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Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP ($499.99 list, $400 street) www.focusrite.com

October 1, 2010
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MainGraphic_B_cWhat: This is the biggest (8.5" x 1.8" x 8.65") and most expensive interface in the roundup, with two mic/line/instrument combi jack ins, two line ins, ADAT in, S/PDIF coaxial in (which can optionally go through ADAT optical), and two internal loopback virtual ins for a maximum of 16 simultaneous audio ins plus MIDI I/O. Outs are six balanced/unbalanced 1/4" line outs and S/PDIF coaxial, giving eight simultaneous outs.

Why: What makes this interesting isn’t just the functionality (and Focusrite mic pres), but the “Virtual Reference Monitoring” technology that simulates the effect of mixing in various different speaker environments for those working on headphones. Yes, you can emulate the technique of listening to a mix over multiple systems to hear how well it translates.

Faraway Factor: The Pro 24 DSP can be bus-powered, although there’s an AC adapter (with global capabilities) for computers with 4-pin FireWire outs. And the included mix control software (Figure 2)—essentially a software mixer—can access onboard DSP for input channel EQ and compression. When not using VRM, the DSP can also supply reverb for your mix.

Strengths: The included Xcite+ softeware pack offers Ableton Live Lite, loops, samples, and a plug-in suite (for more info, see the Focusrite 6 USB review in the 8/10 issue). The I/O is a big plus when taking sessions beyond the realm of the 2 x 2 interface, while the ADAT in makes it easy to add eight channels of mic pres for tasks like miking drums.

Fig2VRM does indeed reduce the “inside your head” effect of headphones; more importantly, if you’re doing headphone mixes while on the road or in the bedroom studio and wished you could switch among different speakers, VRM provides a useful “reality check.” There are three different environment options (Pro Studio, Living Room, and Bedroom Studio); the computer speaker and TV settings are particularly helpful when I want an idea of what web videos will sound like over consumer systems, while the “Auratone” cube speaker model provides the same kind of function as the original.

I generally found the “Pro Studio” speakers less effective. The modeling has the same “filtered” quality as typical amp sims, reducing the fidelity compared to headphones. While the models do provide listening variations, if you’re expecting to hear, for example, what a pair of Dynaudios would sound like in a great control room, that’s expecting too much. Still, VRM does provide the option to “test drive” your mix over different speaker emulations, which in itself has value.

 

Fig. 2. The Saffire Pro 24 DSP has a very complete mixer applet, which is where you also call up and edit the VRM options.

Limitations: The size/cost might disqualify Saffire Pro 24 DSP for some mobile applications, although the tradeoff is greater functionality; phantom power measures 43.1V instead of 48, although that likely is inconsequential.

Conclusions: The Saffire Pro 24 DSP performs as advertised— and more. The input DSP preserves zero-latency monitoring options with effects; ADAT in and MIDI I/O speak to a broader range of applications.

VRM is helpful within reason, but it’s mostly for a reality check—I wouldn’t mix solely with the VRM models, but I did like toggling back and forth between headphones and the models, as that helped show which parts of the mix might get emphasized or “buried” in the real world. Interestingly, one cut sounded bass shy on a few speaker models, so I bumped up the bass a bit. But when I listened over “real” speakers and headphones, the added bass definitely sounded better. I theorize that the real speakers could reproduce the bass well enough that I didn’t feel more bass was needed, yet it turned out to be a good addition anyway.

Focusrite is on to something with VRM, and hopefully they’ll pursue it so future versions have higher-resolution modeling. Meanwhile, it serves to add another set of options to an alreadycapable interface.

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