Review: SSL B-Dyn 611B
Based on the SSL 4000B console dynamics section, this 500 Series processor is no shrinking violet.
In recent time Solid State Logic (SSL) has done a good job of meeting the need for innovation while keeping its roots well and truly alive with regular new-release nods to its big format console heritage. In the latter category we’ve seen numerous iterations of the master bus compressor, E series EQ, even the lesser-known listen mic compressor got a fresh guernsey. Now the company have taken a deep dive into the channel strips of the rare 4000B large format console (circa the late 70s) and have brought a feisty old dynamics circuit back into circulation in 500 series form.
The B-Dyn 611B is essentially the dynamics section of the channel strip from the 4000B console with a few modern enhancements and tricks thrown in. Unlike SSL’s subsequent channel compressor designs, the 4000B model derived its gain circuit from the channel fader and thus shared some feed-forward characteristics with the famed mix bus compressor. Being a more aggressive VCA design, its forte is juicy, thick, character-laden compression. The B-Dyn also packs a gate/expander that is no-frills but very effective. The controls are simple and the emphasis is on strong and colourful dynamic effects rather than smooth and transparent control — right up my current alley as it happens, and I very much enjoyed taking the B-Dyn for a test drive.
TRICK OR TREAT?
The layout of the B-Dyn is very straight forward once you get familiar with it. At the top of the unit are two rows of LED metering — the left hand side shows compressor gain reduction in red while the right gate/expander activity is in green. The more lights that illuminate, the harder the circuits are working. There’s also a Link button here that allows for two units to operate in stereo. Below these are three compressor rotary knobs to control ratio, threshold and release while a filter switch allows low frequency information to pass through the compressor circuit unmolested. The ratios are stepped at 1:2, 1:4 and 1:10 and there is also a DS (de-esser) setting for overly sibilant sources as well as a full circuit bypass. Threshold is continuously variable between -10dB and +20dB, giving a very useable range to dial in the right amount of effect. The Release control is also stepped and offers options at 0.2, 0.4, 0.8 and 1.6ms as well as a programme-dependent Auto mode that is a further nod to the old master compressor topology. As with the Ratio control there is a DS setting here which operates at very high speed to catch and release sibilance.
Below the compressor section a similar layout is employed for the Gate/Expander with three rotary controls and a switch to toggle between gate and expansion effects. The gate operates at a fixed 20:1 setting and the expander at 2:1 while the attack time is a relatively swift 0.2ms. The Range control is continuously variable from Out (bypass) to 25dB of gain suppression when the gate switches in, effectively allowing you to set the floor of your noise or quieter material suppression. The threshold (-30dB to +10dB) again gives a good range of control, while the five stepped release settings range from 0.1 to 1.6ms. Rounding out the controls at the bottom of the front panel is a global bypass button. SSL has a lot of experience in designing 500 series units, and this shows with a faceplate that is well populated yet doesn’t feel at all crowded. The choice of control parameters gives the unit quite a lot of flexibility while the legending and meters make for clear and quick setting assessment. My only minor gripe with the review unit was the slight offset of several rotary controls from their step markers, something quality control should probably have rectified before shipping.
NEED TO KNOW
SSL B-Dyn 611B
500 Series Compressor
I found in many instances that ‘too much’ was actually about right!
So how does it sound? Well, it quickly becomes apparent within the first half hour or so of use that the B-Dyn 611B compressor is no shrinking violet. While it can be set to more subtle gain reduction tasks, the real fun happens when the ratio control hits 1:4 and beyond, and the threshold nudges up towards maximum. The reward for these relatively forthright settings is a very pleasing and quite aggressive tonal saturation and pumping. Fine tuning the attack and release settings can really soften or harden the angles here, with the impact and quality of the transients being fully malleable, and, of course, the overall bombast can be gently eased off by simply backing off the threshold and/or ratio to taste. More extreme settings can make an acoustic guitar feel like it’s being strummed twice as hard, drums feel like they’re being punished by heavy-handed body builders and vocals feel like they’re being delivered under duress by an adrenalised vocalist six inches from your face. The sounds are big, bold yet pleasingly musical, and I found in many instances that ‘too much’ was actually about right!
SSL notes that the compressor’s threshold has a built in make-up gain circuit. I found this feature to be a bit hit and miss in practice, with the output levels jumping around a fair bit when toggling between ratios. Be prepared to work some manual make-up gain moves if you really want to explore the more aggressive side of the B-Dyn’s sounds, which of course you do! The DS settings are quite dramatic when enabled, pulling the overall level back and really clamping sibilance right down at higher settings. By spending time tweaking the controls, some very natural and eminently useable de-essing results are available here, though they do come at the expense of the other compression effects. Listening to the smooth, non-destructive results I was reminded again that hardware solutions can still do the de-essing job in a more seamless fashion than most software equivalents.
SHUT THE GATE
While the compressor and de-esser circuits impressed me with their colour and flexibility, these are far from the only tricks up the B-Dyn’s sleeve. Similar to the de-esser’s smoothness in operation, the gate circuit is very musical and useful in a range of applications. I spent some time working with a driving tom-and-snare beat and, once I had the compressor working pretty hard and the saturation nicely dialled in (with the sidechain filter keeping the bottom end nicely intact), applying the gate was the perfect cherry on top. Where the higher resonances of the snare were starting to get a little out of control due to the characteristics of the dynamics, the gate allowed me to fine tune how much ring and sustain carried through. I was surprised at the variety of ‘finishes’ I could conjure up: from slightly tightened up, to dry and clipped (but not in a bad way). On a mid-volume vocal I could lift the focus and intensity via a liberal dose of compression but use the gate to minimise the exaggerated breaths and other ‘in-between-lines’ sounds. The end result was a clean but noticeably more punchy and present vocal.
The expander shares the compressor’s aggressive character and while it can achieve good results at lower settings, needs to be used more carefully to avoid gate-like drop outs. I found the expander less useful than the gate but, being in most instances a corrective tool, this is probably the feature of the unit least likely to garner regular use and is still a handy feature.
As you can probably gather by now, I’m a big fan of the B-Dyn 611B. The wallop and harmonic distortion this unit delivers is extremely fun to work with and it has that ineffably pleasing analogue ‘thing’ that keeps the results musical and useful across a range of applications from voice to drums, synths to guitars. Quite capable of transparent control at lower settings, if you take more of a ‘guitar pedal’ mentality to tweaking it, the B-dyn absolutely rocks! It’s a sound that will work well in many genres but seems particularly suited to rock ’n roll, beat-based material and electronic music where plentiful grit and attitude is required. While the controls are a little limited compared to the more feature-rich compressors out there, the addition of a very musical gate, de-essing and an expander circuit means the B-dyn is much more than a one-trick pony. Take the SSL B-dyn for a test drive but be warned, once you hear it in action you won’t want to give it back!