Softube Console 1 MkII
Friday, September 8, 2017
A redesign rather than an ´upgrade´, the second iteration of Softube´s Console 1 channel strip plugin and controller commbo doesn´t bring any new hardware functionality to the table (just very minor layout changes and brighter LEDs), and the software is the same as that available to users of Mk1. However, through a series of free updates, that software has come on quite a bit since we reviewed the original Console 1 (8/10, cm204), and with a massive price drop from £719 to £439, our main criticism of it - that it was very expensive - has certainly been addressed. Let´s take another look...
Strip to the bone
Console 1 consists of the Console 1 plugin (VST/AU/AAX) and a USB-powered hardware controller - and it is ´only´ a controller, not a UAD-style DSP box; the software runs entirely native to the host Mac or PC. The plugin is a modular channel strip, incorporating three main sections: Shape (gating and transient shaping), Equalizer and Compressor. Each section loads its own software model from a menu of classic emulations, initially limited to the three corresponding elements of the stunning bundled SSL SL4000E channel strip that we covered in the original review; but over the last three years, the library of separately available add-on modules has grown considerably. You can now splash out on the equally impressive British Class A ($249), SSL XL 9000 K-Series ($329) and Summit Audio Grand Channel ($329) full channel strips, many of Softube´s other plugins (Drawmer S73, Trident A-Range, etc), and - with the latest software - a number of UAd plugins.
Input and Output modules bookend the three main sections, housing High and Low Cut filters, Volume, Pan, Solo and Mute controls, overdrive (also modelled as part of the loaded emulation) and various utility functions: signal flow, sidechain routing, phase invert, etc.
The plugin UI simply comprises a graphical representatioon of the hardware controller, for use when it´s not attached. The actual parameters of the loaded modules are revealed in the On-Screen Display, which we´ll get to shortly.
The controller is a reassuringly hefty metal wedge, roughly the size of an old-school QWERTY keyboard and studded with labelled rotaries and buttons that automatically map to the parameters of the three loaded modules, as well as LEDs indicating every knob position and button selection, and ´approximate´ LED ladder meters for input/output levels and Shape/Compresor gain changes.
1 of a kind
The console 1 workflow goes like this: load the plugin onto every track, auxiliary and bus in your DAW to build a virtual mixing console - a full 4000 E, a hybrid 4000/9000, or whatever you like and can afford; hop between channels with the 20 Select Track buttons (Page buttons shift up and down in banks of 20) to take control of their channel strips; and use the controller´s Volume and Pan knobs, and Mute and Solo buttons to govern basic mix functions via the plugins rather than your DAW´s mixer. The idea, ultimately, is to leave your DAW mixer set at its defaults and mix entirely via the controller.
Visualisation of the specific parameters for the selected channel strip and its modules is handled by the pop-up On-Screen Display (OSD), which mirrors the hardware layout but names each knob to exactly match its assigned module control, and provides more accurate metering than the LEDs and a spectral analyser in the EQ section. Being so big (although it can be shrunk down to just a meter bridge) and taking precedence over all other windows, the OSD is ideally positioned on a second monitor. Hitting the Display On/Off button to open and close it soon becomes second nature for those not so-equipped, however.
While all major DAWs are able to send track names to the OSD, so you always know which mixer channel you´re working on, only two of them - Cakewalk Sonar and PreSonus Studio One - feature full "Intergrated DAW Control", communicating track selection to and from the hardware, as opposed to keeping DAW and Console 1 track selection completely seperate. More importantly, they also send Pan, Send (using Shift to modify the Drive, Character and Pan knobs), Mute and Solo control data directly to the DAW´s mixer rather than the Console 1 plugin. This might seem like a small thing, but in use, it noticeably enhances the workflow, making the connection between Console 1 and those two DAWs feel more symbiotic than it does with al others. Support for Intergrated DAW Control is down to DAW developers (several of whom are working on it, we´re told), so while the lack of it for most definitely strings, we can´t blame Softube.
Console 1 is every bit as powerful and brilliantly realised as we reported in our original review, genuinely enabling full mixing capability in software without mouse input, using a knock-out library of components and strips. Of course, the spell is temporarily broken whenever you need to adjust a non-Console 1 plugin - a frequent occurence in most projects, naturally - but there´s no way around that. We loved Console 1 last time we looked at it, and with a £280 price drop, that ever-expanding library and awesome UAD integration, we love it even more now. Even if you never add to the base SL4000E strip that comes with it, it´s worth every penny, combining superb sound with a thrilling hands-on workflow, and being much easier to use than you probably think.