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Softube Console 1 Integrated System Review

Softube Console 1 Screen

TL;DR:

Softube Console 1 Review: The Console 1 is an hardware/software device that builds upon the success of Softubes large native plugin collection by increasing workflow with a physical desktop mixer panel. All DSP is handled by the hosts CPU whilst the Console 1 provides a desktop control solution to work with the on screen plugin. Whilst it works well, the Console 1 appears to be quite costly.


Review Preface:

Over the years, Swedish plug-in developers Softube have made their mark on the industry with highly sought after plug-in emulations of vintage hardwares. They’ve even collaborated with other manufacturers such as Universal Audio and Native Instruments; but the new Console 1 strays from the software path. This is their first foray into the world of hardware; but if you’d like to get on board, it comes at quite a price.


Package Contents:

The Console 1 comes packaged with the hardware controller, a USB 2.0 cable, and a code to download the software. Along with the code are instructions on how to set up, download, install and get started with the Console 1. The plug-in and the hardware are essentially one item, to get the full use of the Console 1 plug-in, the hardware needs to be connected to your computer to get the full GUI.


Supported Platforms and Installation:

The Console 1 was initially only supported by Max OS X but now it is also available for Windows platforms. Common requirements for both are: screen resolution 1280x800 or larger, 1GB RAM and 900MB hard disc space, VST, VST3, AU or AAX (Pro Tools 10.3.7, 11.2.1 or higher), USB 2.0 connection and an iLok License Manager.


To run the Console 1 software you need Mac OS X 10.7 or higher or Windows 7/Windows 8.1 or higher. The DAWs that support automatic transfer of track names and numbers are: Presonus Studio One 2.6, Cubase 7.5, Nuendo 6.5 and more recently, Ableton Live 8.4.1 (AU only, for this functionality track names are required to start with “#”). The Console 1 does not support AAX DSP.


Installation of the Console 1 plug-in was quick and easy. Once downloaded and installed from Softube’s own plug-in manager, authorising it through the iLok License Manager is the next simple task. It should be noted that it requires an iLok account and not an iLok dongle.


Functions and In-Use Thoughts:

The Console 1 is not like most control surfaces on the market as it does not use any variation of MIDI to control your DAW and plug-ins. In fact, it does not even make the attempt to be a controller that controls any other plug-ins. Instead, Softube’s Console 1 has been designed to control its own plug-in. The Console 1’s dedicated plug-in is a complete channel-strip designed to be placed as an insert in all of your channels in any given project. It enables you to ‘perform’ your entire mixing process from the Console 1 itself, without ever having to place a finger on your mouse or keyboard.


Once the Console 1 is plugged into your computer, it loads up its own separate, unique GUI layer that pops up taking over the whole screen, showing all the parameters available to you. This can be resized to a more uniform scale to be in line with your other plug-ins, though with it taking up the whole screen, it sometimes serves as a nagging reminder you are using software instead of the actual SSL models the Console 1 is modelled from. One minor issue was that if you clicked on the Console 1 GUI at any point, your DAW would no longer be the active application and as a result, key commands would no longer work - even the most basic controls of start/stop. This did disrupt workflow on multiple occasions but by no means is it a deal breaker.

Softube Console 1

Slowly getting accustomed to the Console 1 meant that over time, the need to reach for the mouse or the keyboard dwindled as all the controls can be accessed from the hardware. It also isn't necessary to have the GUI open all the time as there is some visual feedback on the hardware, although not in as much detail as the plug-in due to the lack of a built-in screen display. There are two modes in which you can dictate the frequency of the on screen GUI; 'on' and 'auto'. Selecting 'on' means that the plug-in display is, by default, always in the forefront of your display. The more flexible mode was 'auto' as this shows and hides the GUI layer automatically whenever a parameter is altered on the hardware, or a button is pushed to bring up the GUI. There is also a 'Display' button, with its sole purpose to do just that, bring up the display without affecting any of the parameters in any way.


Along the top of the hardware itself is a series of buttons labelled 1 to 20, these are used to switch from one channel to the next. The channel that is active here is the channel that the controller will be assigned to and not the active plug-in inside the DAW. At first this can be a little confusing but with more time spent with the Console 1, the more this starts to make sense as you are not limited to systematic way of connecting controller and software. Furthermore, using the controller can be frustrating as there is no inbuilt display to compliment the on screen actions. Having this small addition can help in a number of situations and will polish off the controller nicely.


The console strip that the Console 1 is based on is an SSL 4000 E studio console and this comes as the default. The three modules within this can be swapped out for any of Softube's other EQ and dynamics modules however, this feature was not tested as we do not own any other Softube plug-ins. Even though there is the ability to switch out modules within the Console 1 plug-in, the SSL 4000 E channel-strip is not available outside of the Console 1.


Delving deeper into the Console 1's modelling of the SSL 4000 E, we found that there some differences in the functionalities between the software and the original hardware. For example, the Shape module does not have a 'fast attack' option nor is the 'range' knob present on the SSL 4000 gate. The Console 1 model also replaces the original hardware's 'Expand' and 'Gate' modes with 'soft-knee' and 'hard-knee' options to change the ratio. One trick the Console 1 does have up its sleeve is that it contains a transient shaper, with this making up for the missing gate features.


The EQ model is based off the E 424 EQ module which was developed with Sir George Martin for his SSL console at AIR Studios. This module was known for its tonal, aggressive controls with steep filtering. This EQ design is what SSL continue to use on their E-Series of EQs. The EQ on the Console 1 does capture this aggressive tone of the EQ curves and also enables you to switch the low and high-bands into additional filters if so desired, a feature that is not present in the original.


The stand out feature on the Console 1 is the compressor. With the inclusion of a mix knob, it enables the user to achieve quick parallel compression without the need for any additional channels; this feature was not present on the original consoles. This SSL channel compressor truly is remarkable. Its versatility can be pushed to the limits and it can tame any signal incoming. With a slow attack and a low ratio, this compressor can become completely transparent. On the other side of the spectrum, increase the attack and the compression becomes very aggressive. Mixing drums on the Console 1 is highly satisfying as the flexibility means that you can get your drum bus sounding as smooth or as punchy as you wish.


Softube have even gone as far as to try to emulate the harmonics and the non-linearity of the SSL 4000 E Consoles by adding a 'Drive' and 'Character' the the final output section. By pushing the drive, the Console 1 can emulate the line-amps of the SSL console hardware, with the 'Character' control changing the tonal texture of the distortion, from bass heavy distortions right up to the high-end.


Starting off with Softube's Console 1 was a very 'different' experience and left us feeling slightly confused as to why they had gone down this route of making a console that only controls its own application. As time went on, utilising the Console 1 with every project and every mix, the more it became a necessity. Despite the initial sessions being rather 'fiddly' and confusing, this is a product that gets better and better over time. Once you have passed the initial hurdle of creating a template with the Console 1 plug-in on every track, work flow starts to become seamless.


A lot of mixing these days is done 'in the box’; constantly staring at a screen and the never ending tweaking with a mouse and keyboard can get tiresome. With the Console 1 this feeling changes. It becomes more like mixing on a real console. You don't seem to notice the screen much as you get used to switching from channel to channel on the Console 1 hardware and, most importantly, using your ears instead of visual queues on how the mix should sound.


Review Conclusion:

Softube’s Console 1 is a breath of fresh air when it comes to mixing, even though it is still essentially a plug-in with a dedicated controller, it feels like so much more. Once this starts becoming a part of your workflow, it will never leave. All of this does come at a price, and a substantial one at that. If you have the funds, now is the time to take the plunge; the Console 1 by Softube has earned four stars out of a possible five from The Pro Audio Web Blog.



Harnek Mudhar

Harnek Mudhar - 3rd November 2014

International RRP: €839.00 - £719.00

Editors Rating:

Four Star Award
Softube Console 1 Review
4/5 stars
Softube Console 1 Review: The Console 1 is an hardware/software device that builds upon the success of Softubes large native plugin collection by increasing workflow with a physical desktop mixer panel. All DSP is handled by the hosts CPU whilst the Console 1 provides a desktop control solution to work with the on screen plugin. Whilst it works well, the Console 1 appears to be quite costly.