Review: RME Babyface Pro

The next generation of a powerful, portable USB interface
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The RME
 Babyface Pro
 offers a winning
 combination of
 compact size
 and high-quality
 performance in
 a USB 2.0 audio/
MIDI interface.

The RME  Babyface Pro  offers a winning  combination of  compact size  and high-quality  performance in  a USB 2.0 audio/ MIDI interface.

The Babyface Pro is a sleek redesign of RME’s Babyface portable interface and, as one would expect from the company, it is solidly built and impeccably engineered. It’s quite versatile and will serve you well in both studio- and remote-recording situations. What’s more, you can use the Babyface Pro with either a computer or iPad, or as a standalone mic preamp.

BABY WEIGHT

Though still quite svelte, Babyface Pro is approximately a half-inch larger in all three physical dimensions than its predecessor. And at 1.5 lbs., it weighs about a half pound more. Nevertheless, it is still small enough and light enough to hold in one hand.

The interface comes with a handy hard-shell case, which allows you to carry it around with the confidence that it’s protected from damage. The package also includes a right-angle USB B-to-A cable for connecting it to your computer.

Fig. 1. Good-bye break-out cable! XLR I/O is now built-in.

Fig. 1. Good-bye break-out cable! XLR I/O is now built-in.

The most significant physical change is that RME eliminated the somewhat clunky external I/O breakout cable for audio connections, putting all the inputs and outputs into the unit itself, which is a lot more elegant (see Figure 1). The only breakout cable that remains is for MIDI I/O. With mic and line connections built into the housing, the unit is more robust for use in remote locations.

INS AND OUTS

When it comes to I/O count, the big news is that the Babyface Pro gives you four channels of simultaneous analog input instead of the two that were on the original unit. The analog inputs include two XLR mic inputs on the back and two 1/4" line/instrument inputs on the right side (see Figure 2).

Fig. 2. Headphone outs and line/instrument jacks are also onboard.

Fig. 2. Headphone outs and line/instrument jacks are also onboard.

You get two analog outputs on XLR jacks and two headphone jacks, one 1/4” and one 1/8”. Having both sizes adds versatility, and I didn’t hear any difference when plugging the same pair of headphones into each. According to RME, the unit has separate driver stages for each headphone jack, which is designed to allow you to get the best quality from high- or low-impedance headphones.

The headphone outputs are not individually addressable, however, so you can only send one mix at a time through them. To create a second headphone mix, you could feed the main mix into a headphone amp through the XLR line outputs, or from the outputs of your monitor controller, if you have one.

The unit includes an optical port that supports up to 8 channels of ADAT Lightpipe I/O or two channels of S/PDIF. According to RME, that give you potential of a total I/O count of 12 inputs and 12 outputs, although that includes using the headphone jacks as outputs; to me that’s a little misleading, although many manufacturers count their I/O this way.

To my way of looking at it, the Babyface Pro offers 12 inputs (four analog plus eight ADAT) and 10 outputs (two analog outs plus eight ADAT). Sure, you could use a headphone jack as an additional output—say, to drive a second pair of monitors (you’d need a Y-cable, of course, to do that)—but to me, it’s not the same as having a dedicated set of individual XLR or TRS line outs.

Nevertheless, the potential to connect up to 12 inputs—in conjunction with an additional ADAT-compatible mic preamp or interface connected through the optical port—gives Babyface Pro plenty of expansion capability for a small, portable interface.

Many of the interfaces hitting the market now feature Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 connectivity. That the Babyface Pro is USB 2.0 might seem disadvantageous. However, RME states that a 12x12 interface does not require much bandwidth and that, because the company writes its own drivers, its use of USB 2.0 provides lower latency and is more efficient than competing devices.

Fig. 3. TotalMix FX software gives you control over
 Babyface Pro’s built-in DSP.

Fig. 3. TotalMix FX software gives you control over  Babyface Pro’s built-in DSP.

Additionally, the Babyface Pro has built-in DSP and, when used in conjunction with TotalMix FX software (free for Mac/Win; $3.99 for iPad), allows for latency-free hardware monitoring and effects processing, while giving you plenty of control over the monitor mixes (see Figure 3).

THREE FACES OF BABYFACE

The Babyface Pro offers three different modes of operation: Driver-Based USB 2.0 mode for when you connect to a Mac or Windows computer (which requires driver installation); Class-Compliant mode for connecting to an iPad; and Standalone mode for situations where you use the unit as a separate mic preamp or as an A/D converter for S/PDIF-equipped turntables, CD players and so forth.

In Driver-Based USB 2.0 mode, Babyface Pro is entirely bus powered. In the other two modes, however, you need an external power supply (not included), which connects through the DC power jack on the right-side panel. For those situations, if you want to run untethered to AC power, RME suggests using a battery-powered USB-bus power supply.

CONTROL AND FX

You can control essential functions of the Babyface Pro from the hardware itself using the large rotary encoder along with six onboard buttons. You can set levels for input and output (with excellent metering for both), change the brightness of the display (LED meters and status lights) and even Dim a selected output. When running in standalone mode, you can turn on and off the phantom power, a task that you would do through TotalMix FX in the other two modes.

TotalMix FX allows you to configure and store monitor mixes, and add processing such as reverb, echo, and EQ to the sources you’re recording. Unlike the larger RME interfaces, Babyface Pro doesn’t offer compression. The ambience effects are quite useful if you want to hear reverb on, say, a vocal track when recording. In a direct monitoring system such as this, you hear the source before it hits the computer. So, the ambience effects provide a way to add some vibe to the monitor mix when needed.

The EQ is a 3-band parametric, with a choice of filters on the low and high band and a fixed one for the mids. It also includes a low-cut filter. Unlike with the reverb and delay, you can print the results of the EQ onto the track if you want, although it was not readily apparent how to switch the EQ into the record path. After searching through the manual without finding the answer, I found a video on the RME site in which the narrator mentioned that you have to open the window for the separate Fireface USB Settings application (which is always on when you’re using the interface) and check a box called EQ for Record.

Like many mixer applications that accompany interfaces, RME could improve Total Mix FX with a more intuitive GUI. I’d also like to see RME make the documentation for the software and the interface more comprehensive. That said, once you get used to the Total Mix FX interface, it’s quite powerful and lets you get the most out of your Babyface Pro.

In addition to setting up and controlling monitor mixes and built-in effects, the software lets you access talkback, listen-back and loopback functions. There is no talkback mic built into the Babyface Pro hardware, so you must use TotalMix to designate an input to be used for talkback, to which you can connect an external microphone.

According to RME, TotalMix FX for iPad is almost identical to the Mac/Win version. The only exception is that you don’t get the reverb and echo effects. Connecting an iPad requires a USB B-to-Lightning cable. If you have an older iPad without Lightning, you’ll need the Apple Camera Connection Kit.

OOH BABY, BABY

During the time I tested it for this review, I found the Babyface Pro’s sound quality to be impeccable, both on playback and when recording through the mic preamps. I tracked electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass and percussion through it, and was impressed at how clean and transparent the mic preamps were. Overall, it is a solidly built, high-quality piece of gear, and with TotalMix FX providing a powerful front end, you get plenty of control.

Getting rid of the audio breakout cables makes the Babyface Pro much more manageable and elegant. And increasing the analog input count from two to four adds more versatility.

Without question, RME has taken the Babyface concept to a new level with the Babyface Pro, resulting in a superb portable interface.

STRENGTHS

Four analog ins. Built-in I/O. MIDI I/O. Excellent sound. iOS class-compliant. Use as standalone mic pre. Direct monitoring with effects. Hard-shell case included.

LIMITATIONS

TotalMix FX complex to learn. Headphone outs not separately addressable.

$749 street
rme-usa.com

Mike Levine is a composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from the New York area and Technical Editor - Studio at Mix. Check out his website at michaelwilliamlevine.com.