SSL 12 review: Affordable interface with a reputation to uphold
The Solid State Logic name is a mark of quality that looks good in any studio, but does this new interface offer more than just a good badge?
⊕ Nice-sounding preamps with optional 4K effect
⊕ Built-in talkback mic
⊕ Spacious, well laid out controls
⊕ Flexible console-like mixer and routing
⊕ Switchable headphone impedance
⊖ Need for USB 3.0 power for otherwise USB 2.0 device
Over the past 54 years, Solid State Logic – or SSL – has been responsible for some of the most supremely exquisite and uncompromising studio equipment that money can buy. Access to this pedigree was, for a long time, the preserve of only the highest of high-end studios (i.e. those that could afford mixing consoles that can cost more than a house!), but recently, the company has been paying an increasing amount of attention to those of us with more humble budgets. Amongst the resulting bundle of goodies are a pair of affordable two-input audio interfaces, the SSL 2 and SSL 2+, which have now been joined by the new SSL 12.
The new interface sports the same smart dark charcoal design and styling as its older siblings, albeit in a slightly wider enclosure. As such, it is a compact and portable desktop unit with a spacious control panel on its raked top panel. This hosts gain controls and level meters for the analogue input channels, a built-in talkback mic, a large output level dial that controls the main monitor outputs, and individual output level controls for the pair of headphone outputs.
The interface is powered entirely via the host USB bus and requires the higher power output of USB 3.0 despite the audio communications between interface and host using the USB 2.0 protocol. This need for USB 3.0 isn’t immediately apparent though, as the interface’s connection lamp lights up just fine if connected to a USB 2.0 socket, and initially the unit appears to work just fine too. It’s not until you open the SSL 360° mixer/control panel software that you see the problems, with the metering refresh rate slowing to a crawl, presumably because the hardware’s measurement circuits have insufficient power. In short, make sure you connect SSL 12 via USB 3.0!
Given the name, you would expect that SSL 12 can handle 12 simultaneous inputs, and this is indeed the case… sort of! The unit has four analogue input channels, and these can be expanded via an optical input that can receive a further eight channels of ADAT-formatted digital audio. This adds up nicely to give us the “12” moniker.
Internally, however, the unit is actually running 16 channels, with two given over to the talkback mic, and two to an internal loopback bus. These extra channels only become relevant if you use the unit in direct I/O mode, whereby the inputs and outputs connect directly to your DAW, bypassing the SSL 360° mixer entirely.
The analogue inputs are of the mic/line variety, and are served by XLR/jack combi sockets positioned on the rear of the unit. The first pair of inputs can also take hi-Z instrument-level inputs via jack sockets located conveniently on the front of the interface.
Each input has independent +48v phantom power, as well as an 18db/octave 75Hz high-pass filter – perfect for eliminating the sorts of rumbles, booms and noises that can be transferred through a mic stand, and for cutting away the useless low-end crud on a DI’d guitar or similar. These can be switched in and out from the interface’s control panel or from the 360° mixer.
Up in the air
Each input also sports a big, important-looking button labelled “4K”. This engages an effect inspired by the sound of the preamps found on the much-revered SSL 4000 series mixing consoles, adding a high-frequency boost and a touch of subtle harmonic distortion. The aim is to infuse the sound with the kind of analogue “airiness” that the 4000 series is famous for, and it can be very effective on sources such as vocals, acoustic guitars and miked guitar amps. However, we found that the effect could be a bit harsh on sounds that already contain a lot of top end, so it’s good that it can be switched in and out as needed.
For outputs, SSL 12 provides a set of four rear-mounted balanced jacks and a pair of independent front-facing headphone outputs. When not in direct I/O mode, outputs 3&4 and the headphone outputs can be configured to carry a copy of the main 1&2 output signal, or can carry their own independent mixes. Also, as a classic example of SSL attention to detail, each headphone output can be switched to properly support standard, high sensitivity or high impedance headphones, thus ensuring the cleanest and most suitable signal for almost any set of cans.
Living up to its promise
The Solid State Logic name brings with it the promise of pristine audio quality and thorough attention to detail, and this is exactly what SSL 12 delivers, thanks in no small part to its 32-bit AD/DA converters that can run at sample rates of up to 192kHz. These ensure the crisp character and subtle colouration of the preamps is captured perfectly, and delivers sound reproduction that is comparable to interfaces that sit a lot further up the price scale.
This sense of quality is enhanced by the 360° mixer, which works in a much more console-like manner than most, with per-channel pannable cue sends to drive the alternate and headphone outputs, pro-style monitor controls such as dimming and mono, and the overall look of an SSL console.
All of this extra finesse is reflected in the price of SSL 12 which, while being affordable, is at the upper end of the scale for an interface of this class. But it’s clear you aren’t just paying for a reputable badge: the interface is that little bit more flexible, delivers that little bit more audio fidelity, and is that little bit more intuitive to use, than comparable I/O boxes. And, yes, it does have a good badge too! Whether these fine details are worth the small premium is a decision only you can make, but we’d certainly be happy to use SSL 12 as the hub of any recording project.
- USB 3.0 desktop audio interface for Mac and Windows
- Four analogue mic/line input channels plus eight optional digital inputs
- Hi-Z instrument inputs to channels 1 & 2
- Four balanced line outputs plus two independent headphone outputs
- Emulation of SSL 4000-series mic preamps
- Standard 5-pin DIN MIDI I/O
- Includes SSL Production Pack software bundle
- Contact SSL
- Buy: Sweetwater, Solid State Logic
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