AF’s Weblog

December 8, 2010

RME Babyface Review

Most manufacturers have been adding compact audio interfaces to their product range for several years, and now is time for RME and its Babyface. Many mobile musicians and sound engineers have been eagerly waiting for this new USB2 compatible interface…

This end of year is full of new launches at RME: the high-end Fireface UFX (already reviewed by AudioFanzine) and the Babyface, which belongs to the affordable line of RME products. The word “affordable” is relative, of course, considering that the Babyface’s price tag is nearly $750… However, the Babyface is the German manufacturer’s most compact and affordable external interface and it will surely appeal to mobile home-studio owners searching for quality.

Inside the box you’ll find the user’s manual, a breakout cable and an extension cable to add inputs and outputs to the Babyface (see below), a USB2 cable, a nice transport bag to carry the interface, the cables and a mic (for example), and the Babyface itself with its blue and gray finish. The interface is quite compact (3.9″ x 1″ x 6.3″) but it is heavy enough (1.1 lb.) to sit stably on your desk — it feels sturdy. This impression is reinforced by the metal housing with the typical RME blue finish. Only the knobs and the jog wheel are made out of plastic. The wheel doesn’t seem to be too tough; the first few months of intensive use will show if it has what is takes…

Plug-in Baby

RME Audio Babyface

In spite of its compact size, the Babyface offers comprehensive connections: two mic inputs on XLR connectors, line outputs (on XLR connectors as well), MIDI in/out on 5-pin DIN connectors, and a headphones minijack output (which can also be used as line out). All connections are routed through the breakout cable, linked to the Babyface via a 25-pin D-Sub connector, similar to the ones on VGA graphic cards. On the interface itself you have an instrument input, which replaces the second mic input when activated via the TotalMix FX software, and a second phones out which is electrically linked to the first one. This means that the maximum output volume decreases when two headphones are connected at the same time, and also that both outputs deliver the same audio signal. In other words, you can’t send different mixes to the headphones. You’ll also find an ADAT Toslink input and output, which is a rather nice surprise considering the size and price of the interface. The ADAT option allows the user to connect an external converter and add 8 in/out channels. Nice! Finally, the interface features a connector for an external PSU (not included) and a USB cable with two connectors, in case the USB bus of your computer doesn’t provide enough current (the manufacturer states that the Babyface requires 300 mA).

RME Audio Babyface

On the top panel you’ll find some LEDs and buttons to control certain parameters without having to use the TotalMix FX software. The jog wheel allows you to control the gain of both analog inputs (simultaneously or separately), the volume of the main line outputs or the phones out level. You can select the mode (In, Out or Phone) using the select buttons underneath the jog wheel. A simple click on the jog wheel allows you to activate the dim function (temporary volume reduction) while in Out or Phone mode. The last LED shows the sync status of the digital clock. The source of the clock can be internal or external (via ADAT and S/PDIF).

Two 10-segment LED meters show the level at the inputs or outputs, which is a very valuable feature considering the size of the interface. Usually, manufacturers use only one or two LEDs for similar products… Well done RME!

Now, let’s take a look at the software package included…

Conclusion

RME succeeded in launching a compact and rugged interface with remarkable sound quality. At about $750, this baby provides two quality mic preamps and converters, ADAT in/out, a jog wheel, a transport bag, and a pair of nice-looking VU-meters. Add TotalMix FX —the virtual mixer that allows you to manage all 22 channels and process the signals (EQ, filter, reverb, and echo)— to the package and you get the best mobile audio interface on the market. It obviously has some drawbacks, like the poor precision of the gain controls, the fact that the two headphones outputs are not independent and the sturdiness of the jog wheel, but nothing is perfect in this world…

Advantages:

  • Quality of the preamps and converters
  • ADAT input and output
  • TotalMix FX with EQ, reverb and echo
  • 10-segment LED level meters
  • Size (it does matter!)
  • Metal housing
  • USB powered
  • Convenient jog wheel and buttons
  • Nice transport bag
  • Xmas is coming soon

Drawbacks:

  • Input gain control in 3 dB steps
  • Will the plastic jog wheel survive over the years?
  • The two headphone outputs are not independent
  • I have to send it back

To read the full detailed article see:  RME Babyface Review

November 23, 2010

RME FireFace UFX Review

Six years after the FireFace 800, RME hits the external audio interface market again with a new flagship product: the FireFace UFX, which doesn’t really replace its big brother — it outright and blatantly outclasses it. Focus on what could be the ultimate interface.

We have been waiting a long time for a new product that would replace the famous FireFace 800 — a best-seller and a standard among digital audio interfaces. We were surprised to discover a new FireFace that isn’t meant to replace the 800 but to extend the top range of RME products. Yes, the UFX beats the old good FireFace 800 in every respect, but it is also much more expensive. So, what’s new? Let’s have a closer look…

RME FireFace UFX

The interface won’t look that unfamiliar when you unpack it: the FireFace UFX is a 1U rack with exactly the same dimensions as the FireFace 800. It has the classic RME look: blue, gray and metal. It looks serious but we’ve seen sexier things! However, there is no doubt that this is a FireFace…

However, taking a closer look you will notice that the interface is very different from its big brother — both at the software and hardware levels. Let’s start with the hardware.

Nice Looks, Nice Display

RME FireFace UFX

The front panel is equipped with four Neutrik combo connectors for XLR and 1/4″ jacks. You can feed the inputs with a mic, line or instrument (guitar, bass, etc.) signal. Each of the four analog inputs has three LEDs to indicate when a signal is present, the 48-V phantom power for condenser mics is on and the 1/4″ jack is selected. We’ll explain further on how to use these features.

On the right hand, you’ll find the two fully independent, in terms of volume settings and source selection, headphone outputs (9/10 and 11/12). In other words, each headphone gets its own mix.

RME FireFace UFX

You’ll also find standard MIDI ins/outs in the form of 5-pin DIN connectors, plus a mysterious host type USB port. A quick look in the documentation revealed that this port has currently no function, but the manufacturer promises that it will allow the user to connect a USB key or a hard drive in the future (with a firmware upgrade?). The FireFace UFX will then become a standalone direct-to-disk recording system giving you the possibility to record and read audio files directly from the USB storage device. Nice! The manufacturer promises to free you completely from your computer, which will surely appeal to nomad sound engineers. To be followed very closely!

In the middle of the front panel, a 10-segment LED bar allows the user to monitor the sync (WordClock, AES or ADAT), the MIDI transfer and the status of the USB and FireWire connections. Yes, you read that right: the interface offers USB and FireWire operation — a milestone in RME history.

RME FireFace UFX

Let’s close this front panel overview with the most important thing: the brand new multifunction color display which has a pretty good definition. Besides the VU-meters for all (analog and digital) inputs, it also gives you access to all channel parameters, mic in level settings, headphones and master out level settings, the interface’s setup, and even internal FX settings (reverb, echo, etc.). The three rotary encoders and the four buttons next to the display allow you to easily browse the menus and access almost all parameters without having to look at your computer screen. This looks very promising when you think about the future USB direct-to-disc facility…

The display’s resolution makes it possible to show lots of information and it makes browsing easy. We just regret that there is only one control to set the level of the main out and the two headphones outputs. Separate controls for the phones outs would have been better, especially when a mistake could lead to very loud signals in the headphones and you wanted to lower the volume quickly…

No cons otherwise. Hats off RME!

Now, let’s take a look at the rear connections…

Conclusion

RME decided to bring out the full artillery with its new digital audio USB and FireWire interface. The UFX is so comprehensive that it’s difficult to find drawbacks: very comprehensive connections, up to 60 channels, color display with good definition, USB and FireWire support, almost perfect TotalMix FX software, insert effects (compressor, EQ…), send effects (reverb, echo) and an upcoming function that will allow you to record and play audio data directly on and from a USB key or hard drive! The audio quality is guaranteed with the high-class preamps and converters. On the other hand, we miss dedicated controls to adjust the headphones volume, a more comprehensive remote control, and a more friendly price. Anyway, the new reference has arrived and its name is FireFace UFX.

Advantages:

  • Quality of the preamps and converters
  • 60 channels!
  • Comprehensive connections
  • Convenient and accurate color display
  • USB and FireWire support
  • Very short latency
  • Good stability with our computer
  • Good-quality internal processing and effects
  • Very comprehensive TotalMix FX software
  • Future direct-to-disk capability

Drawbacks:

  • Headphones and main outs share the same volume control
  • Limited (and only optional) remote control
  • Price tag: over $2000

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  RME Fireface UFX Review

March 25, 2010

[MUSIK MESSE 2010] – RME – Babyface

For all Musikmesse news, videos and coverage see here:  Musikmesse 2010

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