SSL – E and G series EQ

SSL or Solid State Logic; for many it stands for the big recording studios in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Sacred places where many legendary hits have been recorded. And still are. Many popular artists use SSL, such as Dr Dré, Peter Gabriel (partly owner of SSL), Sting and Nine Inch Nails. At Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam, we have an SSL 8000 desk with SSL 4000 channel cards.

These desks are still commonly found in studios all around the world, known for their unique and punchy sound. Hence the reason they are a popular target for virtual emulations and plugins. Especially the Dynamics and EQs. But what makes their ‘classic’ equalizers so special? In this blog article we give you some insights.

Whenever you mention the SSL EQ to someone in the industry, they will ask “which colour?”. But what has colour to do with sound? The fact is that between 1985 and 1987, SSL used different colours of EQs to define specific sound characteristics. Providing them as much flexibility as they could want, customers could purchase a combination of these channel strips in their consoles. These were the available options:

E-Series BROWN (02 type)
This is the original SSL EQ fitted to all consoles prior to the summer of 1985. Despite certain rumours these equalisers only came in one version. The EQ card was called the ’02’.

You can identify this EQ by the brown LF knobs. It has 4 bands with sweepable Q on the mids and Bell/Shelf switches on the LF and HF. The slope of the sides of the Bell or the Shelf alter with the degree of cut/boost (+/-15dB). High-pass and Low-pass filters are 12dB per octave.

The downside of the BROWN EQ section is that you can’t turn off the filters. Even when they are turned down all the way, it still passes through the circuit. These EQs at times can sound a little bit gritty. Nowadays, some people prefer them for drums or bass. But like almost everything in music, also choosing EQ types remains a very personal choice.

E Series ORANGE (232 type)
This is the infamous EQP equalizer, which was a variation on the Brown EQ with controls simulating the curves of a valve type EQ, mimicking the famous Pultecs. The EQ card was called the ‘232’.

At Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam, we have 4 of these in our console.

E-Series BLACK (242 type)
This is the last version of the standard E series EQ. It evolved in the early 1980’s through various discussions with many top engineers and proved to be very popular. The EQ card was called the ‘242’.

One of the main things that SSL modified from the original Brown design is the fact that the cut and boost of the EQ goes up higher, to +/- 18dB. Also the High-pass filter has a steeper 18dB/octave slope.

Many engineers favor the Black EQ, especially for the low-end, because you can crank it up but doesn’t distort. Instead, it saturates nicely while staying steady. The black EQ is often the preferred choice for vocal and acoustic instruments.

Compared to the previous models, the Black EQ has more capacitors in the audio path, which happen to have a very cool sound. Although suffered from some smearing, it still sounds quite cool.

At Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam, we have 16 of these in our console.

G-Series (292 type) – Pink knob
With the arrival of the G Series console in 1987 the colour coding was abandoned and the classic SSL knob colour scheme which is still used today, was adopted. First introduced in 1987 the original G Series EQ introduced Q characteristics, which were proportional to gain settings. This was launched as a response to the original Rupert-Neve Focusrite EQ.

The downside is that in the G-EQ, this introduced a dynamic ‘smiley effect’ behaviour. Whenever the signal gets louder, the bass and top end get boosted. So, compared to the Black EQ, it doesn’t work as well on vocals or loud guitars.

The “Bell” switches of the earlier EQs for the HF and LF bands are replaced by “x3” and “÷3” for the mid bands leaving the LF and HF bands as shelving EQs with a characteristic dip and bump before the shelf boost and shelf cut. The filters behave the same as those of black EQ.

At Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam, we have 4 of these in our console, with the Mark1 Mod, which gets rid of the smiley dynamic effect.

That’s it!

We hope you got a better understanding of the classic SSL EQ’s and their colours. Next time when you’re using your SSL EQ or emulation, you now know what’s happening underneath those colourful knobs.