When to use an SSL bus compressor and why?
Few dynamics processors divide opinion like the SSL bus compressor. Whether we use one or not, we continue to hear its surrounding philosophies from both experienced engineers and those new to the game.
The modern form of the glue compressor originates from the famous SSL 4000 G series consoles of the late 80s. Renowned for its punch, drive, and clarity, the G-comp has since been reimagined in both hardware and software iterations the world over.
Apart from its sound, it also offers incredible flexibility. At the time, the ability to patch and process signals from virtually anywhere on the board and its sidechain capabilities made it an essential part of the record-making process.
Although a precise multipurpose tool, the SSL bus compressor became synonymous with mixdown and cemented its place as a go-to mix bus processor.
Where to find an SSL bus compressor?
VCA bus compressors exist in many formats and not all of them are designed by SSL. You can find a plethora of plugin versions from almost every manufacturer on the market. In the hardware world, there are rack units and 500-series versions, as well as the original form inside SSL consoles.
Although the rules of compression are the same, each format presents a slightly different feature set. Let’s explore the options and find out some different ways to incorporate an SSL-style compressor into your workflow.
Using the SSL bus compressor as a plugin
Working with plugins active on your master bus is usually not recommended until the final phase of mixdown. As one might expect, this is the complete opposite approach to how the original 4000 series compressor was used in studios.
In many cases, it was left active in the background even during tracking with more subtle compression settings applied. The flexibility of a console also allows you to compress your headphone and monitor mixes, while bypassing the bus compressor on the way in if you wish.
Plugin emulations of the G-comp aim to shape your mix in a similar fashion to the original. You won’t get the same degree of ‘knock’ from a plugin, it is still an essential mixing tool. When used on channel groups within your DAW like a drum bus or even in parallel, they can be almost as effective as hardware.
SSL-style bus compressors in 500-series and rack format
A high-end bus compressor is a piece of gear with applications beyond the studio. By adding one to your road-ready rack or 500-series case you can bring the ‘glue’ effect to your live shows. What’s more, you can use it in sessions anywhere you might need an additional G-comp.
When we look at what is available, manufacturers reimagine the basic G-comp in so many different ways. While some seek to improve upon the design or sonic quality of the original, others look to innovate. The way we produce music has changed so much since the 4000 series consoles were introduced. So some compressors are now built specifically for application in the box.
Rather than focus on any single aspect, it’s important to see how compressors like these would fit into your current setup. Bear in mind that all 500-series units require 500-series racks, which is an additional expense.
Using a mixer with a built-in bus compressor
Even if you mix in the box, an SSL desktop mixer or console with its built-in G-comp can be a powerful tool in your workflow. More than the high-quality input stages and ultra-low noise floor, SSL offers far more advanced routing options than any other manufacturer.
The level of investment may be considerable. However, you won’t easily find individual channel strips and compressors of this quality for the same price. Even the entry-level SSL Six can be used in almost every stage of the recording process. From tracking to summing, or processing stems with individual compression, the only limitation becomes your creativity rather than the equipment.
Although there are more affordable ways to get similar results on your mix bus, very few of them add the same vibe to the overall recording experience. So, a mixer or console with an integrated G-comp certainly still has its appeal.
What is your favourite SSL-style bus compressor? Please let us know in the comments below!
More about bus compression:
- All about bus compressors
- Everything SSL
- Thomann guide to Audio Compressors
- SSL official page
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