Composer/producer Brian Adler with Solid State Logic X-Rack
In an effort to improve mixes in the digital audio workstation realm, film and TV composer/producer Brian Adler (pictured) and studio tech/engineer John Hartman conducted an exhaustive, controlled comparison of leading summing mixers. Adler—whose film, TV and music credits include The ’60s, Twice Upon a Time and Tapeheads—reports that among the seven most prominent products surveyed, Solid State Logic’s X-Rack, from SSL’s XLogic product range, was the clear winner.
“I embarked on this comparison because I’m just not happy with in-the-box mixing,” says Adler, who came to Los Angeles as a signed singer/songwriter and has written songs performed by Smokey Robinson, Cheap Trick, Sam Moore and Junior Walker. “I’m not happy with digital, to a large degree; I’m missing so much of analog. But I’ve been a Pro Tools user forever.
“I make most of my living in film and TV production now; record production is secondary. You have to move so quickly in TV and film, and make so many revisions, that you really have to work on a digital audio workstation. But while great digital mixes are dazzling left to right, they are two-dimensional. I’ve always missed the three-dimensional sound that is inherent in analog, along with better natural compression, punch and a cohesive sheen over the top of the whole thing.
“I started having conversations with trusted mix engineers,” Adler continues. “Some said that there is a sonic ‘bottleneck’ or logjam at the summing stage that affects things like panning and image, which is why so many audio professionals are turning to summing mixers.”
Adler and Hartman (whose credits include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Alice Cooper and Public Enemy) tested the equipment using the same four music selections, ranging from hard rock/alternative to light acoustic to orchestral. “We made a point to not discuss our opinions of the various gear with one another while doing the tests,” Hartman recalls, “instead choosing to make all our various mixes, take some time off for an ear break, list our rankings and then simultaneously convey our findings to one another over the phone.
“To our surprise, they were exactly the same, in the same order, and SSL is clearly the leader. The X-Rack has provided the best depth and has a discrete quality. The separation is fantastic—you can really hear the instruments speak and sustain remarkably. The SSL sounds wider, deeper, tighter, punchier and has more ‘wow’ factor than the others. What’s most impressive is that it sounds like a big SSL console. Wow!”
Though the comparison focused primarily on the respective products’ summing performance, Adler and Hartman also tracked with the X-Rack’s Mic Amp, EQ and Dynamics modules. “We are very impressed with those, as well,” Adler says. “As a matter of fact, we’re trying that against other good tube and Class-A products. The X-Rack is a really magnificent box.”