there it’s for tone and not for the actual dynamic activities. It’s just how the genre works best in my opinion - same can be said about “heavier” metal styles such as black, death, djent and so forth. That also to some of today’s rap/trap and to many Latin/Caribbean genres such as Reggaeton, Funk Carioca and others. The underlying principle in play here is that dynamic variations are often on the backseat for the fiery intensity of non-stop beats and super upfront vocals. Everything has already been hammered on a channel-level, so makes less sense to have a bus compressor for dynamic control, but that’s only half the equation. The other half is that the SSL bus compressors all share a common feature set and a very particular envelope that just seems unfit for some of today’s music, where a high-tech digital or software compressor with a myriad of micro-controls may do a better job when such processing is required. On the other hand, many other music genres will greatly benefit from compressors on mix bus, it’s the rule rather than exception on many styles and this is where the SSL comes in. If you listen to rock, country, folk, jazz or popular music from the 80s and 90s there’s a very high chance that many of your favourite songs went through a SSL bus compressor, be it on a desk or on a standalone rack unit - since the decline of the “big studio” format the latter is more widely than the former. More recently plug-ins have also stepped in, with quite a good number of offerings, showing that this is still a very relevant piece of gear for certain aesthetic choices, and there’s no hint whatsoever that this will change. With all that said, let’s move ahead to the scores.
Sound quality: “Glue” is the keyword here, and the SSL is widely praised for adding cohesiveness to a mix like few others. This plug-in gives us exactly that, with a sonic quality that is at least on par with the competition and to the ears of this reviewer it sounds a notch above in quality, with the latest modeling techniques from Universal Audio paying some good dividends, providing a noticeable improvement over its previous version. It should be said that this is not a compressor with a strong or colorful tone, in fact quite the contrary, it’s mostly transparent but it does have a very characteristic envelope that simply works for many situations as stated above. It has to be used where it works best, program dependency is something I believe that all of us should take very seriously, and in this regard it’s really not the first compressor I reach for when working with electronic music, although I do find useful on plucked synth sounds, percussive loops. I’ve also worked a lot with extreme metal, and it’s of little use there as well, save for vocal groups. Conversely, it’s an absolute no-brainer for most kinds of rock, pop and hip-hop, really shining on the mix bus as expected but also working well on taming drums subgroups, leveling vocal or adding glue to anything that needs to be stuck together. I’ve also done a good chunk of singer-songwriter Brazilian music, which is mostly soft acoustic guitar with a jazzy-vibe and vocals, and it works pretty good there as well with slow attack/release timings, gently knocking a few decibels to round up a mix without deeply changing its core dynamics and feel. It also keeps up the stereo image really well, with a very subtle collapse of the center, something that can be countered by the handy HPF sidechain. Overall it’s a great addition to the already impressive UAD2 bus compressor roster, worthy of a spot amongst the best software compressors right now.
Ease of use: This is probably the easiest bus compressor to set up, which is partially due to the limited set of controls but also due to its rather “forgiving” sound character. It’s hard to make it sound bad and easy to play it safe, set ratio to 2:1, have a longer attack time (i.e. 30ms), set the release to automatic, pull that threshold until it grabs a couple of dBs, raise the makeup gain to compensate and you should be set for most occasions. Now with the addition of dry/wet blend and HPF SC it’s more versatile as these two controls greatly extends its range of operation. Documentation is very well done as always and the DSP consumption is surprisingly light given the impact of some recent UAD2 releases, taking roughly a fifth of a SHARC chip at a sample rate of 48kHz, which is quite welcome, especially if you’re saving juice for a UAD2-SSL virtual mixing console with the resource-hungry “mark 2” SSL E Series Channel Strip plug-in.
Features: This is a rather simple compressor with only a handful of controls as said above, and this particular version is not exactly oozing with features, but Universal Audio has added a few significant controls to the original design, the headroom control being particularly cool since dry/wet and HPF internal sidechain are present on many hardware mods. Needless to say that they’re pretty much on all respectable compressor plug-ins these days, and it’s definitely good to have them here. Nevertheless, it’s not the most featured SSL bus compressor plug-in out there, a title that arguably belong Cytomic’s The Glue (which is currently the most flexible SSL-type compressor in plug-in form), but on the other hand it’s not as limited as the Waves and SSL’s own plug-in, both sticking to the classic compressor parameters, and that’s just to name a few, there are others out there with more or less features, so this new version from Universal Audio is pretty much in line from what people usually expect from a SSL plug-in nowadays. As a gearslut I wouldn’t mind having more features, I do understand that authenticity is key to some people but having switchable input/output/gain reduction meters wouldn’t hurt, same goes for a resizable interface and more slope options for the HPF sidechain, which would expand the functionality without deviating from the original design. Honestly I don’t mind extrapolating the hardware, so I’d gladly take more ratios (1.5 and 3 would be sweet), more attack/release options and so forth, but as it stands I’m mostly okay with what has been offered here because the most important “feature” has been soundly delivered i.e. the sound...which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t welcome more features, because hey, this is Gearslutz, and if you’ve been around for more than two hours you already know that feature-begging is one of the house specialties!
Bang for buck: There are many excellent bus compressors plug-ins out there right now, they come in all shapes and sizes, for all tastes, needs, circumstances and pockets, so this new SSL G-Series remake enters a highly contested market and is bound to face some stiff competition. It definitely has the sonic quality to perform extremely well, and as we expect from Universal Audio it’s once again an extremely convincing emulation that does justice to the original hardware, but does it have what it takes to earn its spot in your folder? That’s the question everyone needs to ask themselves. The SSL bus compressors are closely tied to the music they helped to build, but much has happened since then. It has a very peculiar sound and a feature set that may feel dated depending on your demands, so all that needs to be taken into account.
Recommended for: Mixing and mastering engineers currently unhappy with their current SSL bus compressor plug-ins and also recommended to anyone looking to broaden their choices with a high-quality bus compressor that will fit certain genres like a glove.
*A classy sounding compressor that never gets old.
*Noticeable improvement over the legacy version.
*Super easy to use.
*Not very hungry on DSP.
*I wouldn’t mind more extra features, even if it deviates a bit more from the hardware.
Further discussion and audio comparisons:
I've selected a few discussion threads with audio shootouts of various incarnations of SSL bus compressors, both in analog and plug-in forms with many different versions compared, so knock yourself out! There are certainly other great threads and audio files floating around, so please use our search function (I heard it's getting better all the time) and you'll likely bump into more posts.
Kudos to all fellow slutz for posting all these examples!