SSL Native Essential Plugins Review (Better Than Waves?)

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Solid State Logic SSL Native Essentials Plug-in Collection
VERDICT
The SSL essentials bundle is ideal for someone who wants to have plugins that recreate the SSL vibe, but with a cleaner user interface, and a real sense of depth. With its relatively CPU-friendly performance, it is great for creating that console feel that glues the mix together.
Control Layout (Native Channel Strip)
9
Features (Native Channel Strip)
9
Controls (Native Bus Compressor)
9
Applications (Native Bus Compressor)
9
PROS
Amazing emulations for a classic studio sound
Great interfaces
Musical EQ on the Native Channel Strip
Native Bus Compressor is the best mix bus compressor you can get
CONS
Expensive (but subscriptions are available)
9
OUR SCORE

Mixing is an integral part of music. Behind every song you sing along to in the car is a boatload of expensive equipment used for the mixes.

Many of these pieces are inaccessible to people who can’t spend over $10k on a vintage console like an SSL. Fortunately, in the age of computer wizardry, the company that brought you the actual SSL console has your back.

Solid State Logic (SSL) has created faithful software replications of some of their most well-known pieces of equipment.

Of course, they were not the first, with the likes of Universal Audio, Waves, and Brainworx having produced their own replicas of the SSL hardware. How does SSL’s own take on their legendary hardware stack up against the competition?

The two plugins discussed in this article are the SSL Native Channel Strip, and the SSL Native Bus Compressor, which are part of SSL’s Native Essentials bundle. So, without further ado, let’s get into the review.

SSL Native Essentials
479.00

The Solid State Logic SSL Native Essential Bundle pairs two of SSL’s most powerful plugins for a console-like mixing experience within your DAW. Containing the SSL Channel Strip and legendary Bus Compressor, it has what you need to build a sturdy foundation for any mix. 

View Price on Sweetwater View Price on SSL

SSL Native Channel Strip

What Does It Do?

The SSL Native Channel Strip attempts to recreate the sonic character of the legendary SSL 4000 E, and G consoles. These consoles were used in the mixing of countless records, and are well known for their ability to be used aggressively, without losing musicality.

Controls

One thing I really like about this plugin is its user-friendly interface. The larger size allows the knobs to be further away from each other, making it less cluttered than most channel strip plugins.

The flexibility of the routing of the different sections also makes this plugin a breeze to use. Instead of using some buttons like on many SSL channel emulations, the Native Channel Strip uses boxes and arrows that show you how the different sections are routed.

You can also very intuitively change the layout simply by clicking the arrows that correspond to the routing direction you want to go for.

Features

EQ section

The SSL Native Channel Strip enables you to choose whether you want the EQ section of either the E or the G console. The G console EQ, which loads as the standard-setting, is characterized by its warm EQ section.

You can easily boost 8kHz with more than 10 dB, and you would still hear something that sounds pleasing to the ear. The frequency response can be described as rounder and, in a sense, more forgiving than the E channel EQ response.

The E channel is known for its musical presence in the upper mid-range. It’s also more aggressive, and tighter in the low end than the G-channel, making it ideal for drum processing. The E-channel EQ section really shines when you want a nicely saturated low-end frequency boost that doesn’t get out of control by distorting in an unpleasant way.

In addition to the E channel and G channel EQ sections, you are also provided with a high pass and low pass filter, which can be engaged simply by turning the knob.

Compression/gate/expander section

The compression section might look like a simple compressor, but don’t let it fool you. There’s a reason a lot of people will rely on this compressor for pretty much any kind of track.

The attack time of the compressor can be changed by pressing the fast attack button. This turns the attack time from 30ms to 3ms. You are given full control over the ratio, and release time (100ms to 4 seconds!), making this compression great for any application.

The gate/expander section allows you to determine the amount of background noise you allow in your tracks. Let’s say you have a great vocal take but in between the vocal lines, you can hear the singer’s necklace rattling. You can use the gate/expander section to get rid of that noise, which allows you to keep the vocal part instead of having to rerecord it.

I rarely use the gate section myself, however, the SSL gate sounds really good, in the sense that it doesn’t make a track sound unnatural once you apply it. This is accomplished by using the hold control, which determines how long it takes the expander to react to the signal.

Native Bus Compressor

The SSL Native Bus Compressor is based on the world-renowned G-bus compressor.

Many mixing engineers swear by this bus compressor to add “glue” to the mix. It’s characterized by its clear sound and flexible set of controls.

Controls

The control layout is very simple. You can change the attack time from 0.1ms to 30ms, which allows you to really highlight the punch of a track or reign in the transients.

You can also change the release time from 100ms to a generous 1.2 seconds, plus there’s an auto release setting, which is ideal for mix buses with many different musical elements.

The ratio setting allows you to switch between a 2:1, 4:1, or 10:1 ratio, making it ideal for both subtle and aggressive compression needs. The make-up gain lets you compensate for volume loss from the compression. However, SSL didn’t just recreate the G-bus Compressor.

They also added some handy modern features, such as a sidechain high pass filter. This may sound very complex but it’s actually quite simple.

Let’s say I’m using this compressor on the mix bus of a bass-heavy pop song. Bass frequencies generally eat up a lot of headroom, which often means that a compressor can be overloaded with low end. When this happens, it makes the compression sound very unnatural.

However, this can be fixed with a side chain high pass filter, which simply tells the compressor to ignore frequencies below the cutoff. So, if I set my side chain high pass at 100Hz, it means that my compressor will only react to a signal that’s above 100Hz.

If that wasn’t good enough they also added a mix knob, which allows you to use the Native Bus Compressor as a parallel compressor without having to add an aux channel, allowing for a faster workflow.

I particularly like using the mix knob when compressing a room mic on a drum kit. This comes in handy when I want the sustain of the room to be longer, but without changing the feel of the transients in the uncompressed signal.

Applications

I particularly like to use this compressor for my mix bus. I put the attack time on 30ms, the release on the auto setting, and the ratio on 2:1.

This compresses the whole mix, and naturally makes everything feel like one thing instead of a bunch of individual tracks. Having said this, this compressor is also really good on individual instruments.

I particularly like using the SSL Native Bus Compressor on pianos. Since it has a very fast attack setting it is really good for leveling out the peaks you get from an exciting piano part.

It’s also great for parallel compression. Let’s say I’m mixing an 80’s R&B record and I want the drums to have a little more length.

Sure, I could use a 1176 for that, but since this isn’t a rock tune, the very present and saturated character of the 1176 might be a little too much. So I’ll grab the Native Bus Compressor, which provides just enough saturation to give it some spice, but doesn’t sound out of place in the context of an 80’s R&B song.

SSL Native Essentials
479.00

The Solid State Logic SSL Native Essential Bundle pairs two of SSL’s most powerful plugins for a console-like mixing experience within your DAW. Containing the SSL Channel Strip and legendary Bus Compressor, it has what you need to build a sturdy foundation for any mix. 

View Price on Sweetwater View Price on SSL

Pros and Cons

Before taking a look at how this plugin bundle stacks up against the older simulations of other brands let’s look at the Essential Bundle’s pros and cons.

Native Channel Strip

Pros:

  • Great sense of depth.
  • Flexible and easily understandable routing options.
  • The EQ section feels very nice.
  • The larger user interface results in a more streamlined workflow.
  • Surprisingly friendly on the CPU.

Cons:

  • It’s pretty expensive (however, it will pay off in the long term).

Native Bus Compressor

Pros:

  • Retains bottom end clarity.
  • An intuitive set of controls.
  • The mix knob and sidechain high pass are very useful. Especially in more modern genres.
  • Has a 3D quality to its sound.

Cons:

  • Again, it’s pretty expensive, but I haven’t heard a better mix bus compressor than this one.

Is this the king of SSL emulations?

I’ve been mixing for more than five years. During which I’ve invested in plugins from Waves, Brainworx, and more brands. I’ve used all of these plugins and have gotten great results.

All of these plugins have their own strengths, but here’s my take on which one I would ultimately pick if I could only use one brand’s SSL emulations. Let’s start with the Channel Strip.

Channel strip

This one is fairly easy for me. Having used the Waves E-Channel, the Brainworx SSL4000-E, and the SSL Native Channel Strip. I can safely that I prefer the SSL Native Channel Strip for most of the stuff I’m mixing.

The Native Channel Strip has this really broad sound to it and has by far the most musical EQ section you can get your hands on. I prefer it to the Waves E-Channel, simply because Waves’ modeling of the analog hardware hasn’t been updated since the plugin’s debut in 2006.

The modeling techniques that were available at that time are simply not comparable to what we can achieve today, and even though the Waves E-Channel is quite a good plugin, the sonic differences are immediately noticeable.

I’ve used the Brainworx SSL 4000E for quite some time, and I still really love it. However, when comparing it to the SSL Native Channel Strip I find the high mid-range of the Brainworx can be a little too prominent from time to time.

However, I definitely think that in terms of sound quality, the Brainworx and the SSL are quite comparable. If I’m mixing metal drums I might use the Brainworx emulation, because of its high midrange aggression.

When comparing the compression section of the three brands I must say that I was surprised that they were all very similar. However, I did find the Brainworx and the SSL were more similar in sound quality than Waves’ channel strip

Mix bus compressor

This one was a little more tricky because when using this type of plugin for bus processing you are trying to bring a certain character to the mix.

I’ve even found that sometimes the best mix bus compressor is the one that comes stock with your DAW. However, if I were to pick my desert island mix bus compressor I would have to go with the SSL Native Bus Compressor.

When comparing the SSL to the Waves emulation there was an immediate difference in sound quality. Again, because of the outdated modeling technology used in the Waves emulation.

I heard an immediate sense of extra depth in the Native Bus Compressor when comparing it to Waves’ G-Master Bus Compressor. The lack of a mix knob and side-chain high pass also makes the Waves emulation less attractive to me. However, if you’re in the market for a fairly budget-minded mix bus compressor, the Waves emulation isn’t a bad choice.

When comparing the SSL to the Brainworx you have to take a few things into account. The Brainworx is not a replication of the bus compressor you would find on an SSL console.

The Brainworx Townhouse Compressor is based on an outboard compressor made from SSL components by the sound engineers at the famous London-based Townhouse Studios.

The Brainworx has a very thick mid-range, and a more aggressive saturation, which is great for mixing classic rock songs, or whatever kind of song you think would benefit from having a lot of character.

However, these days I try to be more subtle in my mix bus processing, so I tend to favor the SSL Native Bus Compressor’s more transparent response.

However, as was the case with the channel strip, I would still say the Brainworx and the SSL are quite similar in sound quality, so it would really depend on what I would think sounds best for the song I’m mixing.

Closing Thoughts

In my opinion, the SSL Native Essentials Bundle can be considered a mixing engineer’s bread and butter.

They are intuitive, sound great, and are really CPU friendly. I’m mostly mixing on a laptop with an Intel i5 processor and 12 GB of RAM, and yet I’m able to have an SSL Native Channel Strip on every track (usually anywhere between 40 and 60 tracks) in my mixes without breaking a sweat.

Sure, the plugins are quite expensive (you pay up to $400 for the Essentials Bundle), but having used these plugins in the last few mixes I’ve been working on I can tell you that I did not regret my purchase at all!

If $400 is too much to spend on plugins, SSL also offers subscriptions to the Essentials Bundle for which you only have to pay $5 a month in order to be able to use them.

(Logic Pro users already have access to a host of options inside the stock compressor, including an SSL emulation. To read more, head on over to Reviewing Logic Pro X’s Compressors (Are They Any Good?))