Vocals have always been one of the most critical elements of a song. They’re meant to tell a story, convey emotion, and take listeners on a journey through melody. The greatest songwriters of all-time nail the storytelling aspect of music in a way that evokes a response from listeners, and hopefully keeps them coming back for more. Even with the explosive popularity of electronic production in genres like hip-hop, pop, and R&B, vocals are still up front and center; they’re a direct human connection to the audience. Our review today covers the SSL Vocalstrip 2: a four-in-one powerhouse plugin cleverly built for high-quality vocals, every time.
Solid State Logic Has Leveled Up with Vocalstrip 2
Looking back at the first version of Vocalstrip, a lot has changed. The original ran on SSL’s Duende DSP system. It might be considered revolutionary by ’08 standards, but seems a little dated today.
At first glance, Vocalstrip 2‘s interface is leaps and bounds prettier than the original version’s. And that’s just after a superficial inspection. Under the hood, SSL supports native operating systems, so you don’t need Duende DSP to run the current suite of SSL Native plugins. While the original design and intent of Vocalstrip remains the same, Vocalstrip 2 has obviously undergone serious sonic and visual enhancements since its introduction in 2008/2009.
Achieve Professional Sounding Vocals without the Headache
Anytime an all-in-one plugin promises to be a solution to a certain problem, there’s some warranted skepticism. Many of us spend years coming up with just the right chain of effects for polished and professional vocals — surely one plugin couldn’t do away with that, right?
With SSL at the helm, the answer is less clear. Vocalstrip 2 combines everyday vocal processing effects, each of which has been carefully calibrated to treat and sweeten vocal recordings. If anyone knows anything about professional sound, it’s definitely Solid State Logic.
SSL Vocalstrip 2 Review: How Does It Work & Sound?
SSL Vocalstrip 2 is a channel strip with voice-specific effects. These include a dynamics section (Compander), a De-Esser, a De-Ploser, and a transparent three-band EQ. Each of these has been intelligently designed to address routine challenges associated with vocal mixing. It simplifies the process of crafting an upfront vocal with presence, body, smoothness, and a crisp, modern sound.
The EQ section includes a high-pass filter, an asymmetric notch, and an air band for that crystalline edge on nicely mixed vocals. Both the De-Esser and De-Ploser have threshold and frequency controls to isolate and mitigate sibilance and low-end plosives.
The Compander section features a small array of dynamics processing. These include compression, downward expansion, and an output drive (makeup gain). This stage is responsible for both leveling out a recording as well as grabbing it and bringing it to the front of a mix.
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Most vocal-dominant genres require this type of mixing, where the performance is super intimate and in-your-face. SSL’s Compander makes it easy to achieve.
Useful Visual Feedback
Each section of Vocalstrip 2 includes a gorgeous graphic display for a visual representation of what’s happening with the incoming audio. The Compander shows the input signal in relation to the threshold, in addition to the input and output of both loud and quite events. The De-Esser and De-Ploser display real-time information regarding frequency-specific gain reduction, also retaining a history of events that you can reference. Finally, we have EQ curves and a real-time frequency analyzer of incoming signal.
SSL Native plugins like Vocalstrip 2 run on Mac OS 10.12 or higher, including Apple M1 Native support. SSL Native runs on Windows 7, 8, and 10. For both operating systems, SSL recommends a minimum dual-core Intel processor running at 2.4GHz and 4GB of RAM.
How Does It Sound?
Naturally, SSL injects decades worth of audio expertise into all of their plugins. Vocalstrip 2 is relatively transparent overall, and certainly doesn’t degrade the quality of the signal coming in. Rather than being a specific tone-shaping or “colorful” tool, Vocalstrip is more of a utilitarian plugin for getting great sound vocals fast. The only exception is the EQ’s air band that can add a ton of very pleasant high-end to an otherwise dull vocal.
Closing Thoughts: Is SSL Vocalstrip Worth the Price?
This is a plugin made for those who don’t already have a go-to vocal chain, or anyone looking for fast and easy results. Chances are you may not need to shell out for this plugin if you’re happy with your current vocal mixes. As a standalone piece of software at its price, however, it may actually be cheaper to buy this over the individual components themselves — assuming you don’t already have them.
Overall, this is a really effective, well thought-out design by SSL. Mixing vocals isn’t easy, but this definitely takes away some the mystery.