Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: Focusrite Saffire 6 USB Audio Interface

Since I've started messing around with synthesizers, I decided I needed a method to record my madness.  The world of DAW and audio interfaces is quite new to me.   It should be noted that I'm pretty old-school, having in the past messed around with 4-track tape units - both cassette and reel-to-reel, along with big analog mixing boards.  It took some reading and decisions on how I wanted to record before I pulled the trigger on this particular product.

The Focusrite Saffire 6 USB has two inputs and four outputs.  Featuring only two microphone preamplifiers that can be switched for line-level use, this is really a limited number of inputs, making it only suitable for stereo mixdown of a live band, recording only two musicians, or multi-tracking for a solo home studio.

Supplied software is Ableton Live Lite 8 and Novation's Bass Station synthesizer.  I won't go into the software aspects here, but will instead concentrate on the sound quality and hardware functions of the Saffire 6.

Unit quality is pretty high - not ultra high-end - but still, a pleasant surprise at this price level.  Being made out of metal, the case is rather rugged and has already survived one fall when my foot accidentally snagged a cable lying on the floor.  Plastic knobs aren't uber high quality, reminding me of mid-level gear, but certainly good at this price range. Front controls and jacks are fairly self-explanatory - two inputs that can accept XLR or 1/4" jacks.  These have level controls, along with overload indicators and line/microphone gain selection - useful for guitar direct-in and microphones versus higher outputs like keyboards.  There is also a 48V phantom power switch needed for some microphones.  Also included is a headphone jack and volume control, balance, and monitor level.

The back is home to the stereo RCA outputs and the four stereo/mono 1/4" jacks.  This is also where the USB connection is.  Note, there is no outboard power supply required since the Saffire 6 is powered through the USB.  MIDI in/out is also there for those who need it.

Attempting to record my first sample track and I immediately realized that two inputs is a limitation that must be considered when buying an audio interface.  In this case, I wanted to record my mono drum machine along with a stereo sequencer track from my synthesizer.  Since I only had two tracks available, I was forced to record the synth in stereo, and then had to add the drum track later.  This took some careful recording to accomplish with good results.  Adding another lead synth layer was easy enough, and latency was minimal enough with my Quad-Core processor PC that I could play in real time with the recorded event being synced correctly.

Sound quality is very good - I've heard higher-priced mixers and soundboards with worse inputs.  The end results were very clean, but still not antiseptic or cold.  A nice, natural sound that reflected the audio that was coming out of my keyboard amplifier.  Pretty much what I recorded was how it sounded during the creation.  Not bad at all.

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