Founded in 1969, SSL has since expanded to its present 15 acre (61,000 m²) science park in Oxfordshire, England. The company invents, designs and manufactures technology for the manipulation of sound and the production and delivery of video.
SSL analogue and digital audio consoles are used in both pre- and post-production for film, audio, video and broadcast sound. Notably, in May 2001, Studio 3 at Abbey Road Studios was refurbished with a 96-channel SSL 9000 J series console, the largest SSL console in Europe.
SSL also produces rackmount audio hardware for use in recording studios.
There are over 3000 SSL systems in service around the world. Their equipment has been used by classical musicians and popular artists such as Bryan Adams, Peter Gabriel, Whitney Houston, Blur and Sting.
Some of the company's broadcast clients include:
Recently, SSL was purchased by musician Peter Gabriel and Broadcast entrepreneur David Engelke. The change of ownership has seen some changes in strategy for the company including new product releases to addresss the fast-changing state of the pro-audio marketplace.
The 1970s recording scene was dominated by large format consoles feeding multi-track tape machines manufactured by companies such as Studer. Both the equipment and the environment they were used in were expensive to source and maintain making studio recording a high entry cost business. A series of developments have slowly eroded this position.
Perhaps the first major change was the advent of music sequencer technology. Prior to its introduction all synchronisation was achieved by adding SMPTE time code to analogue tape. This acted as a reference point so that individual tracks could be easily synchronised. With the advent of MIDI hardware devices could be used to synchronise any MIDI device and eventually MIDI Time Code or MTC became an alternative method of synchronising studio activity. Continuing development in this area has led to computer-controlled sequencing.
The development of converter technology transforming analogue signals into digital signals has spawned a variety of supporting technical developments. DSP or Digital Signal Processing tehcnology has led both to the advent of digital mixing desks and DSP-based computer recording platforms such as Pro Tools. As such, this technology has created both a (typically) cheaper and lower maintenance alternative to the analogue mixing desk and a cheaper alternative to the multitrack analogue tape machine.
The advent of early computer-controlled sequencers such as Cakewalk (sequencer) has led to the design of native Digital Audio Workstation or DAW platforms. Native DAW platforms such as Steinberg's Cubase and Nuendo, Apple's Logic Pro and Cakewalk's Sonar now have significant market share as well as professional studio users, though the most broadly accepted system is currently Digidesign's Pro Tools. They are particularly popular with home recording enthusiasts and artists making demos that might in the past have required expensive studio time. Furthemore, mixes can be achieved using a computer only, otherwise known as in the box.
The high cost and hence small market for large format consoles led to pioneers such as Automated Processes Inc, or API, to experiment with modular equipment design. API's product offering of single items in the signal chain such as pre-amps, equalisers and compressors all based around a flexible central power supply proved popular with buyers who wanted very high quality but could not afford to buy a minimum of 24 channels at once.
Whilst maintaining a successful presence in the large format console market, SSL have endeavoured to adapt their product offering to address these developments.
In 2003, SSL entered the rackmount market with semi-modular offering from its 9000K console including its first channel strip. By moving to surface mount technology, SSL have been able to offer selected features of their large format consoles at prices more affordable to smaller studios and committed home recording enthusiasts.
2005 saw the release of further rack mount units such as the E-series channel strip and the X-rack. The XLogic G Series Compressor unit is a 1U rack mounting stereo compressor. It utilizes the classic SSL G Series center compressor design elements within a Super-Analogue design topology.
In late 2004, SSL launched AWS 900, an integrated analog console and DAW controller. Bearing in mind the considerable, £50,000+ entry level price tag for this smallest of SSL desks, the unit has proved popular. SSL now lists over 300 studios using the AWS900; they received a TEC Award in 2005 for this new design. 2006 saw the release of its successor - AWS 900+.
Further releases in 2006 include the Duende DSP, platform designed to emulate SSL console-grade audio quality for home recording enthusiasts. Based on the digital technology behind SSL’s C-Series consoles, Duende is designed to integrate into Digital Audio Workstation environments using a FireWire cable connection. The digital processing channels appear as audio plug-ins. The system supports Steinberg VST, Apple Audio Units and Digidesign RTAS, (support via Fxpansion wrapper).
Using the system DAW users can emulate SSL channel strip features including filters, SSL E and G series EQ and dynamics processing. The system also allows access to the SSL Stereo Bus Compressor, a very popular facility of large format SSL consoles. On April 25, 2007, SSL announced the release of another plug-in for the Duende, called Drumstrip, which contained a noise gate, a transient shaper, high frequency and low frequency enhancers, and the Listening Mic Compressor.
Also in 2006, the company also announced its expansion into broadcast video content management and delivery with their MediaWAN system.
SSL large format consoles remain popular. They continue to deliver both their latest 9000-series consoles and the older 4000 series consoles.
In terms of classic consoles, the SSL 4000 G+ continues to be popular among mixing engineers in Rock genres. In 2005, platinum-selling Bristol band Massive Attack based their new studio facility based around a 4000 G+ console. SSL claim that the 4000 has been the mixer behind more platinum selling albums than all other consoles combined.
The 9000 J and K series have been widely acclaimed for use in R&B, Classical and Pop genres. Wyclef Jean, formerly of the Fugees, has equipped his Platinum Sound studio with two control rooms, one with a J-series and the other boasting a K-series console.
Historically, SSL has produced high-end, large-format, professional recording studio consoles. As such their main competitors have been:-
However, these companies have also been adapting at the same time with some abandoning large format console manufacture altogether and focussing on markets such as live sound and broadcast digital audio. Equally, there have been some entrants to the market including Audient plc.
In its infancy, SSL was the first firm to manufacture solid-state control systems for pipe organs. Employees started working late, and started making other audio equipment, which moved them out of the esoteric market of organ building. The organ division was sold off and is now known as Solid-State Organ Systems of Alexandria, VA.