AF’s Weblog

August 31, 2010

Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP Review

The FireWire digital audio interface market is somewhat saturated with products like the M-Audio ProFire610 or the TC Electronic Impact Twin which we already tested here at AudioFanzine — now is the time to pick at Focusrite Saffire PRO 24 DSP…

Focusrite’s range of external digital audio interfaces is very comprehensive, including the small Saffire 6 USB with 2 ins/4 outs, the big Saffire 56 with 28 ins/outs, the Pro 40 with 20 ins/outs, and two Saffire Pro 24 (16 ins/8 outs) with or without integrated DSP. We will test the version with integrated DSP, MixControl 2 software and VRM technology (Virtual Reference Monitoring).

Before testing the software package, let’s open the box…

Physically Ordinary

The Saffire Pro 24 DSP didn’t really impress us when we took it out of the box… The interface, which is a bit less wide but deeper than the M-Audio ProFire 610, has a very classic look compared to the TC Electronic products for example. Its dimensions and weight are standard: 8.5″ x 1.8″ x 8.65″ and 3.5 lb. Everything looks pretty sturdy. It includes four sticky rubber feet for the bottom so that it doesn’t slip off. The controls are small but easily accessible since they are well spaced out. The interface is provided with a six-pin FireWire cable, a mains adapter (in case the computer’s FireWire interface cannot provide enough power), a “lite” version of Ableton Live 8, one GB of “Loopmasters” samples, the Novation Bass Station virtual synth, and the drivers CD, of course.

Now, let’s take a closer look to the interface…

Front/rear Panels

Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP

The front panel of the interface features two inputs on Neutrik combos (XLR + 1/4″ TRS), with switchable 48V phantom power, to connect a microphone (dynamic or condenser mic), a musical instrument or a line signal. The selection between instrument and line source must be made via the MixControl software because the interface does not provide any input level selector. A small, red LED is the only way to know that instrument level is activated. The interface also provides two gain controls for the inputs; their range is from -10 dB to +36 dB for the mic signals and +13 dB to +60 dB for instrument signals.

In the center of the front panel, four level meters with five LEDs each show the signal level for each of the four inputs. It’s not ideal but it’s still better than the ProFire610 or the Impact Twin… Three green LEDs allow you to monitor the on/off status, the FireWire connection and the internal or external clock sync.

On the right side of the front panel, you’ll find three additional volume controls. The first one is conceived for studio monitors and also features mute and dim (-18 dB) buttons. The two other volume controls are dedicated to the pair of headphones outputs. Each headphones output can have its own mix (see below), which is a very valuable feature!

Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP

The rear panel hosts the connectors, i.e. analog and digital ins and outs. On the left, you’ll find two coaxial S/PDIF connectors (in and out), the power switch (we would rather have it on the front panel…) and the connector for the mains adapter. You’ll also find 5-pin DIN MIDI in/out connectors, a 6-pin FireWire connector, an optical input to be used with ADAT or S/PDIF signals, and six analog line outputs on 1/4″ TRS connectors just like the two analog line inputs (3 and 4). You can connect balanced or unbalanced jacks to the interface and choose between two different levels (Hi and Lo Gain with +16 dBu and -10 dBV respectively) using the MixControl software.

And now that we’ve mentioned the MixControl…

Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

For about $400, Focusrite offers a very comprehensive and reliable audio interface with 16 inputs and 8 outputs (analog, S/PDIF and even ADAT!). The software package is also very interesting. It features a virtual mixer called MixControl that can proudly stand up to its competitors. The routing functions are very flexible and you can create up to eight different mixes assignable to the line or headphones outs. The insert processors available for the first two inputs make a very good job, while the VST and AU compatible plugin suite is a valuable complement. The icing on the cake is the VRM technology that allows you to simulate different rooms and speaker pairs in your headphones. You’ll be finally able to mix in silence!

Among the drawbacks we can include its boring look, the lack of a physical switch to select either line or instrument sources and the position of the power switch (on the rear panel). But they are only small details…

The Saffire Pro 24 DSP is certainly one of the best digital audio FireWire interfaces in the $400 price segment.

Advantages:

  • Good-quality preamps
  • Construction quality
  • Price
  • Two independent headphones outputs
  • Eight different mixes thanks to the MixControl
  • Insert EQ and compressor on the first two inputs
  • Reverb for monitoring applications
  • Flexible routing
  • VST and AU plugin bundle with four processors
  • ADAT and S/PDIF digital ins/outs
  • Driver stability (with our computer)
  • Four five-segment meters on the front panel
  • Possibility to link other Focusrite interfaces
  • Virtual Reference Monitoring
  • Live Lite 8 included
  • FireWire powered

Disadvantages:

  • No line/instrument level switch on the front panel
  • Very boring look
  • Power switch on the rear panel

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP Review

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