FIG. 1: The two-space Mynx is a smaller, more affordable alternative to the X-Rack, SSL''s eight-space modular rack system. The Mynx can house the same modules, but it lacks the X-Rack''s MIDI I/O and Total Recall.
Solid State Logic (commonly known as SSL) is in the upper echelon of audio gear manufacturers. The company's E- and G-Series consoles became the standard mixing desks in large commercial studios throughout the '80s and '90s. Today, it's necessary for even the most high-end manufacturers to cater to small home and project studios, as well — hence, the 2005 introduction of SSL's modular X-Rack system, which enables engineers on a budget to incorporate small, handpicked SSL modules in their signal paths. The Mynx is the newest member of the X-Rack family, providing an even lower entry fee into the SSL club.
Shell of Its Former Self
The Mynx XLogic SuperAnalogue Desktop Mini X-Rack is a tabletop aluminum enclosure that accommodates two X-Rack modules or a single double-wide module (see Fig. 1). Inside the enclosure's rear panel are female multipin connectors that provide power and busing capabilities to the modules. The Mynx itself has no I/O connectors; rather, each X-Rack module has its own connectors providing the balanced I/O it needs (see Fig. 2). The only port on the Mynx's surface is the power jack, which connects to the external +5VDC lump-in-the-line-type power supply.
Because the Mynx doesn't do much on its own (other than provide your desktop with the austere Solid State Logic logo), SSL furnished me with seven X-Rack modules. Every module could warrant its own review, but I'll give you the simple lowdown on each.
Choose Your Modules
The Mic Amp module ($975) is a very clean, open mic preamp with 75 dB of gain, phantom power, polarity reverse, and a 20 dB pad. It also offers variable input impedance, a high-quality direct input, and continuously variable highpass and lowpass filters. The VHD Input module ($1,055) gives you more tonal variance than the Mic Amp by adding a Variable Harmonic Drive distortion circuit. The legendary SSL Listen Mic Compressor also finds a home on the VHD Input module.
The Channel EQ module ($975) is a 4-band EQ. The middle two bands are fully parametric, and the high and low bands are semiparametric, with shelf-to-bell switching capabilities. The Dynamics module ($975) is split into two sections: the compressor/limiter and the expander/gate. It has standard dynamics controls, including an external (key) sidechain input and multiple-module linking.
The two-space Stereo Bus Compressor module ($2,595), the only double-wide of the bunch, is based on the highly acclaimed stereo-bus compressor from the SSL G-Series console's center section. This module adds a key input and a few more ratio settings to the classic.
SSL provides two different modules for line-level summing. The Four-Channel Input module ($1,055) provides level control, panning, and inserts on each channel. The Eight-Channel Input module ($975) accepts eight line inputs in four stereo pairs. Both summing modules work only with the Master Bus module, which means that the Mynx can house a maximum of eight inputs for summing. If you want more inputs to sum, you have to graduate to the pricier eight-space X-Rack chassis ($2,045), but then you'd also get Total Recall, which remembers all knob and switch settings for easy resetting.
The Master Bus module ($1,255) works only with other modules. It provides control over the two potential buses coming off the input modules. This module has many features, but because it's more suitable for turning a full X-Rack chassis into a mixer, I don't think it makes the best use of the Mynx enclosure's valuable real estate.
An SSL in My Studio
It was fantastic to have the Mynx in my studio for a few weeks. Swapping the modules out often got a little tedious — there are four small Allen screws per rackspace (an Allen wrench is included) — but most users will have only as many modules as they have spaces for them. I used the preamps for vocals, strings, horns, and guitars through condenser, dynamic, and ribbon mics, all to great effect. The detail and clarity of the Mic Amp made me feel like I was in the room with the various instruments. Changing the impedance setting made for subtle tonal variations, but I usually heard the greatest clarity from the default impedance. The DI on the Mic Amp sounded really good on electric bass — full, round, and warm.
Although I didn't use the VHD circuit much for tracking, it was just the ticket for distorting drums during a mix. I ran a drum sub-bus into the mic input, enabled the high-impedance mode, and put the VHD control about two-thirds toward the third harmonic setting. Using the trim control, I brought the output level down enough to crank up the gain without overloading my console's channel. I engaged the LF filter at about 40 Hz to get rid of some of the distorted sound's low-end rumble, and put the Listen Mic Compressor on at about 20 percent for good measure. This effect, mixed low in my overall drum sound, added an energy to the performance that really made the drums pop. One small quibble with the LMC circuit is that it doesn't produce makeup gain, so the bypassed signal can get significantly louder than the compressed signal.
FIG. 2: The only connection on the Mynx''s barebones rear panel is the power jack. Audio I/O is on whatever modules are installed.
I used the EQ and Dynamics modules for tracking, but they impressed me most when paired up as a mixing channel strip. Among other uses, they helped me wrangle a questionably miked bass drum into a quite pleasing sound. The variability of the midrange Q controls allowed me to really target the frequencies I wanted to cut in the low mids and boost in the upper mids, especially when emulating the E-Series consoles. I also loved the ability to turn the high and low bands into bell shapes; I often prefer that to shelving when equalizing bass drum as it allows me to bring out a specific resonance or overtone more clearly.
Using the gate, it's clear why gating drums came into fashion about the time SSL consoles became ubiquitous — the gate actually sounds good on drums. I'm not much of a drum-gater in general, but I might become one if I had a rack of these pups. It's surprisingly easy to find the spot at which the gate is transparently doing its job — keeping the chocolate out of the peanut butter, so to speak. The compressor sounds excellent on drums, too. It excels at controlling the dynamics without producing any compression artifacts. If artifacts are what you want, though, you can easily push the Dynamics module into overdrive, as well. I'm usually not a big fan of auto-makeup gain — I like having a knob to make up my gain — but SSL does it pretty well, bringing the compressed signal close to the same level as the bypassed signal for easy A/B comparisons.
As much fun as I had with the other modules, the clear heavyweight champion is the Stereo Bus Compressor. I normally employ a Manley Variable Mu, which I still adore, on my stereo bus, but the SSL has its own sound — a bit punchier and tighter than the tube Variable Mu, especially in the low end. The Variable Mu sounds a bit pillowy by comparison. I've been favoring the SSL on my stereo bus about 3-to-1 during the past few weeks, but I'm aware it may be just a honeymoon period.
The only true problem I see with the Mynx is deciding which modules to outfit it with. Just about any studio owner would be thrilled to have two channels of the preamps, EQ, dynamics, or bus compressor, whereas the Channel and Master modules are better suited for the larger X-Rack. In any case, you're looking at around $2,500 to $3,000 for a fully loaded Mynx. That's not cheap, but it's certainly fair for the quality you'd be getting. If you do pick up the Mynx, it might be a stretch to start advertising yourself as an SSL studio, but you'd be two channels closer to such lofty claims.
Eli Crews employs both valve and solid-state logic at New, Improved Recording (newimprovedrecording.com) in Oakland, Calif.