SSL Nucleus 2

Control surface and Dante audio interface

SSL Nucleus 2

Review by Russell Cottier

The Nucleus controller released in 2010 brought SSL automation hardware to those people for whom a full SSL console was beyond practicality. The new SSL Nucleus 2 offers several useful upgrades and shifts to the Dante protocol for the internal 2x2 audio interface. The unit can control up to 3 DAWs at once via ethernet with HUI and MCU protocols, there’s even a built in keyboard emulator for DAW control and macros. Nucleus Remote software is bundled for setting up your profiles, along with licences for Audinate Virtual Soundcard and the Duende Native Essentials Bundle. The unit offers deeply configurable control via the Nucleus Remote software, so this review will cover just the key points. As such initial setup and routing is by no means the simplest process, but other non-Dante interfaces can be included into the system using Audinate Dante Via software.

Whilst the topology of the Nucleus 2 is similar to its predecessor, the colour scheme change has given the unit a drastically different look. The Nucleus 2 now sports a grey and white front panel with the grey end-cheeks matching the scheme. Channels are separated visually by alternating shades of grey that draw the eye up and down the channel, a nice feature whilst the scribble strip is not displaying track names. A talkback button has been added and the Forward and Rewind buttons removed. Whilst this might seem like a step backwards, let us think about how often we manually rewind in age of the random access timeline DAW. The jog wheel, location marker jumps and RTZ have this more than adequately covered. These square buttons look robust enough but might have benefitted form a bezel of some sort.

SSL Nucleus 2

Each of the controller channel strips starts at the top with a 10 segment LED meter labelled in full scale from 0 to -40. The behaviour of which will of course be controlled via your DAW. A red LED Record indicator light sits below the front panel surface and beneath this is a large illuminating lozenge shaped Mode button. These buttons are not strictly related to the channel strip in which they sit, rather they control the V-Pot modes. Printed labelling shows the default function of the Mode switches though this can change as a result of profiles. Insert, Send, EQ and other modes are selectable in the typical HUI or MCU protocol controller manner.

Each bank of eight faders has a long scribble strip with two rows of orange on black text. Annoyingly this strip doesn’t have a plastic screen cover, perhaps risking scratches under heavy use. It is a little surprising that SSL did not opt for the increasingly fashionable multi- coloured OLED displays here. However the screen is nice and easy to read and doesn’t fatigue the eyes.

SSL Nucleus 2

Below this are the rotary encoders, they are dubbed V-Pots by SSL and the push function referred to as V-Sel. These are a standout point of the control surface. They have a nice resistance to them like a real pot, yet have the continuous rotation of a normal rotary encoder. Next up there are switches for Cut, Solo and Channel Select. The Select button is also used for Automation settings, track arming and plug-in control. Finally we have the fader. A touch sensitive 100mm fader that is nice to use, but doesn’t quite match the smoothness of many large format console motorised faders. Flicking the faders down as once might on a console is not so easy but the fader caps do make up for that annoyance by being nice and smooth all round. The faders do run nice and quietly when automated.

The centre section offers function control, transport and an analogue input and monitoring section. There are two user soft key selectors that switch the functions of the Mode and V-Pots on channels 9-16. The scribble strip displays all the user modes that can be selected with the above Mode buttons, the relevant controls will then spill out onto the V-Pots/V-Sels with the parameters being listed on the scribble strip. These modes are fully customisable and range from editing functions and automation control to keyboard entry modes that allow single press naming of tracks in the DAW. This keyboard emulation mode seems to be a feature that SSL wants to promote, but the ability to drop in song position marker points with pre-determined section names is far more useful than the quick track naming option in practical use. A set of global DAW control keys allows selection of each of your 3 individual DAWs — remember that the DAWs can be running on separate machines on the Dante network if required — though a USB switcher may be needed for some functions.

The transport control offers a cursor key set that can be assigned to perform various functions in a given DAW. There is a very smooth and robust metal jog wheel that is another standout feature of the unit. The user assignable button next to the jog wheel can be quite useful but would have been better positioned in a location where the thumb could access it whilst using the wheel.

The analogue control area has two channels of SSL SuperAnalogue mic preamplifiers, each has a gain pot and buttons for phantom power, -20dB pad, high impedance input, phase invert, 80Hz high-pass filter and insert. These inserts can also be used to process a final mix sent in via Dante and recorded back similarly with the Mix button. The Mic pres offer exactly what you would expect from an SSL, super clean sound and a respectable +75dB of gain.

The Monitor section has a knob for volume control and an alt monitor button labelled Mini, though this is a little awkward to access as it is behind the headphone volume knob. An external 3.5mm input can be listened to or summed into the main mix. There is input blending via a pot for zero latency tracking and buttons for a variety of Mono modes. All this is topped off with a set of LED meters that can show Control Room Output (pre monitor level), Input levels or Mix Return level. The rear of the unit features all the I/O that one would expect, all terminated in high quality sockets, including sends and returns on 1/4” TRS and a talkback XLR with level trim. There is an onboard, two port ethernet switch that allows simple Dante network setups without additional switches and a three port USB hub. Other sockets include a 1/4” foot-switch connector, optical S/PDIF I/O and an SD card slot which offers storage for profiles uploaded via ethernet using the Nucleus Remote Software.

 The SSL Nucleus2 offers a mind-boggling degree of customisation and despite a few design niggles it is a very powerful system for the in-the-box engineer, as part of a networked production team or as a centre section for a small to medium sized studio. SSL’s adoption of Dante should-future proof this machine somewhat. Whilst it is at the top end of the market at £3399 (ex.VAT) it is definitely aimed at the working professional.