Gear Stories With Sylvia Massy: SSL—Duality and RealityA CRATE FULL OF DREAMS 3/31/2010 8:20 AM Eastern
Maybe it’s the gluttonous American consumer in me, but I really love the old-school, large-format analog consoles. To hell with the power costs. I want a mixing desk that throws heat like it’s chock-full of George Foreman grills. I want steak, dammit, not a garden burger!
My history with vintage gear is one of luck and patience. It might be years before I find that special piece sitting long forgotten in a box, hiding in someone’s garage or attic. But eventually I will find it. We wanted a large-format analog console to complement the classic Neve and Trident consoles in our other rooms at RadioStar, and the search began for the right desk. It had to be impressive and useful, with a minimum of 56 channels. A Solid State Logic console seemed like the perfect fit, and I scoured the sales listings and auction notices for potential used candidates. Buying a new console was also a distinct possibility, and I was solicited to be one of the first to install the brand-new Duality. I approached the idea with an open mind.
The champion behind the innovative SSL Duality is the legendary musical artist and performer Peter Gabriel. He owns the company and fine-tunes the Solid State Logic designs. His incredible studio in the UK, Real World, is the proving ground for many of the company’s new products. While visiting the SSL headquarters in Begbroke, I fell in love with the Duality. It was energy-efficient, ran cool and was daintily plugged into a generic wall outlet. The Duality was physically much shallower than the Js or the Ks, and used a bank of flat video screens to display channel metering instead of having actual individual meters. It also did not have the group of latching buttons typical of an SSL bus matrix, so the look of the console was much different. Even with radical changes to its profile, it was still pure SSL—punchy and fast. And it had excellent headroom. Wow!
Perhaps I have been ruined by the idea that all great consoles have to be giants, and maybe I’m just missing the point, but the Duality was much smaller than I had envisioned for our new studio. It is a well-thought-out modern console, combining a classic analog large-format surface with digital workstation technology. The sound of the Duality is undeniably SSL, but I still couldn’t help feeling slighted by the price tag. The company’s sales rep explained that the extra expense would instantly be made up by the reduction of the studio’s power bills, as compared to the costs of powering an older SSL. But did I listen? Even after flying to the UK to kick its tires and tour Gabriel’s fantastic studio, I was not convinced that the Duality was the console we needed for our new mix room, so I graciously passed on buying one.
It was some time before I eventually found our SSL. It was sitting long forgotten in a big dusty crate far away in a Long Island warehouse. When the massive boomerang 9080J came to light, I knew my search was over. A one-owner console, it was previously installed in the WWE’s studios in Connecticut. That’s right, World Wrestling Entertainment. Can you imagine what obscenities Steve Austin and Ric Flair hurled at each other through this thing? For some unexplainable reason, it was de-installed in favor of a modern digital console after only two years in service, and it had been sitting forlorn in that warehouse waiting for me since then. Moving quickly, we secured financing and put our money down!
Next challenge: How exactly do you move three tons of SSL from one side of the country to the other on a bone-skinny budget? RadioStar is in Weed, Calif., and our “new” console was in Islip, N.Y. A professional moving company quoted us $10k for the coast-to-coast service. I’d much rather buy a rack of compressors than pay a moving company for something we could do ourselves. The SSL had been decommissioned properly and was crated and ready to go. We quickly formed the RadioStar Moving Team, comprising two members: my husband, Greg Shivy, and his pal Jeremy Dyer.
First, Greg bought a brand-new Haulmark 24-foot enclosed car trailer over the phone. Then he and his helper drove from Weed to Elkhart, Ind., and picked up the trailer at the factory itself. Nonstop, they hauled ass to New York, taking turns driving while the other slept in the back of the quad-cab GMC truck. After loading up the SSL in Islip, they turned right back around and drove straight back to the California in record time, pounding Red Bulls all along the way. Even though they had to take an 800-mile detour to avoid a huge blizzard in the Midwest, it was a seven-day run total, and the console was unloaded without a scratch or a hiccup on the Weed end of the trip. Installation was flawless, and the console has performed brilliantly since its first day of official operation.
The amazing part of this continental adventure was that after the console was unloaded, Greg replaced the tires and immediately sold the trailer for a tidy profit! When we tallied up the receipts, it turned out that we had somehow actually made money on the move. Hello to a new rack of compressors!
Having had the SSL 9080J operating in the studio now for the past few years, I have to say that the SSL sales rep was absolutely right: This J Series is an energy-sucking pig! Between the huge power draw it requires to operate and the air-conditioning system needed to keep it cool, every month I have a $2,000 power bill! Yet I love this console and have no regrets about purchasing it—outside of its contribution to global warming. Okay, maybe there is a little regret every time I open up that power bill.
However, I’m now shedding the romantic notion that every console purchase has to be an Indiana Jones–style adventure. My next console will definitely be newer, smaller and more efficient—most likely a Duality. In the meantime, we have designed a fan system to recycle the heat from Studio B’s J9080 mix room by blowing it into the rest of the building during the winter. It really does cut down on the fuel bills. See how green we can be?
Sylvia Massy is the unconventional producer and engineer of artists including Tool, System of a Down, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty and Prince. She is a member of the NARAS P&E Wing Steering Committee and Advisory Boards, and is a resident producer at RadioStar Studios in Weed, Calif.