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Can you (finally) afford a used SSL or used Neve console for your studio?

You probably didn't think you could afford an SSL or Neve mixing console for your studio. Well you probably still can't - but at least now there is a chance...

To work in a studio with a 56-channel (or more) SSL or Neve mixing console used to be a dream. You couldn't possibly afford a console such as this with a price tag of several hundred thousand dollars. So access was restricted to people who were determined and fortunate enough to land a job in such a studio.

But now things are different. Large SSL and Neve mixing consoles still cost as much as they ever did, but what is different now is that there is a glut of used consoles on the secondhand market. Consoles such as these have always been available secondhand - the traditionally poor financial management of many studios has forced many bankruptcy sales. But the cost of a secondhand console wasn't all that much different from a new console, once maintenance, transport and installation were taken into account.

However, many studios now are converting to systems such as the Digidesign Icon, which integrates Pro Tools with a large control surface. New studios opening up are more likely to choose this kind of system than a costly SSL or Neve.

So the cost of secondhand SSL and Neve consoles has plummeted to astoundingly low levels. Granted, we are not talking about bedroom studio budgets, but if you own your own home, you could consider refinancing to free up enough money for one of these beauties.

Oddly enough, a secondhand SSL console can be bought for significantly less than a similarly configured Neve. New SSL's were comparable to Neve in price possibly because there was a larger pool of engineers with SSL experience. But now the market is mainly in private studios, probably only one engineer will ever operate the console. There is also a bigger question mark over the reliability of used SSL's.

Don't get too carried away with the low secondhand prices though. Mixing consoles need maintenance, at the very least having broken and missing knobs replaced. They also possibly need 'recapping', where capacitors on the circuit boards, certain types of which degrade over time, are replaced. Large-scale mixing consoles being as complex as they are, expect to pay thousands of dollars even for a routine service. Also, there will be shipping costs - these consoles only number in hundreds worldwide, so when you find one that suits your needs, it may be in South Africa or somewhere. (And South Africa is a big place even if you live there).

But when you have your SSL or Neve mixing console rejuvenated, installed and commissioned, and ready to rock, you can be sure that your investment will maintain its value better than the Digidesign alternative. Your console will probably already be ten years old at least. It will age gracefully and in ten years time it will be hardly any different, and still command as much respect. But the alternative - well consider how much respect you would give to a ten year old Pro Tools system now.

Owning a classic SSL or Neve mixing console is like owning a classic car. It's expensive to run and requires some care over maintenance; it isn't as fast and sometimes doesn't have all the facilities of a newer model. But you will never tire of it, it won't go out of fashion, and you can be guaranteed that heads will turn.

By David Mellor Thursday June 16, 2005