Why I Need One/Reason for Purchase
As an independent engineer/producer for over 25 years, I’ve been somewhat reticent to outfit and install a “home” or “project” studio. The majority of my work has taken place in major commercial studios, only occasionally moving to a smaller mix or editing suite if forced by budgetary constraints – or that “overkill” concept when using too much real estate.
These major rooms usually boast a large format console (SSL, Neve, API) with the de rigueur racks of outboard, professional room design and layout choices that (hopefully) make an engineer’s workflow efficient.
When digital audio first reared its head, the “home” or “project” studio had a somewhat negative connotation. “Oh, you have a project studio. Hmmm…how lovely for you!”. Visions of ¼” patchbays with wires hanging out of the back, a home-made, plywood “rack”, the screws barely holding four ADATs.
OK, sorry, maybe your home studio was not that bad. But most were sub-par installations in little more than a spare closet with neither adequate acoustic treatment nor quality signal processing — front end or back end. In most cases, granted, these were “labs”, places where one honed one’s skills, but hardly studios that were capable of producing a finished product of quality. Years back you needed a bigger budget and more space in order to build anything respectable. The gear was still huge and expensive and the thinking was somewhat archaic.
But as the technology has raced to meet the qualitative demands of professionals needing to service clients with ever-decreasing budgets, I have been forced to re-assess my position, to sit up and take notice. These days, I feel it’s essential that working engineers, producers and perhaps even serious songwriters have access to a professional system at all times.
More and more the music has become married to the tech (no comment on that here), and with the advances resulting from years of technical innovation and competition, I further believe that we all can in fact have such access. If well thought out, such a studio can produce work sonically competitive with that of the commercial studio.
We’ll always need big live rooms and iso’s, budget willing, but to arrange, edit and mix “at home”, at a high level is more than just possible now. I still track at major studios, but I would say that a good 60% or more of my work these days happens in my “home” studio. Which sounds fantastic, by the way. I love it.
My latest upgrade has been the SSL Nucleus, a small format console aimed at a really good smaller professional studio — or what we used to in fact call the “project” or “home” studio. The Nucleus is meant to act as the nerve center of a modern digital studio, a communications hub, a liaison with your DAW. In fact, with a few of your DAWS.
But before you read further, let me make a bit of a disclaimer here: During my rather exhaustive research before purchase, I looked at myriad websites quoting the specs, the numbers, the technical comparisons and measurements. I needed to know those things and they are all rather impressive, and I urge you to get out there on the Web and do the same research. But you won’t find them here in my review, since it’s already been done.
Instead, I prefer to talk about my reactions and observations in terms of how the Nucleus affects my work, how it makes me feel about my work and my efficiency. The numbers inform my decisions, certainly. But they do not dictate my decisions.
If a piece of gear sounds great, enhances my workflow and adds value to my final product I usually buy it. If, above that, the gear removes encumbrances to the creative connection between me and the music, I certainly buy it.
I bought the SSL Nucleus. I have had it installed for a little under three weeks. Here are my observations…
No Second Chance to Make a First Impression
The fact that Nucleus is an SSL cannot be ignored. This brand recognition and reputation certainly impacts one’s decision to buy. If it says “Ducati” on the gas tank, it had better respond like a Ducati. If it is from “SSL”, I expect — 100 percent — that the chaps over there in Oxfordshire understand this client perception and would naturally not want to release any new piece of gear that doesn’t measure up. The release of such a piece of gear would be disappointing, would impact client base and would be…downright foolish, right?
They are not fools in Oxfordshire, I am still an SSL fan and the Nucleus does not disappoint.
From Moment One, opening the box upon its arrival, I was impressed. The Nucleus is well presented and packed for safety. It comes with very little documentation, and it needs very little. The unit is heavy, sturdy, doesn’t feel “hollow” and plastic, and in fact it gives the impression of solidity and a high build quality. An SSL through and through. One touch of the transport section or one move of a fader and you just know it’s a professional piece of gear. “Now we’re talking…” was, as I recall, my first thought.
Visually, it’s a treat. Bold lettering, and apparent pride in design and build. Beginning with the start-up LED’s and the back-lit “Solid State Logic” the layout looks smart, is ergonomically functional and is immediately intuitive. There is more than adequate room between knobs and buttons for my fat fingers. The rear panel is clear, clean and equally solid, obviously well thought out. I’d say the overall “look” is inviting, from the 16 smooth and precise faders to the uncluttered, functional layout of controls. One instantly wants to engage with the Nucleus, to get down to some meaningful work.
Nucleus has a larger footprint than my old Avid 003 controller, but there is truly no comparison in design, build quality and intuitive layout. Different world. Nucleus makes me smile. If you’ve spent time with an E, G, K, J or Duality over the years, you’re going to feel right at home here.
My old Avid sat to the right of center on my workspace for the few years I had it. I used it sporadically, didn’t reach for it all the time. For many reasons, I did not want it as a studio “centerpiece”. There wasn’t the immediate connection that the Nucleus makes. My new Nucleus is centered in my workspace, in my studio, and I feel like I am back on a quality console, not a plastic controller. Even before I installed and configured, I truly felt that it was going to bring up my game.
Installation and connectivity was a cinch. The Nucleus connects to your computer via USB interface and with your DAW via Ethernet. After installation of drivers and other needed software, connection of these two cables and power (standard IEC), I was up and running.
Before connecting my monitors, I plugged-in a pair of Grado headphones and began to configure the software, having attached my iPod through the “ijack” (1/8th miniplug input on the rear panel) to listen to some tunes while working. At this stage, I was introduced to the Nucleus Remote, the nerve center of the Nucleus software, and the USB Control Panel, where users configure the sound card, again all very straight-forward and fast. The users manual is completely clear, short and sweet, and gets you through the process without headache.