Solid State Logic's hardware offers a stunning combination of highly controllable EQ and dynamics with a sound that's as good as you'll get from the best dedicated outboard gear. Unfortunately, an SSL desk is completely out of the home user's price range; this is why everyone's so excited about Duende.
A 19" rack-mountable, DSP-filled FireWire box and plug-in combo, Duende runs improved versions of the algorithms that are used in SSL's C Series digital consoles. Its plug-ins operate in exactly the same way as native ones, and they're modelled on the classic SSL channel strip and the much sought after bus compressor from the XL9000K desk.
Duende offers 32 mono channels or 16 stereo channels of processing, though you can halve these numbers if you're operating at a higher rate than 48kHz.
Put simply, the bus compressor is one of the best you'll ever hear, and it also serves as a fantastically phat limiter when thrown across your whole mix. The channel strip, meanwhile, has an input filter section, a four-band EQ with sweepable high and low frequencies and two fully parametric midrange controls. There's also a compressor, a gate/expander and an output gain stage.
Unless you've actually tried them, it's hard to explain quite how these plug-ins respond and sound better than, say, those that are bundled with Logic Pro, but trust us when we say that they really do. Despite a few limitations, you'll almost certainly find they cover all your mixing needs.
One aspect of the Duende plug-ins that can't be overlooked is their appearance and feel. The GUIs are beautifully rendered - complete with shadows and perspective - and you sometimes feel like you're leaning over real hardware.
When you alter a parameter, the action is so stunningly smooth that you'll probably spend five minutes staring at the screen just twisting knobs and pushing buttons before you even think about doing anything practical with them. We certainly did.
Whenever you put audio equipment on a FireWire bus, you run the risk of latency problems, but we didn't experience much trouble in this area, even with Duende daisy-chained after a Focusrite Liquid Mix. Besides, given that this is a mixing tool, latency shouldn't really be a problem - providing you don't call on Duende until you've finished recording, that is.
One slightly irritating quirk, though, is that Duende doesn't seem to like offline bouncing. If you run the first version of the software, you get glitches galore when this feature is in use, and even with the v1.1 update installed, it still only bounces at real-time speed. Another potential source of frustration is that only one Duende can be used at a time, and there's no provision for adding expansion DSP packs.
We'd like to be able to surprise you in these closing lines, but we have to say that Duende is one of the most sublime sounding and ergonomically beautiful items you could add to your studio. However, it's hard to say which would win a fight between this or Focusrite's Liquid Mix. Both offer stunning emulations of classic hardware, but the interface and overall power of the SSL is better.
What's more, Duende seems to offer slightly smoother transitions between settings. However, the variety of plug-ins in the Liquid Mix (plus the promise of more) and its lower price will make it a more appealing proposition for many users. In the end, you wouldn't regret buying both or either, so if you're lucky enough to be facing such a dilemma, don't complain too loudly!
We'd hesitate to say you actually need a Duende, but if you're going for that genuine 'pop' sound, you'll make your life an awful lot easier if you do get one. For more electronic styles, it's not quite as vital, but don't let that put you off if you have the cash to spare. In short, Duende rocks!