8 SSL Mic Pre’s… with serious attitude
XL-Desk features 8 of SSL’s patented Variable Harmonic Drive (VHD) microphone preamps, built-in to the first 8 channels of the console. The VHD pre can deliver clean SSL grade recordings but also features the VHD circuit used in our acclaimed Duality console* which can be switched into the signal path. The Variable Harmonic Drive circuit uses a 100% analogue signal path to generate rich harmonic distortion. As you increase the input gain, the Variable Harmonic Drive circuit introduces either 2nd or 3rd harmonic distortion or a blend of the two to your source material. At lower gain settings it adds gentle valve-style warmth or a touch of transistor edge. As the gain is increased the more extreme the distortion becomes until at high gain settings it delivers fierce trashy transistoresque grunge. VHD pre’s give the user the ultimate versatility from a studio grade preamp. Whether it’s ultra-clean traditional SSL, subtle warming or totally trashy transistor distortion, VHD will change your expectations of what a preamplifier should deliver.
*Note: Duality has two different channel inputs; the SuperAnalogueTM mic pre (as also featured in the AWS and X-Rack Mic Amp Module) and a VHD input. XL-Desk uses the VHD input circuit not the SuperAnalogue mic pre.
Classic SSL channel versatility
XL-Desk may be compact but it features all of the classic SSL channel strip features which make our consoles so versatile and accommodate such a wide range of production requirements. XL-Desk has 20 channel strips. The first 16 channel strips are dual input mono, meaning they can be switched between a main input and a DAW return whilst tracking. The Remaining four strips are stereo channels. Channels 1-8 have VHD mic pre’s. Channels 9-16 are line level but can use the 500 rack for mic inputs if desired. Each mono channel can access a corresponding 500 format module and also has a separate traditional Insert point. The four stereo channels cannot access the 500 rack and do not have Insert points. All of the channels have an additional Direct Output to facilitate printing processed material to your DAW and this can be switched between pre-/post fader. Each channel has a +/-20dB Trim control which can be used in a couple of ways: for VHD channels in can be used to control the output level from the VHD into the channel when using heavy distortion, when used with a 500 rack module it can be used to drive the level into the inserted module. There is a phase invert switch. Beside the Trim control is a tri-colour signal indicator LED.
The metering on XL Desk can be switched between +24dBu and +18dBu Scale to give the following LED settings.
+24dB Scale: LED Green –24 dBu; Yellow +4 dBu; Red +21 dBu
+18dB Scale: LED Green –24 dBu; Yellow 0 dBu, Red +16 dBu
Each channel has a CUE Stereo section with Level and Pan Controls and a pre/post fader switch. When tracking this would typically be used to feed one of the headphone buses. The mono channels have an ALT button which switches the CUE ST section to sourcing its signal from an additional rear panel ALT input, which is then summed into Mix A. This ALT input means we have 32 inputs to the mono channel strips for Mixdown. There are two Mono Aux Sends (globally switchable pre and post fader) and two Stereo Returns (the Returns also have Direct Outputs for DAW printing). Each channel has a Pan/Balance Control and buttons for routing to the four Mix Buses. Completing the channels are 100mm faders which give hands on, precise level control.
A 500 format rack, built into your SSL console
For many of our users combining different tonal characteristics from a range of analogue equipment by a selection of manufacturers is an integral part of their sound. The popular modular ‘500 format’ facilitates the use of a wide range of analogue processing modules from different manufacturers. So, built into the penthouse of XL-Desk is an 18-slot 500 format rack. This rack can be loaded with any combination of SSL or third-party 500 format modules, as desired by the user. The in-built 500 rack offers the user the opportunity to add their own favourite sonic flavours to their SSL console, whilst keeping it all within arm’s reach. The XL-Desk rack has its own dedicated power supply, separate to the power supply for the rest of the console. Unlike many stand-alone 500 format racks the XL Desk rack has a very highly specified power supply which should deliver sufficient power to accommodate your selection of modules. SSL cannot guarantee compatibility but has tested this rack with over thirty different modules.
Each of the mono channels of the XL-Desk (1-16) has access to its own corresponding slot in the rack and the channel strips access them via a ‘500’ Insert button. The four Stereo channels cannot access the 500 rack. Slots 17-18 are hard wired to Mix A to accommodate a stereo mix bus compressor and XL-Desk ships with these slots pre-loaded with 500 format module version of the legendary SSL G Series Bus Compressor. The console will ship with a new version of this module which features a sidechain HPF. The four Mix Buses can also access rack slots 9-16 (in stereo pairs) although the Mix Buses and mono channels 9-16 cannot use the rack slots simultaneously. The inputs and outputs of module slots 1-16 are accessible via standard DB25 connectors on the rear panel. This does mean that the modules are not hard wired into the mono channel strips 500 Insert send/return, but the console does ship with a set of external DB25 jumper cables to facilitate this approach if required. The advantage of our opting not to hard wire the rack into the channel signal flow is of course that if desired (and we do recommend this), the rack can be connected to a patchbay for ultimate flexibility and creating chains of patching between 500 modules. Furthermore, this means that the 500 rack can be used ‘standalone’. The 500 rack can also accommodate stereo modules that comply with the pin 6 link specification – the switch to assign an odd/even pair of slots to stereo operation is internal so must be set before the module is fitted.
The magic of an SSL console x 4
Designed by the team behind Duality and AWS, XL-Desk delivers the kind of stunning audio quality only associated with SuperAnalogue™ SSL consoles. XL-Desk provides the sought after separation, clarity and punch behind thousands of hit records made on SSL consoles. Everyone agrees that the sonic magic of an SSL console happens at the Mix Bus but one bus is not always enough! Many high-profile mixers use multiple mix busses to create parallels or sub-groups of instruments, helping them to compress and manipulate sounds in unique ways. These ‘tricks of the trade’ are some of the most effective to help take a mix from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
XL-Desk provides no less than 4 mix busses - A, B, C and D. Mix A is the master bus, from which the final stereo mix is derived. This has its own 100mm fader. Mixes B, C and D each have their own level control and crucially, the ability to sum into Mix A. All 4 Mix Busses have Direct Outputs for DAW printing, separate standard stereo Insert points and have the ability to access slots 9-16 of the in-built 500 format rack.
Comprehensive monitoring and communication
The monitoring system of any professional music environment is one of the most important parts. XL-Desk offers a pristine, Superanalogue™ monitoring section, packed with useful features. There are three sets of stereo monitor connections (Main, Mini 1 and Mini 2) plus a sub connection. These are controlled by a front panel button matrix with individual Level controls. The sub connection has bass management: When the SUB is engaged, the bass management sums left and right signals through a 3rd order low-pass (high cut) filter at 80Hz and sends the sum out of the Sub monitor output. Also, 2nd order high-pass (low cut) filters are inserted into the selected left and right monitor outputs. The bass management on XL-Desk is intelligent. It will remember if the SUB button is on or off for each speaker set. The Monitor Source can be selected from; Mix A, a separate External rear panel input or the front panel iJack input and a Mono button folds down these monitor sources to mono if desired. A Monitor SUM button allows any combination of these to be summed and monitored. There is a large Monitor Level control and an associated DIM button (with DIM Level control), CUT button and an AFL Level control.
Having clear and easy communication between the performer and the engineer/producer is crucial to the smooth creative flow of a recording session. XL Desk has two Foldbacks with individual Level controls and Talkback. Foldback A is fed by the CUE Stereo and Foldback B is fed by Aux 1. MON buttons below each Foldback’s level control override the default Foldback source (Stereo Cue or Aux 1) and replace it with whatever is selected as the main monitor source. This is really useful for quickly playing back the studio control room mix to the performer(s) in the live room. There is an in built talkback microphone with a Talk button and Level control. A set of DIP switches on the rear panel allow the TALK button to be configured as latching or momentary. Also, Talkback can be set to either SUM with or REPLACE the existing signal. A Listen button allows the engineer to monitor a live room listen mic if one is connected and this too has a Level control. XL-Desk also includes the classic SSL Listen Mic Compressor. This is an aggressive compressor ideal for ensuring a very strong signal from the live room listen mic but can also be used as a process effect to create the classic heavily compressed 80’s drum sound which was created using this circuit. The XL-Desk Listen Mic Compressor has no controls, it is simply always on and it has a dedicated external output to facilitate its use as a process effect.
There are good reasons why so many leading engineers and producers still choose to mix on a console, some of them because of sonic aspects and others because of workflow choices. Mixing out-of-the-box gives a wider sound-stage and a distinct colouration that no plug-in can equal. We’re also told that it is easier to get a mix together quickly with a console and that it feels more intuitive than a mouse. XL-Desk gives a full-featured console workflow, but with a project-studio friendly footprint under 1m2. With 2 insert points on each mono channel you can mix and match rackmount and 500-series processors to make the XL-Desk the hub of your hybrid studio world! Connect your XL-Desk to a patchbay for ultimate flexibility, and use the direct outs from every channel and Bus to print files back into your DAW for easy mix revisions.
The XL-Desk User Manual includes a series of detailed tutorials covering different workflow which can be achieved with XL-Desk, including the connectivity required to achieve them.
Subjects covered include:
Recording a small ensemble in a ‘split’ console style.
Recording a full Band and Monitoring Back via Stems
Creating Headphone Mixes for Tracking
There are two versions of XL-Desk available as standard:
SSL XL-Desk with no additional modules
List Price £11,750 ex VAT
SSL XL-Desk preloaded with 16 x SSL E-Series EQ 500 Series modules
List Price £18,750 ex VAT
Note both versions include the SSL Bus Compressor 500 Series Module as standard.