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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Buzz Audio SSA 1.1

Catch a 'Buzz' with the SSA 1.1 microphone preamp

I got together with my good friend, Steve Beckett, to take a look at the Buzz Audio Stereo Source Amplifier Model SSA 1.1.

Steve operates a project studio known as Ghede Sound. He engineered, mixed and provided incidental music for an educational project involving Native American storytellers called Sky Tellers.

The SSA is a two channel micophone and instrument preamplifier. First, we tracked an Ovation acoustic bass through the bass' electronics. The SSA 1.1 faceplate contains a DI plug for each of the two channels. Its gain control is separate from the microphone gain. The DI gain control can add up to 40 dB of gain. The instrument and microphone preamplifier sections share controls for a high pass filter as well as mute/phase reverse switch.

I liked how the SSA 1.1 put across the attack on each note no matter what technique was used on the bass. The SSA 1.1's accuracy fell into that pleasant ground of not being so fast that the sound seemed sterile and analytical or so slow that it sounded smeared. Steve and I found the sound to be euphonic, meaning that it sort of possessed an exaggerated richness rather than literal accuracy. It also possessed presence, meaning it added a bit of aliveness to the sound.

The high pass filter cuts the low frequencies at 50 Hz and below. Steve is a solid bassist. I tracked him with and without the high pass filter engaged. I found the frequency selection perfect for those times when you want to track bass and leave a little room on the extreme low end for kick to take up that space.

Second, we tried acoustic guitar through the SSA 1.1's microphone preamplifer. The microphone preamplifier features a max of 65 dB of gain (with 15 dB coming through a gain boost switch) and 48 volts of phantom power.

For fun, we first put up a Shure SM57. It's not a mic we'd normally use for this application. We did not like the sound. We followed the SM57 with an Audio-Technica AT4047. The acoustic guitar sounded much better but subjectively we did not find the sound to our liking. We also agreed however we were playing with a not so great instrument. I won't hold this one against the SSA 1.1.

Third, we tried the SSA 1.1 on vocals with the SM57, the AT4047 and a Blue Baby Bottle. We found the SSA 1.1 translated vocals well. Yet, it did not add musicality to the source. As far as musicality, the Buzz gave us precisely the musicality coming from the source. If you got a good vocalist, then you're going to get a musically good track.

Finally, we tried the SSA 1.1 on dialog. The dialog came out as ear candy. We evaluate every mic preamp that comes through for dialog due to Steve's work with Native American storytellers. The SSA 1.1 arguably might be one of the best mic preamps for dialog recording. We later joked on the phone that it sort of gives an Orson Welles character to spoken word.

We discussed where the SSA 1.1 might fit in our own studios. We discussed its euphonic sound. We discussed its presence. We also discussed how it translated the musicality of the source. We thought these qualities best suited for dialog, snare drum, overheads, kick drum, guitar amps and bass.

The Bottom Line: We found the Buzz Audio Stereo Source Amplifier Model SSA 1.1 to be a desirable piece of kit. We liked its euphonic sound as well as the presence it added to audio. There is also a version with Sowter output transformers. Recommended.

--Steven Langer

Buzz Audio

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