Solid State Logic Nucleus Review

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



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The rear of the Nucleus offers analog and digital connections, an SD card slot, footswitch port and more.

The rear of the Nucleus offers analog and digital connections, an SD card slot, footswitch port and more.

I was also impressed with the additional layers of functionality that were offered through SSL’s Nucleus Remote software. It seems that this “SSL Logictivity” software is common throughout the company’s control surface family. Using Nucleus Remote, you can remap the default functions of any physical button to a new DAW function. Eight extra buttons are also provided specifically for custom mapping that you want to do. Nucleus speaks to the DAW through a high-speed Ethernet connection for typical control surface functionality, as well as through USB as a virtual keyboard, so any button may also transmit a message that is equivalent to any combination of keystrokes. Thus, any task that can be performed with a keyboard shortcut can also be made to happen at the touch of a button on the Nucleus controller. For example, opening and closing windows, engaging and disabling automation parameters and managing groups were all accessible through buttons using the included default layouts, or by assigning buttons. Altogether, three different layers of functions could be assigned to each button using this software protocol. Setups can also be saved and brought into another Nucleus by storing them to an SD card.

Conversely, the Nucleus USB Control Panel software for controlling the monitoring hardware, which controls zero-latency monitoring before the DAW, was a step down from the Nucleus Remote software. In USB Control Panel, the controllers were confusingly named and lacked the rich graphic design of the Remote software. Overall, this section could use a redesign.

For the analog section of the desk, SSL kept it simple, providing two great-sounding preamps and high-quality analog monitoring outputs, as well as clean, transparent AD/DA conversion. Nucleus offers a tasteful complement of connections that accommodate a variety of workflows. Each preamp has an insert point and direct output so you can use the console’s analog section with a different interface. Also, different types of aux inputs are provided to connect additional devices to the onboard monitor section. A pair of headphone outputs are inconveniently located on the rear, with an input/output blend control for zero-latency input monitoring in the monitor section. S/PDIF inputs and outputs are provided through optical connections.

By avoiding the usual pitfalls of including countless preamps, a summing mixer and analog EQs for a high price tag, Nucleus instead provides a quality USB interface at a reasonable price. The SSL SuperAnalogue™ mic pre’s use the same circuit employed by the SSL Duality console. The product literature describes these preamps as “transparent,” but in testing them against other less-colorful pre’s, I found this assessment to be a bit of an undersell, which was disappointing. I was pleased to find that they have a character that is more consistent with other SSL front ends that I’ve used: A pronounced bottom end provided warmth without sacrificing clarity, with an honest, balanced midrange and sweet highs whose detail was laced with a little extra sparkle as the preamp enriched their harmonic content. If you could have only one set of pre’s around with which to build your project studio, you’d be hard-pressed to find a stronger contender. The monitoring outputs were similarly pleasant—plenty of gain was offered without any considerable noise through either the main control room out or the headphone amps.

The overall installation and configuration of Nucleus was a breeze. However, in using Nucleus with my MacBook Pro, I was unable to use the controller connected to my Ethernet port while simultaneously getting Internet access through the Mac’s AirPort utility. Aside from that, when connecting my MacBook to an Ethernet network using DHCP and then reconnecting to Nucleus with its default settings, the Pro Tools software found Nucleus and mapped its controls quickly. Other control surfaces would require power cycling, restarting the computer or otherwise.

All things considered—including overall performance, features and price—I see Nucleus as an essential buy. I did experience some buggy operation with Pro Tools, but any control surface that attempts to be universal across multiple DAWs is going to give you tradeoffs. Yes, Avid’s control surfaces control Pro Tools very well, but I would take these SSL pre’s over the C|24’s preamps any day. And if you only need two of them, you’re set. As far as ergonomics, the in-line mentality of Nucleus’ channel strips is favorable. The transport and general layout of the center section is spot-on, and the build quality is sturdy and professional.

I’m interested to see SSL’s next step in this direction. This is clearly a sign that the company understands what smaller studios need and want, with an execution that hits closer to the mark than any of its previous efforts.

Brandon Hickey as a freelance engineer and audio educator.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Nucleus product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Nucleus product page.

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