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