Recording

Technology Spotlight: Solid State Logic AWS 900

An Affordable Analog Workstation System 6/01/2004 8:00 AM Eastern

Mention the name Solid State Logic and images of huge, high-end, high-ticket mixers immediately come to mind. Yet at the recent NAB show in Las Vegas, this producer of world-class consoles unveiled a product that breaks new ground in terms of performance and price.

JUST LIKE ANALOG

The AWS 900 Analog Workstation System takes the high-performance, 200kHz bandwidth analog electronics of SSL's award-winning XL 9000 K Series consoles and marries it with an ergonomic worksurface for controlling DAWs such as Emagic Logic, Steinberg Nuendo or Digidesign Pro Tools.

Other than the dedicated controller key functions with very un-console-sounding names like undo and loop and an integral TFT screen for displaying DAW and plug-in functions, the AWS 900 looks like a scaled-down 9000 K. And with the exception of these few additional accessories, any analog SSL console user would feel right at home on the AWS 900; in fact, the console can operate as a straightforward 24×8 analog desk.

The board's analog features include switchable SSL E or G Series 4-band parametric EQ, assignable SSL dynamics (gate/expander/comp limiter), G Series stereo main bus compressor, oxygen-free cable in the internal wiring, metering on all channels and main outs, eight aux sends, four stereo effects returns and 100mm moving fader automation. In addition to its highly regarded, SuperAnalogue mic preamps, the AWS 900 also provides a high-impedance instrument input on each channel — something no other SSL console offers.

BRING ON THE DAW

The I/O complement is flexible, with all balanced I/Os, inserts and direct outs on each channel for direct-to-DAW tracking, comprehensive talkback functions and stereo and multichannel summing buses for stem returns for the DAW. The monitoring capabilites are no less formidable, with facilities for controlling two sets of stereo speakers and two entire 5.1 rigs: mains and near-fields. The left/right feed can come from any number of stereo sources or from a downmix from the surround mains. Inserts are provided for 5.1-encode/decode hardware systems, as is configurable onboard bass management.

What sets the AWS 900 apart from other SSL products is its DAW controller functions. The 24-channel controls can be bank-switched to perform as traditional audio channels, DAW channels or — in groups of eight — a combination of both. An alphanumeric digital scribble strip above each channel fader displays the name and/or status of any assigned DAW channel. This strip also provides immediate control of any DAW parameter via a rotary encoder that doubles as a small fader-style analog channel level in Master Flip mode, again bringing operations very similar to traditional in-line recording/mixing. The large main faders also offer dual functionality (DAW or analog levels), and the large touch-sensitive faders write/replay level moves directly to/from the DAW.

But it is in the master section's DAW control panel and motion control panels where most of the workstation action occurs. The motion panel is straightforward, mimicking the usual transport controls, along with a numeric data-entry keypad, jog/shuttle wheel, up/down/left/right navigation buttons and illuminated dedicated keys for oft-used routines such as punch-in/out, audition, pre/post-roll and RTZ, among others.

While not meant to displace the workstation's main GUIs, a high-res color TFT display above the DAW control panel shows plug-in parameters and DAW status data. Below this are rows of assignable rotary encoders and soft keys, with functions determined by the software of the application that's running. Each of the rotaries have built-in push-push switches that can act as an enter key or step through to the next function. A large section of illuminated buttons dedicated to various functions provide immediate access to basic commands such as arm/disarm all tracks or recalling the DAW's Mix or Edit windows. Also standard are single-touch buttons that are equivalent to typical DAW keyboard shortcut commands such as escape, undo, save and enter.

The AWS 900 software communicates with DAWs via MIDI, is Mackie HUI-compatible and includes templates for Logic, Nuendo and Pro Tools. It's platform-independent and uses a dedicated CPU to maximize automation/control performance.

Even without considering the DAW functions, the AWS 900 is one sweet little (57-inch-wide) console. Yet perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the AWS 900 has nothing to do with technology at all. SSL realizes that this product appeals to a far more diverse audience than the “typical” SSL console, so Guitar Center's retail stores and GC Pro's dedicated business-to-business organization will handle AWS 900 sales, service and support to its target market. SSL will also sell the AWS 900 directly to its core client base and broadcast clientele. Unlike other SSL desks, the AWS 900 is available in one version only and is priced at $85,000, less stand. Shipments begin this month.

For more information, visit www.solid-state-logic.com.

Click here to check out rear connector and signal flow diagrams of the AWS900.