I have had the great pleasure of having one of the new SSL SiX desktop mixers at my studio for the last couple of weeks. During that time I’ve been testing it and putting the SSL SiX through its paces both in the studio and at live events. When it was first launched I think some thought that this is just a small mixer with an SSL badge on it, why buy the SSL SiX when there are mixers with more features and considerably cheaper?
Having used it in anger in a variety of applications, here are my 7 reasons as to why you should seriously consider buying the SSL SiX.
Reason 1 - Build Quality
Let’s start with an easy one. SiX looks great. That said, the layout does take a little getting used too, I kept reaching for the channel pan pot only to find this was the Stereo Cue 1 send which took a little getting used to. SSL have fitted a vast amount of connectivity and routing into a unit that is not much bigger than an average shoe box. While the end cheeks are plastic the chassis and the main mixer front plate are steel and to be honest I was really surprised how heavy the SiX is.
From the vent holes at the back of the desk, round the recessed I/O section to the feel and operation of the pots and faders this thing feels just as good as it looks. It truly does have SSL written all over it both physically and metaphorically.
Reason 2 - SSL Super Analogue Mic Pre
The SSL SiX is equipped with 2 SSL Super Analogue mic preamps. These sound fantastic. They are very clean, as you would expect, and have loads of punch for voice, especially spoken word. I was using SiX last weekend as the front end for a 6,000 watt PA system at a sports event and several people (who know nothing about audio or how I work or that I was playing with new toys) commented how great the sound was and how much better it sounded compared to the normal PA.
In the drum track, specially recorded for this article I recorded the drums with 5 microphones. The Shure 91A inside the kick drum is routed to channel 1 of the SiX. The Telefunken M80-SHB is routed to channel 2. The pair of Vanguard V1 pencil condensers are routed to a Kahayan 12K72 two channel mic pre then sent at line level into stereo channel 3 and 4 on SiX. The final mic is a room mic. This is a Simple Way MicOne routed to the Talk Input channel. The Talk input is also a high quality Super Analogue mic pre that can be routed into the mix or out via one of the Cue sends. This mic preamp only has a simple volume control but it does offer Phantom power as well as version of the amazing SSL Talkback Compressor. More on this shortly.
Reason 3 - Simple Yet Effective SSL EQ & Compression
Both channels 1 and 2 on SiX feature a one knob channel compressor with 3 status LED’s and a 2 knob EQ. The compressor is inspired by classic SSL console channel compression but this time the controls are kept as simple as possible with signal dependant attack, release, ratio and a neat auto make-up gain, leaving users to be able to adjust the Threshold.
The two knob EQ is also inspired by SSL consoles of old. The HF and LF bands can either have shelf or bell EQ curves. For me, the EQ section is one of SiX’s little secrets. The centre frequencies of the EQ are different depending on if you are in Shelf or Bell mode. This makes what is a quite simple looking EQ very powerful. It’s easy to dial in the power of a kick drum by adding some low end with the bell curve but drop out the mud in a snare by pulling out some low end in shelf mode.
In the track below you can hear how the Kick and Snare sound with some EQ and Compression applied.
Reason 4 - The Listen Or Talkback Mic And Limiter
As I have already mentioned the Talkback mic can be routed into the signal chain and used as an extra mic preamp for recording. This gets really interesting when you engage the Listen Mic Compressor (LMC). This gives quite a dirty, gritty, over compressed and over saturated sound that can work really way to give drums especially some edge. Let’s not get all dreamy eyed and start talking about Phil Collins again but using this technique in the right way can sound great.
In the track below I have bypassed the channel EQ and Compression but engaged the LMC to give the room mic channel some crunch.
Reason 5 - Cheapest Way To Buy An Real SSL Bus Compressor
The SSL Bus Compressor has earned its place in the rock and roll technical hall of fame. There is a reason why its called “The Glue” and buying a SiX also happens to be the cheapest way to get one into your studio. The 2 knob version of the G-Series Bus Compressor in SiX was inspired from original SSL4000G designs. This is a simple yet effective compressor. Just set the Threshold and use the Make-Up knob to bring the level back up.
With my newly installed Flock Audio Patch I setup the SiX in my studio set-up as an alternative to the built-in compressor on my Audient ASP8024 console. I route into SiX via the line inputs on Channel 1 and 2 and out of the main L and R outputs. I this way I can gently EQ the master bus with some SSL flavour EQ and hit it with the G Series Buss compressor.
In the drum track below you can hear how the fully processed drums sound recorded direct to “disk” through the Bus Compressor. This proper recording, setting levels and compression as you record.
Reason 6 - 12 Channel Summing Mixer
Now I know it’s called the SiX but there are some very neat tricks up the SiX’s sleeve. The first is that you can use both the Mic Preamp and the Line Inputs on channels 1 and 2 at the same time. The Line In is routed to the Cue bus and can be inserted into the main Mix Bus using the ST Cue 1 button in the Main fader path. As well as the 2 stereo Line In channels there are also 2 pairs of External inputs that can also be summed in the Master fader path using the Ext 1 and Ext 2 buttons.
However, to call the SiX a “summing mixer” might be a bit of a stretch. Of the 12 inputs, a maximum of 4 follow the same audio path so there might be some variation between what you route through the mic or line inputs on channels 1 and 2 and the stereo External inputs. Yes, you can route all these signals through the built-in Bus Compressor but that’s not really summing in my world. Mixing yes but summing?
Reason 7 - The Ultimate Problem Solver In The Studio And On Location
It took me about 5 minutes before I really grasped the power inside the SSL SiX. The name SiX is almost a bit too misleading. If you really want to, you can put 13 signals at a time into the Master Bus. This is a very handy little desk. I think it’s a bit of an ask to get podcasters to fork out around £1300 for these things but I can see SiX being the centerpiece of many a post production or edit suite. Not being tied to a particular digital or computer connectivity format could be one of the best things SSL decided not to put into SiX as it’s not going to age as fast as if it had say a Thunderbolt port and hooked up to your Mac or PC. SiX is a mixer and it just sounds great and what ever you use it for be that live events, studio monitoring, input channel strip, summing mixer, voice over work or full on studio production it’s going to fit into your work-flow perfectly. Then one day you will have a client ask you for a thing that you have never done before and the answer is going to be possible with the use of SiX. Think of SiX as an audio Swiss-Army knife only designed in the UK and built in China.
There was a great deal of head scratching from myself and the Production Expert team when we first heard about SiX. Most of us including me said 6 channels is just not enough. 4 mic channel strips and 2 stereo is the absolute minimum. And while I still wish SiX as in fact a EighT or a TeN (see what I did there) I totally get the SiX concept. There is a very good reason why since the beginning of home studio recording the smallest interfaces like the original Digidesign M-Box had just 2 mic preamps. It’s because most people do not record more than one instrument or voice at a time. It just so happens that with not to much faffing or extra kit the SiX can be used to record 12 channels at a time which is a very healthy amount of I/O, Add to that a simple the fantastic sounding SSL Bus Compressor, full monitor controller and 2 stereo headphone feeds all of a sudden the £1299 UK pounds price tag does not sound so far fetched. Add to that the obvious feel good factor of owning an SSL that does not cost the GDP of a small country and there are lots of reasons why the SiX like the Fusion before it will do very well. These are going to be not only what SSL call the “Ultimate Desktop Mixer” but also the ultimate audio problem solver. SSL, if you think you are getting this SiX back…. think again, I love it.