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electronic MUSICIAN

Focusrite Saffire 6 USB Audio Interface, ($249 MSRP, $200 street, www.focusrite.com)

By Craig Anderton | September 1, 2010

Saffire6USB_nrWhat: USB 1.1/2.0 audio interface with drivers for ASIO/WDM drivers (Windows) and Core Audio (Mac). Works with 32/64-bit Windows Vista/XP SP2/7, Mac OS X 10.5.7 or higher (32-bit only on Snow Leopard); resolution up to 24-bit/48kHz.

Why: Especially for mobile applications, sometimes it’s best to prioritize quality over feature set. Saffire 6 USB provides two very high quality mic pre/instrument inputs and MIDI in/out in a compact, bus-powered package that covers the essentials of remote recording—as well as many desktop applications.

Packaging: You get the interface, USB cable, and software, including a ton of “bonus” material: Ableton Live Lite 8, Focusrite plug-in suite (compression, reverb, gating, and EQ—see the Scarlett suite reviewed in the 2/10 issue), a Gigabyte of samples from LoopMasters, 572 drum loops from Mike the Drummer, and the Novation Bass Station plug-in—which I’m going to ask if I can keep on my hard drive after returning the unit.

Installation: Installation is the usual. On Windows, install software, plug in hardware, finish installation; on Mac, install software, then plug in.

What’s hot: The mic pres, and overall dynamic range. These are not “character” preamps but clean, sweet, transparent pres that do justice to whatever mic—or instrument—you plug in. The jacks are Neutrik combi jacks, and each input has instrument/mic and pad in/out switches. There’s a phantom power front panel switch for both ins (I’d prefer separate switches per input, though). Other front panel features include a mix control to monitor the inputs (i.e., zero-latency monitoring) or playback from your DAW, a monitor control for the outs, and a headphone out with a headphone amp that seems a cut above average.

focusSecondary_nrOn the back, you’ll find stereo 1/4" balanced/+4dBu jacks, as well as—DJs, take note—RCA phono jacks for the two sets of stereo pair outs (which is why this is considered a 2-in/4-out interface). With a front-panel switch for monitoring outs 1/2 or 3/4, DJs can cue up easily, or send separate signals to two sides of a DJ mixer.

The rear panel has 1/4" phone outputs, DJ-friendly RCA phono outs, and physical MIDI connectors.

More surprisingly, there are 5-pin MIDI in and out DIN connectors. I’ve dinged some audio interfaces in various reviews for not including MIDI, requiring you to get a separate interface for hardware MIDI controllers with 5-pin DIN outs; that’s not an issue here.

Normally, bundled software won’t tip you one way or the other in terms of a purchasing decision, especially because with some pieces of gear, the emphasis is on quantity over quality. However, the Focusrite plug-ins are very good and regardless of how many plugs you have, bring something different to the party. I’m also a big fan of the Novation Bass Station, and the loops and samples are useful. Given that Focusrite includes DJs as a potential target market, offering Live makes sense, although of course Live is about much more than DJs.

Conclusions: I’ve heard that this is Focusrite’s best-selling interface, which doesn’t surprise me—paying $100 each for these two preamps would be significant value even if you don’t take the rest of the physical interface into account. The case is all-metal, which is important for mobile use. (However, I’d love to see someone offer panels that could screw into the existing holes on the side of the case, and protrude forward to provide protection for the knobs in case the interface gets dropped.)

The Saffire 6 USB covers a pretty wide range of users, from laptop DJs to those doing quality stereo live recordings. It’s even useful for solo musicians in a desktop context who don’t need multiple ins. Granted, it has limitations (e.g., 48kHz sample rate max), but those limitations were chosen to keep the price down while keeping the quality up on the most important elements . . . you can’t argue with that.


More from this Studio Roundup:

Six Studio Essentials
Electro-Harmonix V256 Vocoder
Yamaha DTX900K Electronic Drum Set
MOTU Ethno Instrument 2
JDK Audio R22 Compressor
Waves JJP Artist Collection
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