The Duende Mini includes SSL''s excellent-sounding EQ and Dynamics Channel Strip plug-in.
Solid State Logic (SSL) has released the Duende Mini ($795), the newest member of its family of plug-in accelerators. For those not familiar with the Duende product line, it consists of hardware and software components. Four SHARC processors connect via FireWire or PCIe to the host computer to run the plug-ins. These plug-ins were written by SSL and are derived from its C-series line of digital consoles, which in turn are modeled on the sound of its famous 4000- and 9000-series analog consoles. The Duende Mini is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later (Intel and PowerPC) and Windows XP, and comes in VST, RTAS (via an included VST wrapper), and AU formats.
The original Duende (now dubbed the Duende Classic) was the first product in this line and consists of a 1U FireWire 400-based unit that includes plug-in re-creations of the EQ and Dynamics sections of the SSL C200 channel strip, as well as the company's famous bus compressor. (A PCIe card-based version is also available.) The Duende Classic can run 32 mono instantiations of the plug-ins at 44.1 or 48 kHz and half that number at 88.2 or 96 kHz. Note that the Duende family runs only SSL plug-ins, not third-party software. In addition, the SSL plug-ins run only on the Duende — you can't run additional instantiations on your host computer. For more information, see the review of the Duende Classic in the July 2007 issue, available at emusician.com.
The Duende Mini is a smaller and even less expensive way to get the SSL sound onto your desktop. It is a 1/3U unit that comes in a sleek, sturdy aluminum case. It includes a FireWire 400 cable and a universal wall-wart power supply, suitable for use in all countries. It actually has the same signal-processing capability as the other Duende products. In its initial configuration, however, only two of the SHARC chips are active, allowing you 16 mono instantiations at 44.1 or 48 kHz and 8 instantiations at 88.2 or 96 kHz. You can double the Duende Mini's processing power by purchasing the DSP upgrade ($399), which turns on the other two SHARCs. This approach is a terrific way to dip your toes in SSL's waters before investing more money for greater capacity.
The Duende Mini includes the stellar EQ and Dynamics Channel Strip plug-in. I can't say enough good things about the sound and functionality of this plug-in within the space allotted. It has a sweet-sounding EQ that emulates both type G and type E EQ curves, and a versatile compressor/limiter and gate/expander. This plug-in unabashedly brings the sound of big-budget rock albums to the world of DAW mixing.
Unlike the Duende Classic, the Duende Mini does not come with the Stereo Bus Compressor plug-in ($399), though a trial version is included. This punchy compressor adds girth to drum submixes and overall mixes, smoothing out the peaks and bringing up average signal level in a familiar and wonderfully musical way. If you own the Mini, I think it will be more a matter of when you will be purchasing this plug-in, rather than if.
SSL has created three additional plug-ins you can buy for the Duende family: Drumstrip ($399), a drum-specific suite of processing; X-Comp ($499), a mastering-grade compressor/limiter; and X-EQ ($599), a 10-band equalizer with every bell and whistle known to man. These plug-ins are available for the Mini and will run identically as on the other Duende products. Trial versions of all three also come with the Mini.
SSL has defined its pricing structure so that a Mini upgraded to identical functionality to the Classic (by having the DSP and Stereo Bus Compressor upgrades) ends up costing virtually the same as purchasing the Classic in the first place. As a result, the one you choose really becomes a matter of convenience — if you are a portable-laptop-studio type, the Mini might be a better choice, whereas the easily rackable Classic might be better for a permanent installation.
I'm quite enthusiastic about the sound of this product. In working extensively with the Duende Mini over the last two months, I've been continually delighted by its performance. I've been using it to mimic a console, strapping a Channel Strip across every track and a Bus Compressor across the master bus. My mixes seem to have a richer, bigger sound, and using the same plug-in on each track makes the process of dialing in the sounds quicker and more intuitive than in my pre-Duende days.
The Duende Mini is an excellent introduction to mixing with the SSL sound. The DSP and plug-in upgrade path is a great way to keep the initial cost down. But don't say I didn't warn you: once you buy the Mini, you'll want to be saving your nickels for those upgrades. The Duende Mini delivers amazing sound in a small package at a reasonable price. What's not to like? Nice job, SSL.
Value (1 through 5): 4
Solid State Logic