Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The SSL Nucleus – Was it worth the price?

Today's post includes a review from my good friend and fellow engineer/producer Giandre Diaz who recently purchased an SSL Nucleus for his studio based in Trinidad. The Nucleus is a DAW Controller equipped with 2 preamps identical to the ones used in their flagship Duality console.

"The SSL Nucleus is a compact, portable desktop unit that creates a comfortable, efficient, hands on operating environment for DAW based Music and Film/TV Post production. It provides everything you need to record and monitor audio and to control your DAW quickly and efficiently without resorting to your mouse. Nucleus streamlines your workflow and helps you focus on your sound, not your screen."

I spent a few hours using the Nucleus with Giandre's mobile setup here in Miami when he first acquired it and found it fairly simple to use. All the functions worked as expected and being able to access plugins directly from the Nucleus was a definite plus. I asked him to give me a review of the unit once he got it fully integrated into his studio.

Here is Giandre's review of the SSL Nucleus:

I’ve had the Nucleus for almost three weeks now and my enthusiasm still has not subsided. I’m anxious to start new projects just to use this ‘Hybrid Controller’. SSL has this listed as a Console and technically it is, albeit a 2 channel console. For my needs it’s perfect, I usually just record vocals and the odd Guitar or bass, but very seldom do I ever need more than 2 inputs at any time in my day to day business. My studio's main focus is audio mixing and Jingle and advert production. 

The Nucleus first impressions

I was instantly wowed by the build quality, it’s very solid and robust, and the v pots, buttons and faders are all very tactile and durable. The meters are accurate and well positioned, the cut, solo and select buttons feel good and are well placed. It’s size seemed well thought out and the position of everything was very ergonomic for me. Setup and registration was easy and there is no lag between the DAW and the functions of the Console, I did some initial soft key programming and the Nucleus Remote software made it is very easy, 

In Use with Pro Tools 10 (My main DAW)

First thing I had to try was the Preamps, having spent at least 4 years on an SSL 4000 G series Console, I remember patching the mic directly into the mic pre on the channel and the sound was impressive, external pres were more for colors specifically needed for the Sound source or song. The wow factor continued with the sonics of the Nucleus, I have since used these pres extensively with Male/female vocals, and acoustic guitar and I must say when recorded I find I have less to do after recording, it's full sounding and clean, the headroom available is also astonishing as my gain pot hardly sees movement past 10’ o Clock on the markings.

The analogue monitor section is sufficient for my needs as I previously owned an SSL X-desk… smart routing has made it possible for me switch between my main and alt speakers, and keep the Volume control in front of me, which is an added convenience. headphone outs are clean with no audible noise/distortion.

Audio Card 

I did use the SSL audio interface and it sounds good, dynamic and clean with full frequency range reproduction and no noticeable added hype to any part of the audio spectrum.  However that was just curiosity because I also work with an UA Apollo.  The Nucleus Sound Control Panel software though simple looking is workable and easy to manipulate.

The Fader Bank Section

The banks of 8 are very nice, the faders are spaced beautifully with great touch response. Both touch and onscreen response has no visual lag and I have been able to adjust faders with great accuracy. When scrolling through tracks in Protools fader response and displays are updated immediately, very impressive. 


Accessing automation features are probably the quickest and best feature on this console, it has now made automating anything for me less cumbersome and more satisfying. The faders are quiet and the flip function makes automating anything a smooth and uncomplicated experience.

Things I would have liked

I would have liked a dedicated scribble strip below the faders that always displayed track names within the DAW, especially when using the user 1 or user 2 layers which displays its’ functions on the right hand side scribble strip of the console.

I would have also liked an easier way to identify where the faders are in the DAW it has a highlight around the selected but at a glance I would have liked to know what number fader I’m at immediately. Probably a brighter highlight, I’m a bit color blind so this probably just affects me.

A small touch pad area next to the jog wheel would have made this the ultimate control, and would definitely keep you away from the mouse more. (if the jog wheel was smaller a touch pad section would fit there perfectly)

Integration of the SSL Duende plugins could have been nicer with pro tools, although I understand there are some challenges without the Eucon protocol.

My Synopsis

It’s been some time since I’ve been on a console, and having the Nucleus has made me regain some lost connection with the music when mixing, the rhythm felt when doing automated cuts, the feeling of that ‘sweet spot’ when moving faders and the general ability to listen more than look. I have now been able to sleep my monitor and mix, a feeling that is indescribable. That is something most younger engineers never experienced but for me it was nostalgic and heavenly. My workflow has improved and the speed I work at now is much faster, sonically the addition of this console has made a huge impact and my investment was a good one. It’s also nice to say there’s an SSL to a client.

I hope anyone considering a DAW controller will find this review helpful.

SSL Nucleus Features:
  • Ethernet connected DAW Controller re-defines the professional project studio
  • Compatible with ProTools, Logic, Cubase/Nuendo and all major DAW applications
  • Switch between 3 connected DAW’s with a single button press
  • Two banks of 8 channel controls plus centre section controls
  • Touch sensitive 100mm motorised faders
  • Digital Scribble Strips with assignable V-Pots and soft keys
  • Completely user customisable DAW & Key Command mapping
  • Remote Logictivity Browser for effortless configuration
  • SD card for non volatile project storage
  • Large heavy duty transport buttons and high quality jog/shuttle wheel
  • Excellent visual feedback via self illuminating buttons, LED’s and DAW Level Metering
  • A unique audio nerve centre for your project studio
  • Benchmark SuperAnalogue™ quality output to separate +4dBu & -10dBV connections
  • High quality USB audio interface (44.1kHz - 192kHz, 24 Bit)
  • Two Combi XLR mic/line/instrument level inputs to audio interface and monitor outputs
  • Digital S/PDIF I/O to the AD/DA of the audio interface
  • Zero latency Rec monitoring with wet/dry control to balance input and DAW playback
  • SSL SuperAnalogue™ Mic Pre’s’, identical to those used on SSL Duality and AWS consoles
  • Mic inputs have 80Hz High Pass Filters, Phase Reverse and Phantom Power
  • Insert send/return connections switched between inputs and DAW playback for mixdown
  • Additional ‘external’ SuperAnalogue™ input monitor path for another audio interface
  • Two headphone outputs and one iJack monitor input
  • Standard 1/4” Jack footswitch connection
  • Four USB sockets for use as a 4 port USB hub