Solid State Logic Nucleus Review

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Brandon Hickey



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Nucleus offers DAW control via 16 faders, rotary encoders, buttons and transport controls.

Nucleus offers DAW control via 16 faders, rotary encoders, buttons and transport controls.

Solid State Logic has a stellar reputation as a manufacturer of some of the recording industry’s most popular large-format mixing consoles, but in recent years, the company has offered products targeted toward personal studios. With its first few releases in this regard, SSL seemed to struggle to find a way to offer an SSL analog signal path with DAW-centric controls while keeping the price tag appropriate to the target market. With the Nucleus, SSL has nearly perfected the recipe for the ultimate cocktail of those ingredients. Trimming out the excess and boiling functionality down to the essentials has left the best of all results: an affordable moving-fader control surface with a pair of high-quality mic preamps and a great-sounding analog monitor section.


SSL Nucleus Demo

The Nucleus stands tall among control surfaces, offering 16 100mm touch-sensitive motorized faders. The glide of the faders feels comfortably smooth while providing enough resistance for making accurate stops. Automation written with faders was respectably smooth. Even with multiple faders writing simultaneously, the Nucleus was able to accurately convey my fader moves. Five hearty, illuminated buttons provide professional-feeling transport controls while the jog wheel offers control of zooming, scrubbing and more.

On each channel, you’ll find dedicated Solo, Cut and Select buttons, which respond quickly and illuminate when active. I tested the Nucleus along with Pro Tools and Logic, and found that the corresponding track names are displayed on one of the two rows of a brightly lit scribble strip. Both rows of the scribble strip are repurposed when it is necessary to display other operational information.

Each channel also has an endless rotary encoder/button (which SSL refers to as “V-Select” buttons and “V-Pots”) that allows you to determine operability in a number of ways. Dedicated function keys across the unit’s top-left apply default settings specific to the control protocol being employed. For example, with Pro Tools I could quickly toggle the V-Pots to control send values for sends A through E, or pan controls. Those controls would then map to all 16 of the rotary encoders across the Nucleus. Alternative layers of functionality for the V-Pots and V-Selects are accessible through Mode buttons in the center of the desk.

When operating Nucleus, specifically with Pro Tools 9 and Logic Pro 9, the experience couldn’t be more different. In short, Pro Tools operation through HUI is clunky, while operating Logic through the Mackie Control unit protocol is much improved.

With Pro Tools, the controls for some plug-ins were problematic, if not downright spotty. For instance, I was unable to access the controls for Drumagog at all, and adjusting the amplifier settings on a Line 6 Pod Farm crashed Pro Tools repeatedly, but only when controlling the plug-in from the Nucleus. Adjusting the frequency of the first band of a Waves REQ from its default value of 30 Hz up to 250 Hz required five complete rotations of the rotary encoder. Panning with the V-Pots from hard-left to hard-right required approximately 540 degrees of rotation, so writing this pan smoothly in real time required the use of two hands.

All of these problems disappeared with Logic. The resolution of the V-Pot was much more usable, I had access to all plug-ins and there were no crashes. Generally speaking, in Logic the controls were more responsive, so dialing through a list of plug-ins was faster and more practical than in Pro Tools. Panners similarly improved by providing a more reasonable resolution. Instead of paging through settings with a rotary encoder, dedicated arrow buttons in the center section came into play. The Left and Right buttons flipped through pages of parameters, while the Up and Down buttons let you choose between different insert positions. Best of all, you can flip anything from plug-ins to sends from the rotary encoders to the faders, which is not the case with Pro Tools.

I was very impressed by the way that once each DAW was configured with Nucleus, switching between them was a snap. I had Pro Tools and Logic running simultaneously for the purpose of comparison. With one button, I could toggle from one DAW to the other. This functionality could be incredibly convenient for using a ReWire app with a primary DAW.

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