So I hope you enjoyed our hypothetical dilemma about the free E Series SSL. The results were interesting. The split between the yes and no camps wasn’t even, more people were saying yes than no but It struck me that the no responses tended to be longer, suggesting that the impulse response was “of course!” and for those who thought about it for longer tended towards the “no” camp.
As the person who originally posed the question to James I thought we should follow up with our thoughts. I’m definitely a “no”, James is a "yes". I put the rules together quite deliberately to prevent people breaking, selling or not using the mixer, it was a question based on actual use, not storing a mixer with a view to selling it in the future. If anyone wondered why we chose an E Series as opposed to a Neve, a Trident, an API or anything else it's just because that was the example we discussed in the first place and we saw no reason to change it.
Why Julian Wouldn't Take A "Free" E Series
Power Consumption - Doesn’t bear thinking about for private use
Air Conditioning - To add insult to injury not only do you have to pay to heat up your studio, you have to pay again to cool it down!
Ergonomics with Pro Tools - I have to confess I’ve never mixed on a large SSL. An AWS900 yes but not an E Series. Maybe if I had I'd find this more difficult, however something I’ve always found with using consoles with Pro Tools is never having the computer monitor at the right distance and never having room for the keyboard and mouse. The only console of any kind I’ve used that I think gets this right is the D Control. I’ve come to the same conclusion as I have with using weighted keyboards that the only way I’m comfortable using either in conjunction with Pro Tools is to rotate 90˚ and have an additional set of nearfields at 90˚ to my principal pair of monitors.
Recall - Kind of self explanatory but this is probably the biggest reason that people at the top end of the industry, who don't have to worry about the running costs are abandoning their consoles.
Lack of mobile use - Slightly artificial but according to the rules you had to use the console every time you used Pro Tools. That would rule out mobile use on a laptop. It would be like going back in time 20 years. While there are a lot of things I’d welcome if I found myself back in 1996, the quality of the laptops isn’t something I’m make the trip for!
Risk of costly repair - Anyone who has ever bought a second hand car knows that while something might look in good condition, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is in good condition.
Why James Would Take A "Free" E Series.
OK you got me, guilty as charged. Send in the men in white coats. Now, it has to be said that I have not done the maths (math to our friends in the North America) and I an quite sure the numbers would send me into a state of shock with regard to my electricity bill but in a "perfect world" where I was not working in a very glorified garden summer house I would love to be woking on a real life desk like an SSL E series and I would use it every day.
The reason is (and I have in part Al Schmitt and Steve Genewick to thank or blame for this) when I attended Mix With The Masters at Studio La Fabrique in the south of France last year something clicked in my head about how fantastic it is to work with bands on a board. You can work much faster when you have everything within reach and its all laid out in front of you not buried behind drop-down menus or keyboard shortcuts. Any outboard that you are using can be patched in easily with no need for concern about insert delay from your Pro Tools hardware or any of that other stuff I don't want to have to care about. You plug it in and you get to work. Again I'm ignoring the fact that old desks break down and bits of them fail and die at a moments notice, hey it's my fantasy and I'm going to enjoy it.
I mostly work with the same line up of instruments and people book me for sessions because of the sound I get. It's my sound and it has taken me a long time to realise that my sound is a good sound. I don't need to try to sound like another tracking guy or mix engineer, my sound is good and my clients like it. But when I mix I do reach for "desk" or channel strip type plug-ins like the SSL 4K on UAD or the Neve 88RS. I like the sound and the unification that mixing in a console gives. So if I can do it in the real world rather than plug-ins, why not?
I also work alone quite a lot tracking drums. I could have my kit set up ready to go on the first 12 channels of the console, never have to touch them and stem mix through the console for speed with all my favourite outboard always attached and ready to go.
Now I know there are some aspects of older SSL systems that are truly dated. The automation computer for example. Well I have that sorted with a Tangerine Automation Interface to replace the old SSL computer. If you haven't seen or heard of this check out the link to the video by THD-Labs. I have not seen or used this bit of kit but its looks like a great way to bring the older E series desk into the 21st century.
So have a convinced any of you sceptics yet? No... The truth is, I am looking for a console for my studio. I want to go back into an analog workflow using Pro Tools as a tape machine and editor. I have it down to a short list of 2 consoles. Which are they? Well that is a for another article.
In the comments I noticed some people with considerable experience of living with big consoles seemed to agree with me. Notably:
- Shane Shanahan - "I have pro tools and and SSL G in a commercial studio, I don't use pro tools or the SSL everyday. Sometimes other sequencers, sometimes in the box mixing. Being constrained to always using the desk no matter what would hike up the cost to customers who only need tweaks, radio edits, clean mixes etc. In the end you would end up losing business. For those who don't know running costs are high... Recapping 24 channels of and SSL G with favour discount is about £5000 and that's without spare parts. The power supplies can be rubbish so you'd probably need a new generation power supply. That's another £5000. And to keep the desk running properly you'll need it serviced every 6 to 8 weeks, say £300 for that too. Keep it on day and night, so that's roughly £250 a month on electricity. Spare parts roughly £250 every 8 to 12 weeks. You'd want to be earning is all I can say!"
- Neil Pickles - "No the running costs electricity, air con, day to day maintenance, size of studio required (higher rent, which is a massive factor in a city) are just too high. You'd have to turn over a sizeable income just to pay the electricity bills. As a fantasy? Hell Yeah! As a reality unless you're already independently wealthy or at the top tier of the biz, no, however great (and it is) that 4000E is. Oh and I'd take a 20+ year old 4000 over a Vr any day, those are absolute bastards to maintain. The SSL is more manageable. VRs just get worse as they get older. Also it depends on the type of mixing you're doing today's bands want a recall in a jiffy and don't understand why it'll take you two hours on your E when they are used to doing it in 30 seconds on their laptop. People need to know what they're getting into on these vintage consoles, however, good they are. A lot of the top mixers who own them actually do a lot of their mixing ITB certainly the pop stuff."
- Steve Genewick - "No way. If it was a Neve I might consider, but I doubt it. The cost, and headache of maintaining a beast like that is HUGE, plus, to really get the full benefit of mixing analog, you need a lot of additional hardware. BTW. I LOVE mixing on big analog consoles... other peoples big analog consoles."
I think it's like the fact that you can buy an old luxury or sports car for comparatively little but (environmental and safety concerns aside) would you be prepared for the cost of running it - especially if you had to use it every day? Most people would like a go in someone else's Bentley Blower (insert cool classic car of your choice here) but honestly? I'd rather have a Tesla.