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Almost a year after it was first announced, ‘the ‘next-generation mixer’ is finally available. Alan Branch finds out if it was worth the wait.

THE SOFTUBE Console 1 is finally here! Launched at the 2013 Musikmesse show its concept of console hardware mixing for DAWs was an instant hit. The Console 1 is labelled as ‘The Next Generation Mixer’, an answer for those missing the hands-on workflow and analogue sound since moving from a traditional large console to mixing in the box (ITB). The idea behind it is to

emulate a single SSL channel strip by providing both the physical knobs of an analogue console as well as its sound all for your DAW. The Console 1 is not limited to the SSL, however, as it can also load other Softube plug-ins for each of the three main Shape, EQ, and Compressor sections. The Console 1 hardware is a 427 x 186 x 52mm heavy, well- built metal unit, wedge shaped so the top surface slopes towards you as a desk would. It has 26 smooth endless rotary encoders (pots), and 39 momentary button switches. These are supported by LEDs under the surface, arranged across five sections: Input, Shape, Equalizer, Compressor, and Output. (While slightly irrelevant, personally I find it a shame that a British SSL emulation has Equaliser spelt with a ‘z’). These sections correspond to a fabulous large on-screen display that is linked to the Console 1 plug-in DAW software. This includes Softube’s SSL 4000 E channel strip emulation with a few innovative enhancements called Drive and Shape control (the SSL channel is the first in a row of channel strips that will be available for the Console 1).

OVERVIEW The Console 1 supports VST2, VST3, AAX, and Audio Unit formats. After running the latest Softube

42 April 2014

installer, which covers all of its plug-ins, connecting the unit is simply a case of plugging in a USB lead. Like other console emulations there is the tricky case of adding the Console 1 plug-in to the first slot on each channel in your DAW, then every channel gets the same analogue ‘glue’ sound. It’s easier to start with a preset template as adding them to an existing project can be time consuming. Operating the Console 1

hardware is now linked to your DAW channels, with track selection along the top of the unit for quick recall of any track. There are 20 momentary track selection switches labelled 1-20 and 21-40 switched via two page up and down switches (although there is no limit to the amount of tracks). Display switches on the

Console 1 bring up a large on- screen floating display, showing all of the different section

“The only way to really see the power of the Console 1 is in a full mix and this is where the whole concept shines.” Alan Branch

parameters and levels, and a well laid out meter bridge. This is then linked to the DAW plug-in. Applying adjustments in any of the five sections show up beautifully – adjusting a gate, applying EQ, or pushing some dynamics with the compressor is really well displayed but operation is done solely from the hardware. It is difficult at first to not reach for the mouse but you soon learn to operate more on the physical knobs and the sound itself as you would a normal console. The Console 1 plug-in

window displays the track name and number option but can also show a small ‘Knobs only’ display for mouse control – this is designed for laptop operation when the hardware isn’t available. My review version unfortunately had a problem with automatic track numbers and track names from a DAW and manufacturers will need to add support for the Console 1 to make this automatic (until then you have to manually add the names). Hopefully this will be sorted by the time this review is published, as it’s quite tedious to do. Henrik from Softube assured me it’s relatively simple and is already done by PreSonus for Studio One with other DAW developers expected to follow shortly.

On my current album

project I have been using the excellent Steven Slate VCC plug-in to emulate a slightly driven Neve console, so it was perfect to see the Console 1 in action giving an SSL touch to a track. Once the Console 1 plug-ins were in place it was quite a change to the workflow when using normal plug-in operation. There is an auto timer for the Console 1 display but I felt it easier to leave it open on a second monitor and work through my mix, as normal. Using just the SSL for all

general EQ, gate, and compressor operations via the Console 1 felt very good, but the added Shape function of the Transient Shaper really opens up some new thinking when sculpting your sounds – it’s so easy to add a little extra punch or sustain to a note. Extra harmonic enhancement via Drive and Character meant I could add everything from warmth to extreme fuzz. I may have SSL emulation plug-ins already, but the

combination of them via hardware does bring a real console-like workflow. There is a switchable

ability to re-order the Shape, EQ, and Compressor in case you need to EQ before shaping. You can also save and recall presets for the three main sections as well as the complete channel strip, and if you need something different to the SSL process, alternative Softube plug-ins can be loaded into a section. For example, I loaded an old favourite, the Tube Tech PE 1C, for a bass line.

SUMMARY The only way to really see the power of the Console 1 is in a full mix and this is where the whole concept shines. I think finally console emulations are worth the time and trouble to use; the addition of harmonic distortion, non-linearities, crosstalk, etc… does add something unique to certain material, but what the Console 1 adds is a workflow


• Tightly integrated hardware/software system • Solid State Logic SL 4000 E model included • Use with any major DAW • Parametric equaliser, compressor, gate, transient shaper, high/low cut filters, and harmonics/distortion

• Customise the channel by adding any Softube equaliser or dynamics plug-in

and sound quality that very closely resembles mixing on a traditional console. Softube’s genius addition of

the Transient Shaper really does complement the SSL style of gate/expansion, EQ, and compression and it was a pleasure to go through track by track sculpting the sounds, finding problem frequencies, cleaning up with a soft gate, and adding punch and extra dynamics with the compressor and shape controls (adding extra Drive and Character to enhance the sound even subtly was also excellent). Once the auto track naming/numbering is fixed I’d say the Console 1 is the mixing ITB game changer I thought it would be.

THE REVIEWER ALAN BRANCH is a freelance engineer/ producer and ex-member of the On U Sound Crew. His list of credits include Jamiroquai, Beverley Knight, M People, Simply Red, Depeche Mode, Shed 7, Sinead O’Connor, Bjork, and Sade.

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