Gear Reviews

SSL's X-Gate “begs to be played with; a very musical & inspiring tool"

Solid State Logic (SSL) has released X-Gate, which the company describes as a comprehensive and highly visual gating plugin inspired by the workflow from its digital broadcast consoles. Headliner’s Spotlight reviews editor investigates…

So a software gate plugin is just another gate plugin, right? A first look at SSL’s rather impressive new graphical interface for the X-Gate would suggest not, so let’s not close this gate after the horse has bolted, but check out this new addition to the SSL stable.

Over the last year or so I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing a number of new SSL plugins, all of which are available as part of the SSL Complete Bundle launched last year. This bundle also contains some old classics and favourites like SSL’s Channel Strip and Buss Compressor.

The X-Gate GUI is comprehensive and rather well laid out. It’s lovely to see the audio you’re about to process and the resulting audio you’re hearing quantified in such an accurate and informative way. It’s not long before the correlation between visual and audio has you zipping around this gate in a matter of seconds. 

I particularly like the traditional traffic light system for open, hold and close, which is reminiscent of the classic Drawmer hardware.

X-Gate begs to be played with, and is a very musical and inspiring tool

To the right of the traffic lights is a quick-to-use range graph which can either be adjusted using the LF and HF CUT rotaries on the bottom control bar or more conveniently by dragging the two markers on the graph to highlight the desired frequency range; particularly useful for focusing on the relevant frequencies of each drum in a drum kit for example.

This ability to focus on a small frequency range is incredibly useful for making sure only a specific tom triggers the gate, and is really good at cleaning up bleed from tom to tom and coincidently great for helping to reduce phase issues between mics around a drum kit. 

When a further control pot, the SC M/S (side chain mid/side) control is turned hard left, only the centre audio information will trigger the gate. At 12 o’clock, all of the audio triggers the gate, and at hard right, only the side audio information will trigger the gate.

To the left and right of the central display – as is common with many SSL plugins – are the input and output meters aligned above their respective rotaries for accurate gain staging. Between these is a really comprehensive set of visuals starting with a rolling graphical waveform representation of incoming audio. A horizontal green line, representing the opening threshold, and red line representing the closing value coincidently mirror the value boxes above. 

To the right of this graphic is a vertical dB meter and vertical slider for gain reduction, where the threshold for opening, closing and the range of reduction in dB is set. Again, you can either drag values up and down in the box or grab the relevant sliders within the display. 

Being able to adjust settings on a graphical representation of the incoming audio makes it very simple to set your open and close thresholds. Another useful control is the ability to switch between PEAK/RMS for detection, especially if you use your gate for other instruments besides drums.

Along the bottom bar are further controls for shaping the gate’s behaviour – these include Attack and Release times once the open and close thresholds have been breached, a Hold for increasing the time the gate is held open once the threshold is reached, and finally a Knee which becomes active when you engage the EXP button for expansion mode.

The EXP mode is really good if you want to widen the dynamic range without closing the gate altogether, or dramatically changing from one dynamic level to another in an abrupt manner. As mentioned earlier, the Knee control comes into its own and can really smooth the transition from your lowest to your quietest levels, creating a more transparent sound.

The Gate LISTEN button is also useful from a reference viewpoint to hear what it is you’re removing from your audio path, but could also be used as an effect in its own right should the mood take you. 

Lastly, on the bottom right is a really great GATE M/S, mid/side rotary control. Turn it hard left and the gating is applied only to the mid audio in your stereo field. Turn it hard right and only the side elements of your audio are affected by the gate. At 12 o’clock, the whole stereo signal is affected by the gate.

It's an extremely easy and intuitive plugin to use – a really excellent noise gate

Along the top of the main screen are further buttons for selecting side-chain EXTernal source audio to use as the trigger for your gate. 

An effect which was used on countless dance and pop productions in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the clever use of external triggers has been used for everything from adding low end resonance to kick drums and tuning toms with a tone frequency, to pulsing distorted guitars and big synth pads. 

This ability is a feature that made the hardware gates of old such a creative tool, so I’m really pleased to see these features on SSL’s X-Gate plugin.

In the top right-hand corner there’s a side chain box which gives you access to any of your created audio, instrument, input or bus channels. I have my SSL X-Gate open in Logic at the moment but the same is true for Cubase, Luna, Reaper and Pro Tools.

The EXT source can also be used to trigger the gate in EXP Mode (top right of the main screen), which gives you further control over a specific or group of instruments’ melody hook or key riff so that it sits up in all the right places and the rest stays perfectly tucked in the mix. 

Expansion creates greater dynamics and in conjunction with the Knee control can save you going through an entire song creating automation for every track. Classic examples here are brass stabs and dramatic string sections.

It’s also useful that you can listen to the incoming side chain signal and set your gate or expansion accordingly with the help of the rolling waveform graph. While I’ve always advocated an ears-first approach to mixing audio, some tool’s visual displays can really help you make better informed decisions that are both quicker and easier!


The look of the interface with its left-to-right workflow makes the SSL X-Gate an extremely easy and intuitive plugin to use. Apart from being a really excellent noise gate, I’m also impressed that it features every good and useful idea I’ve ever rated on all those magical hardware gates from yesteryear. 

It begs to be played with, and is a very musical and inspiring tool. As with all SSL plugins, there’s a really useful set of presets available from the presets menu along with the ability to save and recall your own. 

There’s also a little ‘?’ button in the bottom right that switches on the onboard help service – just move the mouse over any control for a description of the controls function.

Good news also for Apple M1 and Monterey users – SSL’s X-Gate ran without a hitch, as do all SSL’s plugins both in Native Apple and under Rosetta. As you can probably tell from the DAW list mentioned above, it’s available for all the usual AU/AXX/VST and VST3 formats. 

You can get X-Gate on its own at a special price during July, and it’s also available as part of SSL’s Complete Bundle and to existing subscribers.