SSL is one of the most iconic names in the recording industry, often attributed to the revolution of the mixing process, thanks to their innovative, at that time, 4000 E Series consoles. It is known for its vibrant, punchy sound, and has been used for countless hit recordings, which practically defined the sound of the 80s. Over the years, the 4000E console has become one of the most emulated units of all time, and today almost every professional mixer engineer has used this processor in one form or another.
In this review, we will try to review the best of the best 4000 Channel Strip emulations. But first, let’s talk about the difference between the 4000E and 4000G consoles.
What is best for your toolkit?
Solid State Logic was founded in 1969 by the late great Colin Sanders, but it was not until 1975 that they introduced their first SL4000A Series console. The following year, SSL introduced the SL 4000 B console, which attracted the attention of studios around the world. They continued to release revised versions of the SL 4000 console until 1979, when they released the classic E series console. The SL 4000 E series was unlike any other console in the modern world, but it was the first to have a dedicated compressor / limiter on each channel, and also provided for a main bus compressor. Many engineers refer to the 4000 E with the onset of the trend of heavy, aggressive music that we know and love today. The E Series’s original 4-band semi-parametric equalizer included options for switching between shelves and bells in the upper and lower bands, as well as special high-pass and low-pass filters.
The early E-Series consoles used the Brown Knob equalizer circuitry, which left the filters involved, rolling back from the lowest and highest frequencies. In 1983, it was replaced by the Black Knob 242 EQ equalizer, designed by the legendary George Martin, who corrected the filtering quirk and made some minor changes to the gain range, frequency selection and filter slope, offering a slightly different sound.
In 1987, SSL introduced the 4000 G series console, which was also amended. Although the dynamic modules on the E and G series consoles were almost identical, the G Series is said to have a softer equalizer than the E-series, thanks to the new 292 or 383 G-EQ circuit. The G series equalizer used steeper slopes of the filter and included a variable proportional Q design (which increases the Q value, the more you increase or decrease the signal, as in Pultec products).
So, now that you know the main differences between ESeries and GSeries EQ, let’s see what each of the best plugins has to offer.
Brainworx bx_console 4000 E & bx_console 4000 G (299$)
The bx_console plugins, recently updated using a proprietary SSL engineer, are perhaps even more powerful than the original SSL hardware channel bands. Using their own Brainworx tolerance modeling technology (in other words, “TMT”), they can accurately reproduce the natural variations of individual components from channel to channel – just like in real life. Brainworx offers two SSL channel emulations modeled after the E and G consoles, respectively: bx_console4000E and bx_console4000G. Both channel bands offer 72 unique channels using TMT, which allows you to more effectively recreate the sound of the actual physical SSL aggregate in your DAW program.
Bx_console E uses the iconic black and brown equalizer combination and a “shelf” switch in the low and high ranges, while bx_console G has updated orange and pink buttons with “x by 3” and “/ by 3” buttons to get access to a wider range of frequencies. Although both bx_consoles offer their own unique EQ blocks, they have a very similar dynamics section. The modules use a standard compressor / limiter and exciter / gate channel VCA. However, by pressing a single button, the compressor can be switched from an E-series channel compressor to a G-series bus compressor. bx_console also adds state-of-the-art features such as processing a processed / dry signal for parallel compression, a special THD control for dialing in the ideal amount of distortion, and additional functions.
— See also: Steven Slate Drums released a free version of SSD 5.5 —
Universal Audio SSL 4000 E Channel Strip (299$)
Universal Audio is one of the leading hardware emulators in the audio industry. At first glance, the emulation is similar to most of the other plugins on this list: it has 4 bands of the classic equalizer that can be switched between the curves of the black and brown buttons, as well as a standard filter with a speaker section. However, this is one of the channel plugins that includes emulation of SSL preamplifiers, in which there are “sweet colors” to convey harmonics and character.
Despite the lack of TMT technology found in the proposed Brainworx, enabling pre-amp emulation is a welcome suggestion and this makes it a great option. The only drawback is that to use this plug-in, you will need some form of Universal Audio equipment or the UA audio interface to make full use of the unison preamp technology.
Solid State Logic – Native Channel Strip (329$)
The originally released Duende series, which requires an external DSP processor, is now an impressive SSL audio emulation from the creators of SSL. Channel Strip is modeled on the basis of the SL 300, which is rumored to be based on the later SL 9000 Series. If you are looking for genuine SSL sound, then the products will be as close as possible!
In addition to the traditional SSL features, the Channel Strip equalizer section can be switched from EQ to E-G with a single button. In addition to the standard quick attack controls in the dynamic section, Channel Strip also has options for soft RMS or peak style compression. Finally, it also has a surprisingly intuitive “process control” that allows you to reorder partitions with more flexibility than hardware, using a simple drag and drop window. This is a serious contender for the best overall plugin, but it is also the most expensive.
Acustica Audio – Sand FAB4 (173,53$)
Acustica SAND is a new SSL-style bandwidth approach that offers multiple emulations in one package. Technically, this is not even a channel strip, as it is a whole set of SSL-style plugins. Instead of emulating a single version of SSL, Acustica Audio used a unique dynamic convolution technology to “sample” the sound characteristics of various SSL consoles for SAND and create a massive plug-in with the main components: equalizer, filters, compressor, preamp and routing control.
The only drawback is that the Sand package requires a lot of processing power, which means that in most systems you are unlikely to be able to use it. Instead, you are likely to use its three separate processors: SAND EQ, SAND BUS, and SAND PRE.
SAND EQ has two EQ & Filter options – type A and type B. Curves of type A are taken from the SL 4000 G + console and equipped with two fully parametric center strips and two semi-parametric shelves. Type B curves are sampled from the SL 5000 Series console and are noticeably thinner. They are equipped with four fully parametric center bands with a choice of bell or regimental formats for high and low frequencies. Both types offer slightly different approaches to dialing at the specific frequency you are looking for.
SAND BUS has two types of Type A and Type C compressor. Type A is modeled after the original SL 4000 G bus compressor, while Type C is modeled after “some other familiar software compressors”. SAND BUS also has a special button, decorated with the Acustica Audio logo, which activates the “crazy mode” that was probably modeled after the “Crush” mode on the Alan Smart C2. It has long been considered one of the most popular hardware-based SSL bus compressors. SAND BUS also has an intuitive ShMod (Shape Modulation) control that allows you to fine tune the compressor attack curve.
SAND PRE is pretty simple and has an input control knob along with five options for specific console emulations. MIX preamplifiers were selected directly from the line channel input of the SSL channel channel. MIX A offers accurate reproduction of SL 4000 amplifiers that you know and love, while MIX B is a masterpiece shot directly from a rare console. BUS channels are designed to emulate the sound of the mixing bus of the same consoles.
— See also: Mac vs PC: which is better for making music? —
IK Multimedia T-RackS 5 British Channel + White Channel
IK Multimedia offers two SSL channel bandwidth options in its T-RackS package for half the cost of our list winners. They have an emulation of the old SL 4000 console called the British Channel and an emulation of the modern SL 9000 console called the White Channel
The British channel includes all the functions of the original channel strip, as well as several new ones, for example, the ability to switch the equalizer from the original E series brown pen schemes to the updated black pen design. Switching from black to brown also changes the frequency centers and gain ranges to accurately reflect the corresponding hardware models. The white channel offers a more subtle, transparent approach to signal processing. Known for its pristine sound, the White Channel has an almost identical interface with the British channel and even includes an EQ switch to switch between EQ Curves E and G. The dynamic section also adds a “hold” knob for more precise control. While T-RackS plugins are a great way to recreate sound at an affordable price, they do not offer many features for additional features, making them difficult to use.
Waves SSL E-Channel Strip, G-Channel Strip (249$)
SSL Waves emulations were among the earliest available. It would be a crime not to mention the Waves Channel and G-Channel Strip plugins. As one of the first on the market, many engineers used them in their mixes at some point in their career. While these plugins cannot boast the same robust features as some of the others, they are definitely worth considering.
Waves SSL E-Channel Strip is modeled on the basis of the SL4000E series console and has “black pen” equalizer curves. Unfortunately, there is no way to switch to the EQ design with a “brown handle”. G-Channel Waves SSL is modeled after the SL4000GSeries console and includes a speaker section of the SL 4000 band with the G-series equalizer.
— See also: -6db when preparing for mastering. Peaks and slices of audio information —
Finally, there are several other companies that deserve special mention:
- Native Instruments offer excellent Eclipse SSL 4000 console channel emulations and channel dynamics modules with their SOLID EQ and SOLID Dynamics plugins for $ 99.00.
- Slate Digital offers the FG-S and FG-401 EQ and compressor modules, modeled after the SL 4000 E console, which deliver extremely accurate, albeit limited, emulation features.
- Softube Console 1 is a new approach to the DAW controller, which includes spot emulation of the SL 4000 E channel band (among many other sign processors). Although the plugin offers all the classic features you expect, the controller itself is the true charm of this device.
In the end, any plug-in from this list is likely to provide all the required features. They provide classic SSL sound and familiar controls. Now that you have the necessary tools, the rest is up to you!
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