FAST FACTSSSL Duality Analog Console/DAW Controller
24 track-bus analog console; TFT channel displays of the C-series digital consoles; E- and G-series channel equalizer curves; peak-sensing and RMS/over-easy channel compression circuits, moving-fader and VCA-style automation, multi-operator Total Recall, the “SuperAnalogue” mic preamp; second “Variable Harmonic Drive” mic preamp path; feature-packed central digital routing and monitoring control section.
Starting from $240,000
Solid State Logic
The concept of combining a digital mixing console with computer workstation control is a natural match. In fact, it’s not so much a match as the same thing. In both cases, the same hardware faders and controllers are communicating with digital mixing/processing software, whether residing locally (in the mixer) or remotely (in the workstation computer). At this point, I am not aware of any professional digital console — whether $500 or $500,000 — that does not offer external control capabilities. This is no longer news.
What is news is when one of the most respected high-end console manufacturers announces its latest fully analog large-format console is equipped with full-featured workstation integration and control. Combining a “best of” set of features from its large-format analog consoles with the comprehensive control technology of its AWS 900+ workstation system, Solid State Logic’s created just such a beast with its new Duality console.
Despite stiff competition for a shrinking market, UK-based console manufacturer Solid State Logic could be successful well into the future based simply on the respect and momentum generated by its juggernaut analog consoles of the last three decades. But throughout its recent history, SSL has continued to develop its products and expertise, emerging as an early pioneer in analog surround, computer-controlled analog and fully digital console and workstation technology.
It could be easily argued that the Duality represents the epitome of all that SSL has produced, both conceptually and literally. I say “conceptionally” because Duality’s dual functionality adeptly takes a head-on tack towards the large control surface arrays and I/O banks that have made their home where large-format consoles used to reside. I say “literally” because the console literally features the best bits of many of its most popular consoles and, in some cases, when the designers (and the vocal SSL user base, I’m sure) were faced with a devil’s choice between two equally popular same-type elements, they included both.
As for specific pedigree, the Duality console features the sharp TFT channel displays of the C-series digital consoles, both E- and G-series channel equalizer curves, SSL’s peak-sensing and RMS/over-easy channel compression circuits, moving-fader and VCA-style (actually DCA) automation, multi-operator (!) Total Recall, the extended-range “SuperAnalogue” mic preamp (first introduced in the 9000 J), as well as a second “Variable Harmonic Drive” mic preamp path — quite the “Greatest Hits” playlist, complete with alternate versions!
The Duality is a 24 track-bus analog console with a central digital routing and monitoring control section. In addition to the 24 output busses, the Duality employs a six-buss main mix output path (divided into pairs A, B and C) that can be configured for 5.1 surround purposes or as three discrete stereo pairs.
Central section features include 5.1 (with flexible LFE source and bass management control), stereo and stereo down-mix output and monitoring, four stereo returns with full routing options, stereo analog VU and phase meters, and a LCD bar-graph section with 5.1 and stereo bus meters, 6-bus follow-monitor meters (what you are listening to), stereo solo/AFL meters, 24 track-bus meters and meters for the console’s two stereo cue/aux and four mono fx/aux output busses.
The console maintains balanced signal paths throughout and, according to SSL literature, boasts a frequency bandwidth that exceeds 192 kHz.
I had the pleasure of spending a day in Sheffield Audio-Video Productions’ (Phoenix, MD) Studio A, exploring their 48-channel SSL Duality console. Sheffield’s Jake Mossman and SSL’s Don Wershba quickly brought me up to speed with an overview of the console before diving into the finer points of this impressively innovative yet refreshingly easy-to-navigate console.
Users of SSL consoles — especially of the analog 9000 K- and digital C-series, and the AWS 900+ natch — will be right at home with many of the features found on the Duality, though there are plenty of new features and twists on some old ones to explore. Those who haven’t worked on an SSL previously will face a steeper learning curve, but I can’t imagine a professional independent engineer with a couple hours to spare before a session not being able to master the core console and control operations.
Let me first run down the channel strip before getting into the overall console/control-surface implementation — kind of like eating my desert before dinner, as the strip is always the sweetest part of an SSL.
The console breaks away from the traditional in-line model (full channel and monitor paths per strip) and moves to what SSL calls “Split-Mode” architecture. In this similar-but-different, streamlined approach, each channel has the traditional two input sources (channel and monitor) but one shared (via flip, split and routing functions) set of EQ, dynamics, filter, aux and cue paths/processors. Given that the Duality is weighted heavily towards use with a multichannel DAW system (with its own layer of channel and output controls etc.), this approach makes good sense from economic and console-complexity standpoint.
In its most direct configuration, the channel output (CHOP in SSL-speak) is derived straight from one of the two input preamplifiers and routed to any of the 24 track busses, which in turn feeds the DAW system inputs. The CHOP output section provides your “to tape” level control (+/- 20 dB), phase reverse and the option to move the strip’s third-order 18 dB/octave high-pass filter (range: 20 to 500 Hz) and second-order 12 dB/octave low-pass filter (range: 3 kHz to wide open) out of the monitor path and into the record path.
The two preamp choices provide one of the most useful creative options I’ve seen/heard on a large-format console (or any size for that matter). The direct-coupled SuperAnalogue preamp satisfies the “SSL jones” in us all with its ultra-wide and quiet signature sound, while the variable harmonic drive (VHD) circuitry imparts a gentle tube-like quality when set conservatively, and pleasing-to-extreme overdrive can also be dialed in. A flip button routes the monitor (“from tape”) signal from the buffered line input into the variable gain amp, allowing post-DAW preamp “processing.”
The dynamics section reflects the schizophrenic (I mean it as a complement) nature of the Duality perfectly, providing both the classic RMS side-chain over-easy compressor (with selectable fast-attack mode for that trademark drum compression!) and an aggressive-sounding peak-sensing compressor for overt effects. The gate/expander, uh, expands on the usability of the familiar three-control 4000-series section with an innovative Hold option that turns the release knob into a hold-time control and imposes a fixed release curve. Pushing the eminently useful hi-res TFT channel metering/routing screens (situated above each group of six channels) into a higher level of usefulness, compressor and gating gain reduction is displayed in two small simulated LED meters.
Each channel has its own dynamics section key input for linking gates, frequency-driven compression etc. Adjacent compression sections can be linked for preserving multichannel dynamic relationships (using the voltage-summing method). The aforementioned filter section can also be routed into the dynamics section sidechain, and the whole dynamics section can be placed pre- or post-EQ. The inclusion of a side-chain/key-input listen (routed to the PFL bus) is the cherry that sits on top of this feature-rich slice of SSL dynamics goodness. Mmmm.
With no treatment in sight for its split-personality disorder, the Duality insists on providing even more creative options in the EQ section, simultaneously providing the look and operations of the classic SL4000E EQ section, and the option to switch to the steeper curves and gain/bandwidth interdependency of the G-series. No complaints here! The four-band EQ features two fully parametric mid-band equalizers and high and low shelving equalizers (each switchable to a fixed-Q bell curve).
An Insert In button routes the balanced send/return insert points into the channel input path (post trim). Pressing the Post button cycles the insert point routing to two alternate locations: post EQ and post dynamic section. The Duality features a highly flexible stereo cue and fx sends implementation, including the ability for any fx or cue send to derive its source from a number of points including the default monitor path, the channel output (for latency-free phones mix), or an ALT alternative input (the input not assigned to the main channel path). Any send can be disengaged completely by pressing its knob.
I found the channel surround panning section to be intuitive, well implemented and highly flexible — certainly not the case on most analog consoles whose principal architecture is designed around stereo busses. For 5.1 mixes, the Duality uses XY-style panning, with LR (Left/Right) and FR (Front/Rear) controls plus a LFE bus feed/send and a Focus control, which alters the proportion of signal fed to the L/R busses versus the Center bus. A pan-to-track function routes the LR pan outputs to odd/even pairs of track busses.
Finishing out the traditional bits of the channel strip are two scribble strips (electronic and good-old analog grease pencil type), cut and solo switches (with options in behavior determined by central control and console mode), eight fader group assign switches (for VCA-style group control), a select button (for including that channel in central control routing operations), console and DAW automation controls and a 100mm motorized fader.
One of my favorite parts of the Duality design is its bank of TFT screens, which provide an immense amount of channel information in a logical and legible manner. A generous peak meter indicates analog or DAW levels (determined by a Focus button), and three DAW indicators display channel select, record and plug-in editor status. A channel processing order display indicates the placement order and on/off status of the EQ, filter and dynamics sections, as well as the routing of the channel and monitor path I/O. At the bottom of the TFT channel display is a mix-bus routing status display (bus pairs A, B & C), and routing status to any/all of the 24 track busses.
The central control panel of the console features an expanded version of the AWS 900’s DAW master control section, as well as a unified channel routing panel with soft-switch control of many elements of one or several channels’ routing, ordering and processing functions. Also in this section are the 24 track-bus output trim knobs (with smart AFL solo for single-bus centered or bus-pair stereo auditioning – very nice!), four stereo returns, cue/sends masters, the traditional dim, cut, mono, and CR volume controls. The monitoring, bus-summing, downmix and external input source routing functions are quite flexible but take a little more time to explore, for this is one of a very few places where a menu/layer system is employed. After some initial confusion on my part (partly due to the logic and simplicity employed throughout the rest of the console), I eventually came to recognize the Duality master section as the All-Knowing, All-Powerful Supreme Being it is.
Hmmm…. I have this nagging feeling like I’m forgetting something. Oh yeah, the other half of why it’s called Duality. SSL designed the Duality console with DAW systems at heart, with major consideration given not only to its direct mix-surface control of software applications, but also to the console’s channel/monitor audio-path architecture, the seamless switching between DAW and audio console control modes, and the instant per-channel auditioning without the need to reconfigure all channels.
The Duality DAW control is compatible with any workstation that supports the HUI or MCU (Mackie Control Universal) protocols. Control templates exist for the most popular DAW systems in professional use including Pro Tools, Nuendo and Logic. The console connects to the DAW via 16 (eight in/eight out!) MIDI ports in order to emulate an array of linked HUI/MCU controllers and provide a dedicated MTC/MMC communication path.
The console focus button globally switches the Duality between controlling the analog console and the DAW. The central control section of the console features dedicated DAW navigation/motion controls, a plug-in editor, and DAW master control section (a la AWS). In addition to the fader, mute, solo and select functions expected of any control surface, each channel strip features its own “D-pot” rotary control and secondary solo/cut button set. In addition to providing typical rotary control functions (pan, sends, parameter adjust etc.) in DAW focus mode, the dedicated D-pots are also available to control DAW functions in Analog focus mode. A hybrid Digital In-Line mode allows the channel D-pots and associated solo/cut switches to control analog levels and channel status while the rest of the console is in DAW focus. This is a very cool and much appreciated design — no matter which focus mode you are in, you can always reach for and adjust the most immediately needed functions from the other mode.
In DAW focus, channel meters duplicate the DAW meter functions including pre/post and mono/stereo settings. The electronic scribble strip switches from displaying fader number to DAW track names (albeit, highly condensed). The analog scribble strip continues to display your grease-pencil scrawl, regardless of focus mode.
One thing I think would be extremely helpful would be for the electronic scribble strip to steal the first two characters to display the DAW track number. When swapping between multiple banks of DAW tracks and scrolling the faders up and down by single tracks, it’s very easy to become frustrated trying to quickly find a track that from strangely abbreviated names (a lot of my mix work comes from other studios, and the client usually doesn’t want to pay me to rename 48 tracks for my control surface’s limited display) may or may not be currently accessible on a fader. Just a general wish…
In addition to the meat-and-potatoes control functions, the Duality also provides plenty of in-depth control over DAW transport, channel routing, automation, edit window, mix window, plug-in editing, tempo and timeline, group enable/suspend, and I/O assignment functions. Between its dedicated (and excellent) plug-in editor, depth of functionality and fantastic focus mode switching, the Duality is easily the best control surface — dedicated or mixer-associated — that I have encountered. Download the Duality manual and check it out.
With the introduction of its Duality console, Solid State Logic has very effectively leveraged its analog circuit design-, console architecture- and digital control-expertise, as well as its immense amount of goodwill in the industry to create a very comfortable and logical direction for the company. The impressive Duality carves its own path straight through the clutter of linked controllers, computer peripherals and digital mixing engines that have taken over many control rooms and mix stages. Duality elegantly and simultaneously provides SSL’s unassailable analog recording paths and large-format stereo and surround mixing functionality, full-console automation, multitudes of non-virtual (i.e., real) SSL compressors and equalizers, Total Recall of all analog settings, comprehensive, high-resolution control of DAW mixers, comprehensive integration with workstation editing and processing functions, and — best of all — any combination thereof, at any time, with no reconfiguration.