Every now and again a piece of audio equipment comes along that defines the sound of an era. Back in 1979 Solid State Logic gave birth to a legendary recording console. The SSL SL 4000E Master Studio System forever changed how records would be recorded and mixed, heralding a new age in popular music. In less than three years, every major studio worldwide featured at a least one room with an SSL “E” Series console.
The SSL Listen Mic Compressor was the secret weapon in many producers sonic arsenal of recording techniques. Originally designed to prevent overloading the return feed from a studio communications mic, its fixed attack and release curves were eminently suitable for use on ambient drums mics. Of course, we’d like to take all the credit for this great sound, but as usual, it was the creativity of SSL users that led to the idea.
Long-time SSL user Hugh Padgham was one of the first to capture this new drum sound on tape,while working with Steve Lilywhite on Peter Gabriel’s ‘Intruder’, he told Mix magazine:* "On a normal console, you have a button to press to talk to the musicians in the headphones, but you did not have a button to press for us to listen to the musicians. To do that, you'd plug a microphone into a spare channel on the desk and listen to your musicians through that. But the SSL had a reverse talkback button and there was a microphone hanging up in the studio already, a dedicated input into the reverse mic input on the console. And on this microphone, they had the most unbelievably heavy compressor, so you could hear somebody who was over in the corner.
"One day, Phil (Collins) was playing the drums,” Hugh recalls, “and I had the reverse talkback on because he was speaking, and then he started playing the drums. The most unbelievable sound came out because of the heavy compressor. I said, 'My God, this is the most amazing sound! Steve, listen to this.' But the way the reverse talkback was setup, you couldn't record it. So I had the desk modified that night. I got one of the maintenance guys to take the desk apart and get a split output of this compressor and feed it into a patch point on the jack field so I could then patch it into a channel on the board. From there, we were able to route that to the tape recorder."
Now you can experience the Listen Mic Compressor within the comfort of your own workstation software and see what sounds it’ll lead you to create. If you discover something really great – like a radical new distorted oboe sound then be sure to let us know.
* Macintosh computer with PowerPC G4 or faster processor (not Intel Mac)
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