The SSL XL-Desk is a small-format SuperAnalogue console with an 18-slot 500-Series power rack built in, 16 mono channels, four stereo channels, 20 long-throw channel faders (one master fader), 40 channels of summing, four stereo mix buses, the Stereo Bus Compressor and Listen Mic Compressor, plus monitor control with bass management—500 rack “half loaded” with eight E-Series EQ modules in channels 1-8
The XL-Desk combines two of our favorite things: a 500-series module rack with an SSL SuperAnalogue console. And just for fun, SSL throws in eight VHD preamps, 21 long-throw faders, four main stereo busses (like the XL 9000 K) if you want to “Brauerize*” your mix, 40 channels of SuperAnalogue summing (50 possible if you want to get clever), a monitor section with bass management, cue mix A and B with individual talkback, and of course, the top of every engineer’s birthday wish list, the Stereo Bus Compressor with a side order of Listen Mic Compressor. If you’re wondering about DAW control and console automation, you won’t find them here (that’s why we have the AWS series, Matrix2, and Duality). This is a straightforward analog desk for those who do their automation in the DAW or wish to revisit old-school, hands-on mixing as we did in the golden age of recording.
Solid State Logic XL-Desk—Just the Facts:
- 20 + 1 fader, 40-input SuperAnalogue SSL console
- Eight-built in Variable Harmonic Drive (VHD) preamps
- 16 dual-input mono channels (switchable between main input or DAW return)
- The legendary Stereo Bus Compressor with high-pass filter sidechain
- 18-slot 500 format rack built-in, accessible from channels or mix buses
- Four stereo mix buses with their own insert points and access to the 500 rack
- In addition to a 500 rack insert, each mono channel also has a standard insert point
- Direct outputs on every channel, stereo return, and mix bus for stem printing
- One stereo and 2 mono aux sends
- Two dedicated stereo return inputs
- Four stereo channels (switchable to mono for tracking)
- Fully-featured monitoring section with bass management
- Fold-back A and B with individual talkbacks for headphone mixes
- Built-in Listen Mic input plus classic compressor circuit with its own direct output
- AFL and Solo-In-Place solo modes, with Solo Clear and Solo Safe (Protect) modes
- High-quality internal PSU
- Balanced D-Sub rear panel inputs/outputs & Front panel headphones and iJack sockets
Solid State Logic X-Desk—Beneath the Surface
XL-Desk is in many ways a traditional 24 by 8 analog console (16 mono, 4 stereo) but it sports an incredible collection of features you’d find in a large-format console. It has 20 channel strips: 16 dual input mono (switchable between main input or DAW return) and 4 stereo channels. The first eight channels have VHD (Variable Harmonic Distortion) mic preamps. It has an 18-slot, 500-format rack built in that can be used for processing or mic preamps. XL-Desk ships with a legendary SSL Stereo Bus Compressor module in 500-slots 17 and 18 (hardwired to Mix A). The rack has its own dedicated high-spec' power supply. There are four main Mix Buses (A, B, C, D) with buses B, C, and D able to be summed into Mix A where the Stereo Bus Compressor lives. The stereo busses and channels can access the 500 rack and each has a separate insert point for processing. There are two mono aux sends and two stereo return inputs.
Speaking of large console features, the XL-Desk has direct outputs on every channel, stereo return, and mix bus, which enable convenient stem printing. Each channel has a Cue Stereo Bus section (with Pan and Volume) used to provide one of the headphone mixes while tracking. At mixdown the mono-channel DAW return signals can be routed to the Cue ST bus and then summed into Mix A, so there are 16 main faders, 16 Cue ST inputs, plus four stereo channels providing 40 summing inputs. By using the stereo returns and insert Sum functions you can squeeze in over 50 summing inputs. There is also a fully featured monitoring section with bass management (3 sets of speakers plus subwoofer), Foldback A and B with individual talkbacks for headphone mixes, and a built-in Listen Mic input plus classic compressor circuit with its own direct output, in case you want to Phil-Collins up your drums or explore other sonic options.
VHD mic preamp
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 is a proprietary design that can deliver ultra-clean SSL console-grade recordings with user-controllable amounts of harmonic distortion. The ability to add harmonic distortion to taste is made possible by SSL’s Variable Harmonic Drive VHD circuit, which can be switched in or out of the signal path—like smooth or crunchy peanut butter, except the 100% analog VHD lets you add as many nuts as you like (mind out of the gutter, now!). As you increase the input gain, the Variable Harmonic Drive circuit introduces either 2nd- or 3rd-order harmonic distortion, or a blend of the two. At lower gain settings it adds gentle tube-style warmth or a touch of transistor edge—great for sounds you want forward in a mix without having to take up headroom using EQ. As gain is increased, distortion becomes more extreme until at high-gain settings it delivers fierce trashy transistor grunge. VHD preamps give you ultimate versatility from a studio grade-preamp.
VHD mic amp features:
- Hi-Z switch toggles impedance between 1.6k and 10k for different microphones
- Switchable VHD circuit introduces either 2nd- or 3rd-order harmonic distortion or a blend of the two for enormous tonal versatility
- 48V phantom power
- 20dB pad on input for line-level signals
- Eight channels of high-quality, SSL microphone preamps with 75dB of gain
Classic SSL channel versatility
XL-Desk may be small in size, but it features all of the classic SSL channel strip features and able to accommodate such a wide range of production requirements. XL-Desk has 20 channel strips. The first 16 channel strips are dual-input mono and can be switched between a main input and a DAW return while tracking. The Remaining four strips are stereo channels. Channels 1-8 have VHD mic pres. 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, which can be switched between pre-/post fader. Each channel has a +/-20dB trim control that can be used in various ways, such as controlling the output level from the VHD into the channel when using heavy distortion, or driving the level into and inserted 500 rack module. There is also a phase-invert switch. Beside the Trim control is a tricolor signal indicator LED. The metering on XL Desk can be switched between +24dBu and +18dBu Scale.
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.
XL-Desk channel features:
- 16 dual-input mono line inputs channels with 100mm faders
- 4 stereo line-input channels with 100mm stereo faders
- Tricolor signal-level indication LED on every channel
- Phase invert switch
- CUE Stereo section, switchable between pre and post fader on each channel
- Direct Channel Output switchable between pre and post fader on each channel
- '500' button can insert associated 500 slot into the channel
- Regular Insert Point (send always active) - 'INS' button
- Aux 1 and Aux 2 globally switchable pre and post fader
- Pan/Balance Control
- Mix Bus A, B, C, D routing buttons
- SOLO and CUT buttons
- Solo system can work in solo-in-place (SIP)
- 'ALT' button sources second channel input to the Stereo Cue Bus, providing 16 extra summing inputs on mixdown
A 500 format rack, built into your SSL console
For many SSL users combining different tonal characteristics from a range of 3rd-party analog equipment is an integral part of their sound. The popular modular 500-format facilitates the use of a wide range of analog processing modules from different manufacturers. As such, 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. Since the SuperAnalogue circuitry is ultra transparent, the 500 rack lets you add sonic flavor to your SSL console, right within the console itself.
Since the power requirement of 500 modules is quite specific, the XL-Desk rack has its own dedicated power supply, separate from the power supply for the rest of the console. Unlike many stand-alone 500 format racks, which don’t always accommodate the power and current requirements of all 500 modules, 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 preloaded with 500 format module version of the legendary SSL G Series Bus Compressor, which has been recently upgraded with a sidechain high-pass filter. 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 DB-25 jumper cables to facilitate this approach. The advantage of opting not to hard wire the rack into the channel signal flow is that if desired (and SSL recommends 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 in 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.
500-format rack key features
- Slots 17-18 preloaded with the SSL Bus Compressor (featuring sidechain HPF)
- Stereo-link switch available for odd/even pairs (for modules that comply with the pin 6 link specification)
- 18-Slot 500 format rack in a 16+2 configuration
- High-quality internal PSU, with over-specified power supply +/- 16.5V DC+48V DC
The magic of an SSL console with 4 stereo buses
Designed by the team behind Duality and AWS, XL-Desk delivers the kind of stunning audio quality only available 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 buses to create parallels or sub-groups of instruments, helping them to compress and manipulate sounds in unique ways (Michael Brauer comes to mind). 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 buses - 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 four mix buses have direct outputs for DAW printing, separate standard stereo Insert points, and have the ability to access slots 9-16 of the 500-format rack.
Stereo bus key features:
- 4 stereo mix buses (A, B, C, and D)
- Mix A has 100mm fader, stereo insert point, access to the G-Comp bus compressor and access to 500 rack slots 9-10
- Mix B, C, and D - Can be routed to Mix A, with independent level controls, stereo insert points, access to 500 rack slots 11-16
PAD For the Record: Coming across an SL 6000 caused a light to go off for mix engineer Michael Brauer, who, like many engineers, was frustrated by the problems that mixing to a single stereo bus compressor introduced. Realizing that he could send different groups of instruments to each stereo bus would prevent excessive energy certain instruments from pulling down the entire mix. This led to his multi-bus compression mixing scheme. The SL 6000 had the ability to send each sub stereo bus to the other two buses. Initially, he had compressors across the A and B bus (drums and bass on B, vocals and instruments on A). These were sent to the mysterious bus C, had an Aphex B Aural Exciter, which was kept off the mix until the end. Currently, Brauer uses the SSL XL 9000K console at Electric Lady Studios, which has four stereo buses, just like the XL Desk. (Coincidence? You decide). Bus A has a Neve 33609 into Pultec 1A3S EQ and gets vocals and instruments in the upper midrange; Bus B has a pair of Empirical Labs Distressors and used for foundational instruments such as bass, drums, and percussion; Bus C has a Pendulum Audio ES8 and is reserved for instruments with transient midrange power, such as guitars; and Bus D, with an Inward Connections TSL-1 tube limiter (or any limiter) gets legato instruments needing warmth (strings, pads etc). Bus A, B, C, are routed to D for a little extra glue, while the main mix bus has no processing.
Classic E-Series four-band equalizer (82E242)
In 1983 a new “242” EQ circuit was developed in conjunction with the late Sir George Martin for the first SSL console to be installed in AIR studios. The “Black Knob” EQ, as it became known, featured enhanced cut and boost ranges combined with a different control law and a steeper 18dB/octave high-pass filter for tighter control of low frequencies. The Black EQ has two bands switchable bell/shelving; two bands parametric with action over a constant frequency band at all gains (constant ‘Q’ with gain). High- and low-pass filtering with “filter out” switch.
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 fold down these monitor sources to mono if desired. A Monitor SUM button allows any combination of these to be summed and monitored. There are 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 a built-in 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.
Monitor section key features:
- Bass Management with filtering; connect a subwoofer to extend your low-end monitoring
- Intelligent bass management automatically switches in or out with each speaker set
- Three-way speaker selector; connect three sets of speakers to XL-Desk
- Large blue monitor level pot with variable Dim and Cut
- Rear-panel external input and front-panel iJack (1/8") input to the Monitor section
- Two solo modes for channels: Solo-in-place (SIP) or After-fader-listen (AFL)
- Monitor bus Mono fold-down and monitor source sum
- Front-panel headphone jack
- Two Foldbacks: Individual talkback to two separate headphone mixes
- High-quality built-in talkback microphone mounted into the console's front surface
- Listen Mic input and compressor circuit allows a dedicated 'listen' microphone to be set up in the live room so that the engineer can easily hear what the performers between takes. In addition, a discrete Listen Mic output is available for recording the legendary “Something In The Air Tonight” heavily compressed drum sound.
The SSL Listen Mic Compressor
The SSL Listen Mic Compressor or LMC is one of those happy accidents that remained a secret in the inner circle of studio pros until the industry changed and secrets were revealed in the form of software plug-ins modeling classic studio hardware (we all have to make a living somehow). This now-famous processor from the legendary SL4000E console was a closely guarded secret of producers, used to create sounds that both intrigued and mystified the public. A single-knob compressor originally designed to prevent overloading the return feed from a studio communications mic, its fixed attack and release curves were eminently suitable for use on ambient drum mics. (Other compressors are set to “nuke” to create the same effect.) The console surgery required to gain access to the listen mic’s compressed output was performed on many early E Series consoles before it became a standard modification on later production models. The Listen Mic Compressor on the XL-Desk has its own output, and when combined with the VHD preamp, you get the gamut of SSL sonics.
PAD For The Record: The sound of the SSL listen mic compressor (LMC) was made famous by Hugh Padgham on Phil Collins’ drum track for “In The Air Tonight,” heard in the pilot episode of Miami Vice. In the 80s, consoles normally had a talkback mic for the engineer to communicate with the artist, but nothing that enabled them to hear the artists. A standard trick for bi-directional communication was to set up a mic in the middle of the live room plugged into a spare channel on the desk with a compressor inserted. The compressor was set at the highest ratio with the lowest threshold. The reason for this was to prevent the band playing in the room to overload the listen-back mic and melt the engineer’s face in the process. During normal speech, the compressor would be at nominal operating level, so you could hear everyone in the room. The instant the band started playing, the compressor would squash the mic’s pickup, thus preventing overload and causing the sound of the mic to disappear underneath the band’s performance in case the mic was left on.
On a session with ex band-mate Peter Gabriel for his third solo album, Padgham, who frequently collaborated with Collins, was using the SSL 4000’s listen mic. At one point, Collins stopped talking and played the drums. According to Padgham, “The most unbelievable sound came out because of the heavy compressor. I said, 'My God, this is the most amazing sound! Steve (Lillywhite), listen to this.' But the way the reverse talkback was set up, you couldn't record it. So I had the desk modified that night..." Subsequently, SSL made Padgham’s modification a standard feature so you could record the LMC at the touch of a button.
There are good reasons why so many leading engineers and producers still choose to mix on a console; some for sonics and others because of workflow choices. Mixing out-of-the-box gives a wider sound-stage and a distinct coloration 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 (Chris Lord-Alge sees his SSL desk as an instrument). XL-Desk gives a full-featured console workflow, but with a project studio-friendly footprint under. With two 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. 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.
XL-Desk workflow subjects covered:
- Recording a small ensemble in a split console style.
- Recording a full band and monitoring back via stems
- Creating headphone mixes for tracking
- Using 500-series Rack Slots 9-16 with microphone preamplifiers
The SSL XL-Desk is the small studio’s answer to having the features of a classic analog console plus 500-series outboard without taking up the space or incurring a 5-figure electric bill. For more information, call or chat online with your PAD Studio Integrator today.
Maximum I/O Level:
- +18dBu or 24dBu
- Line/Alt in to Channel Out (post): 20Hz – 40kHz ±0.2dB
- Line/Alt in to Mix bus (single fader): 20Hz – 40kHz ±0.5dB
- < 0.05% (20Hz – 20kHz)
- Line/Alt in to Channel Out (post): < –86dBu (20Hz – 20kHz)
- Line/Alt in to Mix bus (single fader): < –83dBu (20Hz – 20kHz)
- +24dBu (into 10k ohm)
Electromagnetic Compatibility: (EN55103-1:2009, EN55103-2:2009 Environment E4)
- Initial in-rush current 3.2A
- 5-sec in-rush current 3.2A
- Braid-screened cables should be used where applicable
- Star Quad cables should be used where applicable
EMC Performance Criteria:
- Line level inputs and outputs Measure at mid-gain, noise: <–56dBu
- Power Supply: IEC320 3-pin connector, 100 – 240Vac, 50 – 60Hz
- Analog I/O: 25-pin D-type socket, balanced, Zin > 10k ohm, Zo ≈ 100 ohm 3-pin XLR-M, balanced, Zo ≈ 100 ohm
- Headphones: Stereo 1/4" jack socket, Zo ≈ 75 ohm
- iJack: Stereo 3.5mm jack socket, Zi ≈ 10k ohm
- USB: 1 x type-B chassis socket (SSL diagnostic use only)
Physical: (All values are approximate)
- Depth: 32" / 812mm
- Height: 9.9" / 251mm
- Width: 40" / 1015mm
- Weight: 89.5 lb. / 40.6 kg (Unloaded)
- Power: < 300 Watts