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In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
#3051260 06/27/20 05:13 AM
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Introduction

Who in their right mind would pay $1,500 for a compact desktop mixer with only two mic inputs plus two stereo line-level channels? That’s a reasonable question for any musician to ask — especially a keyboardist or composer concerned with getting maximum bang for buck out of every purchase, and especially in these times of corona-driven gig scarcity. It was my question when I first heard about the SiX from Solid State Logic. Then I got my hands on one, and now I’m starting to wonder who in their right mind would want to be without one of these little monsters.

Being that this is an MPN GearLab examination, we’re going to get into every function in detail, but in a nutshell, the SiX is a bento box of the features that make full-format SSL mixing consoles … full-format SSL mixing consoles. No compromises in circuit topology or components are made — you’re getting the same internal organs as in a high-end SSL board priced like a house, just fewer of them. That said, the routing options and flexibility are far deeper than a quick look at the panel implies, and for that matter, so is the objective amount of I/O. It’s all analog, and later we can debate whether SSL missed an opportunity by not building in a USB audio interface. (Side note: I am also due to evaluate an SSL 2+ audio interface.)

The most provocative thing I can say about the SiX — and it’s controversial because it’s been said about enough pieces of gear that people are rightfully cynical — is that it makes everything I put through it sound better. It’s not about done-to-death “analog warmth;” instead, everything seems tighter, more detailed, and more focused, with low to low-mid material coming out of synthesizers and samplers benefitting especially obviously. I don’t know what can be going on here that’s different from plugging my keyboards directly into my Universal Audio Apollo interface (which is certainly no slouch in terms of audio quality) because the SiX is designed around pure signal paths that are not meant to color your sound. Rather, it’s that through the SiX, every source somehow sounds more like what it’s supposed to be. Bear with me through this thread, and I’ll try to provide audio evidence of what you can (for now) regard as my subjective opinion.

For now, here’s my first video, with more to come:


Unboxing

The experience of taking the wraps off the SiX is, I’m gonna say it, Apple-like. SSL clearly wanted their packaging to convey the quality of the product inside. Remove the box cover, and you’ll see a classy SSL brochure nestled inside a liner. Under those is the mixer, which sits in an angled caddy such that there’s room underneath for the external 15VDC power supply. Separate PSUs are a PITA, but they’re considered essential for audiophile-grade gear, keeping the magnetic field of the AC transformer away from the audio circuitry. (Keyboards have more internal real estate with which to do this.) Besides, this PSU ain’t no wall wart; it’s an inline brick that connects to the unit with a chunky 4-pin XLR. Like most music products these days, a printed quick-start guide comes in the box but you have to go online and get the PDF of the full-length instruction manual.

The SiX is built like a tank and weighs in at 7.7 pounds. Thick metal, silky 100mm faders, knobs that offer just the right amount of tactile resistance, and buttons that make you feel like you’ve just diverted power from warp engines to main phasers all contribute to the (correct) impression that this is a professional tool. If coronavirus really does lead to the breakdown of society and we all turn into cannibal mutant bikers, you could hit people with the SiX and be assured of eating well.

Overview

The core input complement of the SiX is two of what SSL calls its SuperAnalogue™ mic/instrument preamps (channels 1 and 2) plus two stereo line-level inputs (channels 3L/4R and 5L/6R). Channels 1 and 2 have EQ; the others do not — I will describe the two-band EQ in detail in the next post. All inputs and outputs are balanced, except of course for the stereo headphone output. You won’t find any concentric combo jacks here: On channels 1 and 2 the SiX uses a separate XLR input for microphones, then adds a ¼-inch TRS jack that you can switch between line and Hi-Z instrument level.

There are more inputs still, though. Over on the right is an XLR talkback input plus two pairs of stereo “external inputs” than can be summed to the main mix and/or routed to foldback. These lack any separate gain control, but for the keyboard players here, there’s no reason you couldn’t use them to route in two more synths in stereo and just watch the master volumes on the synths themselves.

Just to the left of the master fader is a well-developed “center section.” This includes assignments for the dual foldback busses, a large monitor level knob and monitor source selectors, dimming amount and headphone level knobs, and more. This section is worth a full post in this thread, and it’ll get one.

There is a main and an alternate monitor mix, as well as a “Buss B” that’s always active and has its own pair of outputs on the rear. You could conceivably use this for a split while recording a live gig, sending the SiX’s main mix outs to your P.A. system and Buss B to a recording device.

Above the center section is the vaunted SSL G-Series Buss Compressor, which operates at a fixed 4-to-1 ratio and offers threshold and makeup gain knobs. It applies to the main mix buss, and became a signature sound of both rock and hip-hop on SSL’s 4000-series consoles. The circuitry and effect on your signal here is identical — and it’s worth mentioning that a couple of software-oriented companies make plug-ins of this thing.

On the rear are XLR outputs for the main mix and ¼-inch outputs, main and alternate monitor outputs, Buss B outputs, and two pairs of outs for the foldbacks. Then, you’ll see two DB-25 connectors. These are the ins and outs for the sends-and-returns. A hallmark of SSL design is that inserts are always sending signal — if you turn one on or turn its knob up on the console, you’re enabling the return trip of the signal loop. Channels 1 and 2 have their own insert sends, as do various busses to which you can send individual signals — such as the main mix insert sends, “straight” main mix outs, and monitor mix. Returns comprise the main mix, channels 1 and 2, and alternate inputs for channels 1 and 2. There are several ways you could use these connectors depending on your application — including “tape returns” from a DAW, and the user manual details hookup diagrams for several applications.

First Impression

About that price. I think the form factor of a mixer, especially with a passing resemblance to budget compact mixers from the likes of Mackie, PreSonus, and other familiar brands, does the SiX something of a disservice perception-wise. If SSL made a rackmount stereo channel strip consisting of the two SuperAnalogue channels (okay, maybe with an added sweepable mid band of EQ) and the buss compressor, and none of the routing gymnastics, the pro audio world would almost unanimously proclaim it an exceptional value. Put it all in a desktop wedge with faders on it, and folks go, “Gosh, that’s an expensive little mixer.” And I suppose it is. But it truly is like someone pointed a shrink ray at a full-sized SSL mixing console. I plan to use it on gigs (such as they may be), recordings, and to make audio examples.

Next

In the next post, we’ll get into the particulars of the two main SuperAnalogue input channels plus the two stereo line-level channels. After that, we’re gonna plug some mics and keyboards into this thing and make some music. Stay tuned!

Last edited by Stephen Fortner; 06/28/20 04:57 PM.

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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051263 06/27/20 06:05 AM
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Well goodie!!!

This was undoubtedly in the works when i requested it and then backpedaled because Bryce posted a link to a Sound on Sound review that was in depth but I am totally down to read more on this piece of gear.

It seems to be very well executed and absurdly versatile.

I'll be watching this thread!


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
KuruPrionz #3051309 06/27/20 03:26 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
This was undoubtedly in the works when i requested it and then backpedaled because Bryce posted a link to a Sound on Sound review that was in depth but I am totally down to read more on this piece of gear.
Brother Steve is a very different reviewer than Hugh Robjohns...and Hugh's review was read only. This one will be interactive and ongoing.

Quote
It seems to be very well executed and absurdly versatile.
...and then some.

Quote
I'll be watching this thread!
Me, too!

I'm loving mine to bits. After setting it up for monitoring duty, I configured it for recording and have done two sessions with it at this point. I never had to open the book, everything work exactly the way I expected it.
My SiX is connected to an SSL2+, so my entire i/o chain for my live room rig is SSL now. How cool is that??? boing

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

dB

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Dave Bryce #3051323 06/27/20 04:58 PM
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Do you plan to do anything fancy with routing between the SiX and the 2+?


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051331 06/27/20 05:26 PM
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Not yet. Still deciding if I’m gonna need the DB25 connectors as well.

The room where I’m using the SiX is mainly intended for tracking though, so my needs are fairly simple. I almost got the non+ version of the interface, but figured for a bit more $ I would leave my options open.

My main reason for getting it was that I wanted something that would really let me hear and record with the nice mics I’m currently using, and this was actually one of the most cost effective routes to accomplish that.

dB

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Dave Bryce #3051337 06/27/20 05:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Bryce
Brother Steve is a very different reviewer than Hugh Robjohns...and Hugh's review was read only. This one will be interactive and ongoing.
dB

Goodie!! I look forward to hearing the "before and after" on microphones.

I love the juxtapositon of all the latest fancy gear sitting on Grandma's old parlor organ. Y'all gonna record "I'll Fly Away" fer us heathens? laugh


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
KuruPrionz #3051353 06/27/20 05:59 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
I love the juxtapositon of all the latest fancy gear sitting on Grandma's old parlor organ.
I'm sorry - Grandma's old what...??? pop Python

Actually, what got my A100 into the living room was that my wife said her Grandma used to have a Hammond in the living room as well, so it made her feel comfortable. grin
She says I do not make it sound anything like Grandma did, though. idk rocker

dB

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051354 06/27/20 06:00 PM
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I certainly plan to use every input and output on the SiX and report on it — including the DB25s in conjunction with my Apollo as well as the SSL 2+ that's on its way. I also want to make it clear that despite what YouTube picked for a video thumbnail above, I don't much look like Ehrmentraut from Breaking Bad.


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051355 06/27/20 06:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
I also want to make it clear that despite what YouTube picked for a video thumbnail above, I don't much look like Ehrmentraut from Breaking Bad.
laugh

dB

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Dave Bryce #3051363 06/27/20 06:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Dave Bryce
Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
I love the juxtapositon of all the latest fancy gear sitting on Grandma's old parlor organ.
I'm sorry - Grandma's old what...??? pop Python

Actually, what got my A100 into the living room was that my wife said her Grandma used to have a Hammond in the living room as well, so it made her feel comfortable. grin
She says I do not make it sound anything like Grandma did, though. idk rocker

dB

Don't see any bass pedals either, how you gonna play "The Hokey Pokey: without bass pedals? That's what it's all about... lol...

Steve, you are doing a great job on covering all aspects of this goodie, I look forward to the next installment!


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
KuruPrionz #3051368 06/27/20 06:54 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
Don't see any bass pedals either, how you gonna play "The Hokey Pokey: without bass pedals? That's what it's all about... lol...!
sigh

I tried...I really did. All they did was get in the way - my space is a bit limited....and I just can't seem to get the knack of the pedal thing. facepalm

I stood them on end in the hall while I was trying the space out without them, and my wife liked the way they look...so she made art out of them.

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

duck

dB

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051388 06/27/20 08:40 PM
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That looks awesome!!!

I hear ya, somehow I can play intricate fingerpicking stuffs on guitar and sing and it flows right along but gimme a bass (which is what I started on) and I might be able to throw in a short harmony vocal line here and there without destroying everything but singing lead vocals and playing bass? Not happening. Tiny brain, just won't go.


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051462 06/28/20 03:51 AM
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I'm very intrigued by this. Seems like a great lifetime (or close to) kind of piece with amazing versatility.

Apologies if these are dumb questions, but I'm still a little murky about my own setup. I'm currently running directly into my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Would I not be running through two sets of preamps if I did ran the SiX outputs through the Focusrite? Would I still get the same benefits if so, or would I have to also step up with my interface to the SSL or a UAD or similar?


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051471 06/28/20 06:34 AM
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Pretty sure you can assign inputs on your Focusrite as Mic inputs (using mic preamps), Line In (bypassing the mic preamps) and DI - direct input for electric guitars and basses.

You have 2 things to try out - just going Line In and using the mic preamps in the SSL SIX, or carefully gain staging and using the mic preamps in the SSL as pre-preamps.

I don't have the SSL or the Scarlet but I do use mic preamps as mic-pre-preamps fairly often and I like the low noise floor and tone I get. Your results may be different but it's worth a try if you have the gear handy.


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
KuruPrionz #3051495 06/28/20 01:41 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
just going Line In and using the mic preamps in the SSL SIX
That’s how I’m running.

dB

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051519 06/28/20 04:56 PM
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Majuscule asked:

Quote
Apologies if these are dumb questions, but I'm still a little murky about my own setup. I'm currently running directly into my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Would I not be running through two sets of preamps if I did ran the SiX outputs through the Focusrite? Would I still get the same benefits if so, or would I have to also step up with my interface to the SSL or a UAD or similar?

Having the SiX won't require that you upgrade your audio interface to hear its benefits — believe me! I have a first-generation 2i2 and it's a wonderful, clean little box. Its preamps are excellent especially for the price, but the SiX is a whole other level. The 1/4-inch portion of the 2i2's combo input jacks is switchable between line and Hi-Z. You'd keep it at line if using it with the SiX, a rackmount channel strip you like, or anything else whose preamps you'd want to use. A rule of thumb is, the more you ask a preamp for gain, the more you'll hear it's coloration (if any) of the sound. Your mileage may very, but I suspect that with the SiX as the front end you wouldn't have the 2i2's gain knobs above nine o'clock — maybe less. The goal is to make the 2i2 a "straight wire" that conveys the output of the SiX to your computer.

Some interfaces (like my Apollo and MOTU HD192) have line inputs that are straight unity (meaning no change) with no knobs to adjust them, and that makes things simpler. On the 2i2, I'd start with its trims at minimum in line-level mode. Push signal through the SiX as hard as you intend to, play with its channel and bus compressors and such, and adjust the 2i2's inputs until your signal (as metered in your DAW) is peaking in the sweet spot around -3 to -6dB. Again, I haven't tested this specifically yet but I'd hazard that you'll need to push them up a little or none at all.

Hope this helps!

(Side note: The former president of the U.S. office of Focusrite-Novation is now executive VP at SSL. I've invited him to chime in on this thread if he has time.)


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051522 06/28/20 05:14 PM
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What the DB-25 connectors on the back do.

I intended to cover this later — like, after the input channels — but I realized I spoke unclearly in the video above, so wanted to clarify. I referred to the DB-25 connectors on the back of the SiX as insert send and returns, and they do include that, but also other things. Here's the full breakdown:

SiX DB-25 OUT
Channel 1: Main bus L insert send
Channel 2: Main bus R insert send
Channel 3: Insert send for SuperAnalogue input channel 1
Channel 4: Insert send for SuperAnalogue input channel 2
Channel 5: Mirror of XLR main L output (passive split, non-buffered)
Channel 6: Mirror of XLR main R output (passive split, non-buffered)
Channel 7: Mirror of Monitor L output (passive split, non-buffered)
Channel 8: Mirror of Monitor R output (passive split, non-buffered)

SiX DB-25 IN
Channel 1: Main bus L insert return
Channel 2: Main bus R insert return
Channel 3: Insert return for SuperAnalogue input channel 1
Channel 4: Insert return for SuperAnalogue input channel 2
Channel 5: Alternate input for SuperAnalogue input channel 1 (toggled by button in the channel strip)
Channel 6: Alternate input for SuperAnalogue input channel 2 (toggled by button in the channel strip)
Channel 7: Not used (yet?)
Channel 8: Not used (yet?)

To be absolutely clear, when I say "channel" in this context I'm referring to those on the DB-25 connector, not the mixer overall. So, it looks like you don't get send/returns for the stereo line inputs (3/4 and 5/6). But what you can do with these, combined with all the other I/O on the unit, is completely bonkers. Parallel processing (taking a dry signal next to a duplicate one with effects) and setting the whole thing up as a summing mixer are just two of the possibilities.

Okay, in my next full post I'm going to get into the input channels. The first two are, again, like high-end channel strips in their own right, and even include one-knob compressors that are distinct from the G-series bus compressor that's also on hand. Stay tuned!


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051533 06/28/20 06:46 PM
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Thanks Stephen!

Those DB-25 connectors are fantastic, a small space used for umpty bajillion patch bay jacks.


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051539 06/28/20 07:56 PM
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Yeahhh that all makes sense, thanks guys. Boy, this puppy looks good. Unfortunately, it's not something I can just buy on a whim, especially considering the brake shop just quoted me a little over $1K of necessary repairs the other day... facepalm

But yeah, seems like an amazing way to get a double channel-strip that works as well in the studio as live, plus extra goodies.


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051564 06/29/20 01:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
(Side note: The former president of the U.S. office of Focusrite-Novation is now executive VP at SSL. I've invited him to chime in on this thread if he has time.)
That would be great. I mentioned that you were doing a GearLab test to Fadi Hayek from SSL as well. If possible, I would love to learn more about what making the stereo inputs sound so clean and tight.

dB

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051591 06/29/20 05:20 AM
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I was curious regarding rack mount hardware for a DB-25 to audio cable patch bay.

There are enough companies doing it - Tascam and Yamaha for 2 - that fairly affordable options exist. No affiliation, I don't sell patch bays or have stock or anything.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Mamba-8-Combo-to-DB25-Analog-and-8-Combo-to-8-XLR-Male-1RU-XDB-XLR-Patch-Bay/223617994235?hash=item3410abcdfb:g:kuAAAOSwUYhdTbFz

Might take a little time ot build your own but maybe you don't need all XLR/TRS/TS combo jacks so you could dedicate jacks according to needs and simplify the total package.

You could also choose front/back or both as needed instead of everything being both. You are potentially paying for lots of extra, un-needed hardware on the unit I linked.

Would be a couple of evenings soldering away once you got the hardware configured, very doable. That would take the versatility to an amazing level.


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051753 06/30/20 01:52 AM
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KuruPrionz, I have some snakes from Planet Waves that work well for this sort of thing. There's a core snake that's DB-25 male on both ends, then you can attach breakout "squids" to it for 8 channels of XLR or 1/4-inch TRS. No soldering required.

So, I'm deep into shooting the next video for the SiX, and the one-knob compressor (threshold) on the first two channels is very useful. I'm going to provide audio examples of it with synth bass, bass guitar, and voice.


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3051757 06/30/20 02:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
KuruPrionz, I have some snakes from Planet Waves that work well for this sort of thing. There's a core snake that's DB-25 male on both ends, then you can attach breakout "squids" to it for 8 channels of XLR or 1/4-inch TRS. No soldering required.

So, I'm deep into shooting the next video for the SiX, and the one-knob compressor (threshold) on the first two channels is very useful. I'm going to provide audio examples of it with synth bass, bass guitar, and voice.

Thanks Stephen, I saw the snakes too. In fact, somebody on our local craigslist posted one, which is what got me started in the first place.
I've got a mobile studio rack built - 8 spaces. One of those racks that can hold a mixer on top and some goodies in front would translate well with my current situation.
All I need to do is win the lottery!!!!

Looking forward to your next installment!


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
KuruPrionz, I have some snakes from Planet Waves that work well for this sort of thing. There's a core snake that's DB-25 male on both ends, then you can attach breakout "squids" to it for 8 channels of XLR or 1/4-inch TRS. No soldering required.

So, I'm deep into shooting the next video for the SiX, and the one-knob compressor (threshold) on the first two channels is very useful. I'm going to provide audio examples of it with synth bass, bass guitar, and voice.


RME BOB 16 I/O would have been a nice addition to the 2 DB-25 connectors.
BOB 32 is out of production,- not sure if it´s the same w/ BOB 16 units.

Well,- I´d like to read more about build quality in depth.
At Thomann, someone already reported pots aren´t fixed by locknuts,- which is something I´d expect from a 6-channel input analog mixer at that pricepoint.
Some returned it because they found scratching pots and other "minor" issues, normally associated w/ "Made (or assembled) in China".
OTOH other´s are very happy w/ it because they got a item not introducing issues.
So,- according to build quality, there´s seems to be some spread for standard factory models,- which it sad because there´s no one out there actually complaining on sound quality and/or features.

smile

A.C.

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3052096 07/01/20 10:13 PM
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Let's dive deeper into the input complement of the SSL SiX!

SuperAnalogue Input Channels

The first two channels on the SiX are what SSL calls SuperAnalogue™, presumably because “really f***in’ nice mic/line/instrument preamps” doesn’t work so well on a brochure. Let’s examine them from the top of the channel strip down.

In the input section are separate XLR and 1/4-inch jacks. The XLR is exclusively for mics, and includes 48V phantom power (switchable separately for channels 1 and 2). There’s also a high-pass filter (low cut) that affects both the XLR and 1/4-inch inputs; this rolls off the lows from 75Hz on down, and is of course ideal for reducing rumble on any source except those where you want all the bass you can get.

You have to press the Line button to enable the 1/4-inch input. If you’re working with an electric guitar or bass that has passive pickups, you press the Hi-Z button as well as (not instead of) the Line button. I found it worked well with electric and bass guitar — the forthcoming audio examples include this.

The trim control has such a wide range as to be dangerous in naive hands: +6 to +72dB for mics and -3 to +63dB on the line input. I didn’t need to push it up past nine o’clock on any keyboard I tried.

Speaking of gain, next in line is a one-knob compressor, that one knob being a threshold. This is distinct from the G-series bus compressor that applies to the main outputs. In British fashion, turning the knob clockwise (“up”) reduces the threshold, i.e. makes the compressor more likely to kick in. What about the other settings? SSL says the attack time is “program-dependent,” varying between 8ms and 30ms depending on what kind of material is coming in. I would guess some kind of envelope follower is in use here such that a snappy synth bass merits a quicker attack than, say, a choral vocal. Release time is fixed at 300ms, and the ratio is 2:1.

With those settings, you’d imagine this compressor is transparent and more of a tamer of rogue peaks than a “character” compressor, and you’d be right. It does a very, very good job at that. If you have a bass player who occasionally pops a string in a way that dimes the signal, or a singer who never really sings as loud as they intend to until the red record light is on, this compressor will save takes and time — and you won’t hear it working.

The EQ is more versatile that its two bands would lead one to believe. It uses simple shelving filters at 60Hz for the lows and 3.5kHz for the highs. Each band can be independently switched to a bell curve shape, which means that the amount of boost or cut at a given knob position is greatest at the center frequency, then tapers off to either side. Perhaps cooler, though, is that switching to bell curve actually changes the center frequencies to 200Hz and 5kHz, respectively. The neighborhood of 150 – 250Hz is infamously problematic for low mids sounding tubby or honky, so being able to mellow things out right here is particularly useful.

In general, this is one sweet-sounding, musical EQ. I will gripe that at this price, I’d like to see a sweepable midrange band as well, but you can do a lot with the two bands provided. Just a touch of high boost on a synth bass coming in mono from a Nord Wave 2 synth (also due to appear here in the MPN GearLab) brought out a “snappy Minimoog-style envelopes” quality that I swear I could not tell was there when running the Wave 2 directly into line inputs on my Universal Audio Apollo.

Bottom line: The audio quality of the preamp, EQ, and dynamics on the SuperAnalogue is what I’d expect from a high-end “project channel strip” that didn’t have any insert points, cue mixes, or other routing functions. And in spite of the association of SSL with genres like hip-hop and heavy metal (due, fairly or unfairly, to the 4000 series consoles), there’s no sonic hype or coloration here — just a clean but undeniably rich sound that will serve any style of music well.

Speaking of cue mixes, these channels have two of them, with level and pan knobs. These are nominally equivalent to a pre-fader aux on most mass-market compact mixers, but functionally more sophisticated. Cue mixes are intended for talent monitors/headphones and can be routed to three places on the SiX: either or both pairs of Foldback outputs, plus the headphone output. In the Foldback Master section (more on this in a later post), each output pair can be toggled to take the cue mix post-fader instead of pre — useful for when the cue mix needs to mirror the main mix, or for marshalling a cue mix as an external effects send (though we also have inserts for that, bear with me).

Near the controls for cue mix 1 is a button marked “Alt.” This switches either channel to an alternate line-level input source. Physically, these come in on lines 5 and 6 of the 8-channel DB-25 input on the rear panel. With the right adaptors on the other end of your snake, the applications are myriad: You could devote these to certain outputs in a DAW for taking a post-plug-in signal back into the SiX. You could use them to keep a second synth, pair of mic preamps, etc., wired up.

Next to the 8-segment level meter is the Insert button. By design, the insert points on SSL mixers always send signal out — engaging the button enables the return portion of the circuit. This means that, without the Insert engaged, you could still send a mirror of channels 1 and/or 2 into a DAW (via lines 3 and 4 of the DB-25 output around back). Given that you’re also sending your main mix to the DAW, this neatly facilitates parallel processing — recording one track dry and a duplicate with effects plug-ins. Engage the Insert, and you’re now taking whatever post-processing signal is incoming (lines 1 and 2 of the DB-25 input) back into the channel.

The channel faders themselves are the same silky 100mm faders found on full-format SSL consoles; plastic fader caps are the only concession to the SiX’s price point. Like on a pro-grade studio console, their response is non-linear: The closer you are to 0dB, the finer the resolution, meaning you have to move the fader more to get a given amount of boost or cut. In practice, this lets you make subtle tweaks beginning at unity gain without blasting or over-attenuating a given signal. In other words, how it’s supposed to be done.

Of course PFL (solo) is on hand, and the Mute button has the secondary effect of routing a muted channel to “Bus B.” This is simply an additional mix bus that shows up at the dedicated Bus B outputs. It can also be selected as a control room monitor and headphone source. To correct a point I misspoke about in the first video: whether a signal is in the main mix or Bus B is an either-or affair — an input channel cannot be in both busses at the same time. So, you can’t use Bus B to send a split from the main mix to, say, a recorder while the main mix feeds the P.A. of your live gig. In retrospect, for reasons of signal loss it makes sense that the SiX should not be functioning as a passive splitter all the time. Then again, it sort of is doing that, because the DB25 output includes two channels for a mirror of the main mix.

Stereo Input Channels

Channels 3/4 and 5/6 are line-level only and thus ideal for keyboards. They still have trim controls, only working in a more standard range of -20 to +20dB. They lack the EQ and dynamics of the SuperAnalogue channels, but can route to both cue mixes.

Plug something into only one side of a stereo channel, and the SiX automatically mono-sums it to both. Let’s say you wanted to record a keyboard with a monaural output (Clavinet? Little Phatty?) to a stereo DAW track to keep the option of stereo plug-in effects open. This lets you do that with no fuss on the DAW end.

These inputs are balanced (every input and output on the SiX is, except of course for the headphone jack), and even though they should be little more than a “straight wire with gain,” they too have a way of making everything I put through them sound better. I have my ADAM S2A studio monitors connected to the SiX’s monitor outputs and the main mix and inserts feeding my Apollo via the DB-25 connector; point being, I can monitor synths, vocalists, and other inputs without passing through the Apollo at all.

The Nord Wave 2 I’m currently also reviewing has a lot of “motion-scape” type patches, and using the SiX as both front end and monitor feeder, I can hear more of the detail, harmonic interplay, and background arpeggiator noodles in many of these patches. Not really believing what I was hearing, I also experimented with piano and organ sounds from my Yamaha CP73, Nord Grand, and Hammond SK-X. I consistently got the same result — everything just had more “there” there, and it wasn’t about hyping a particular frequency range, nor about the pleasant sort of harmonic distortion often called “warmth.”

MPN managing director Dave Bryce also recently acquired a SiX, and he put it this way: “I don’t know what the difference is between the SiX and just running a keyboard directly into my powered stage monitors. But it’s almost like the sound was going through too thin a wire before, and now there’s this big fat pipe.” I agree with the analogy. It’s counter-intuitive that adding more circuitry between your signal and the ultimate recording or reproduction medium would result in a tighter, more present, more focused, more detailed sound. (Unless said circuitry is adding something that wasn’t in the original signal, which I highly doubt the SiX is doing.) But that’s what seems to be going on here, and much of the time, it’s not squint-with-your-ears subtle.

Interlude: Some Vocabulary

As an aside, this is as good a place as any to clarify some of the British big-console terminology SSL uses. You won’t find the word “aux” anywhere on the panel, for example. A cue mix is just that: a separate mix from the main fader-controlled one. It’s not identical with a given hardware output. “Foldback” is the old-school term for “monitors,” originating in the broadcast industry. So, if you’ve got monitor wedges or in-ear transmitters at a live gig, or artist headphone amps or cue systems in the studio, you’d feed them with the SiX’s Foldback outputs. The cue mixes show up there, but other sources can as well, such as the Talkback and External Inputs, neither of which we’ve talked about yet. “Monitor” refers to control room monitors — the speakers the engineer listens to — and those are intended to mirror what’s going to the DAW/recorder (plus, again, the External Inputs if desired). So, cue mixes don’t show up as a monitor source because why would they? They can be routed to the headphone output, however, because you might be using it for an artist who’s sitting in the control room doing an overdub. (Side note: You can route cue mix 1 to the control room monitors as it's a selectable source for the main fader, which in turn is a selectable source for the monitor knob.)

Next

We’ll listen to some audio examples of various sources going through the SiX’s SuperAnalogue inputs. After that, we’ll get into the center section where the Foldback and Monitor source controls live, because the routing flexibility there is worth getting into in detail. Then, we’re not out of inputs yet! The SiX features two pairs of stereo “External Inputs” that, while they unassumingly lack accompanying knobs or faders of any kind, are useful enough to deserve their own post. I’m also scripting out another video showing how I currently have the SiX set up and am monitoring not one but two DAWs on two computers. Stay tuned!

Last edited by Stephen Fortner; 07/03/20 07:21 PM.

"I'm just a confused musician who got sidetracked into this damned word business..." -Hunter S. Thompson

Stephen Fortner
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Senior Editor, Music Player Network
Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3052125 07/02/20 01:54 AM
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Well written, covers everything but no deeper than it needs to be.
I knew when I saw the DB-25 connectors that there was a lot going on but the feature set without those is still impressive.

I always find a way, it may take a while...


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3052128 07/02/20 02:24 AM
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I like the idea of a separate enable for the line/hi-z on channels 1&2. If I'm understanding correctly, I could have my bass and guitar direct outputs plugged into the 1/4" jack and a microphone plugged into the XLR. Rather than plugging/unplugging stuff, I could use the line button as a selected switch.


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Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3052139 07/02/20 03:58 AM
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Quote
I like the idea of a separate enable for the line/hi-z on channels 1&2. If I'm understanding correctly, I could have my bass and guitar direct outputs plugged into the 1/4" jack and a microphone plugged into the XLR. Rather than plugging/unplugging stuff, I could use the line button as a selected switch.

That's exactly right. In addition to a knob you turn up or down, just about everything on the SiX has a toggle button that goes KLONK and an accompanying LED. You're never unsure about what's going where.


"I'm just a confused musician who got sidetracked into this damned word business..." -Hunter S. Thompson

Stephen Fortner
Principal, Fortner Media
Senior Editor, Music Player Network
Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3052143 07/02/20 04:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Quote
I like the idea of a separate enable for the line/hi-z on channels 1&2. If I'm understanding correctly, I could have my bass and guitar direct outputs plugged into the 1/4" jack and a microphone plugged into the XLR. Rather than plugging/unplugging stuff, I could use the line button as a selected switch.

That's exactly right. In addition to a knob you turn up or down, just about everything on the SiX has a toggle button that goes KLONK and an accompanying LED. You're never unsure about what's going where.
Totally agreed.

dB

Re: In the Lab: SSL SiX compact premium analog mixer
Stephen Fortner #3052147 07/02/20 05:44 AM
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Looks like I'm going to have to start selling some stuff.


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