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Why the Digidesign ICON mixing console is the new SSL

Why the Digidesign ICON mixing console is the new SSL


The recent history of music recording has been dominated by the SSL mixing console. A studio had to have an SSL otherwise it couldn't do business. A&R managers wouldn't book studios that didn't have SSL because they felt they couldn't be sure of getting a hit. At one point virtually every record in the mainstream charts in the US and UK had either been recorded or mixed on an SSL.

SSL got to be this dominant because they made consoles that did what people required. And companies like Neve dissipated their energy through lack of focus, even though they made arguably better consoles.

Something interesting happened when SSL began to reach 'critical mass' sometime in the early 1980s – there were so many SSL consoles around that to be employable, engineers had to know how to operate them. And the converse was true that if a studio had an SSL console, then there was a large pool of engineers able to work in that studio.

Once SSL's dominance was established, it created a studio 'eco-system' that was impossible to evolve out of. Euphonix tried it, but fell way short of succeeding in toppling SSL from their position at the top of the food chain.

But things are now changing. The main reason for SSL's success is that their consoles were complete studio command centers – the multitrack recorder was controlled from the console, and their famous automation system was slick and effective.

So the only way to compete against SSL would be to 'out-integrate' them. And the way to do that would be to bring multitrack recording actually within the console.

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To be fair, SSL tried this, but their efforts were not widely accepted.

But one company did successfully bring multitrack recording within the console. And they did this by first integrating the console within the multitrack recorder!

Of course, I am talking about Digidesign. Pro Tools for years has had full mixing facilities within software. So their recording and editing system came with a 'free' mixing console built in.

But people would still prefer to mix through an SSL. Digidesign tried a couple of hardware controllers, but still couldn't break the SSL monopoly.

But now things have changed, and you can see things continuing to change rapidly. Digidesign now have the ICON console, and it is gaining acceptance as a console that can challenge SSL.

The installation of an ICON at Metropolis Studios, which is about as high-end a facility as you can get, proves this, together with the other 500-odd ICON installations worldwide, in music recording, broadcast and post production.

SSL are trying to fight back with a smaller control surface that will integrate with a Pro Tools recording system. My feeling is however that they have lost momentum and Digidesign have won.

So, in a nutshell, Digidesign is the new SSL. Where once if you had SSL skills, you were employable as an engineer, now it is the ICON console that everyone needs to learn.

David Mellor

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David Mellor