No flash plug
When we first saw this at the Lims Show earlier in the year, my interest was piqued - I've been looking for a new sound IO for my studio system here - especially something with on board mixing and routing, in my own head, I was thinking maybe I can retire the little mixing desk I have and work totally in the inferface...
The Saffire Pro24 is a 16 in, 8 out Firewire Audio interface capable of up 96kHz operation. It's a 1/2 rack, 1 unit high device with two, combi instrument/Mic connectors, each with dedicated level control, 48v global switching, a five segment, four channel LED meter, dedicated monitor level (affects outputs 1&2) and Headphone out with separate level control (outputs 3&4) on the front panel.
Around the back, are line inputs 3&4, analog outs 1-6, an ADAT (or optical) input which provides either 8 ch at 44.1kHz/48kHz or 4 at 88.1kHz/96kHz via SMUX. MIDI in and out and S-Pdif finish things off.
First up, the mic amps are of the Focusrite Award Winning variety which, as they say in their own blurb are best in class. Actually, they DO sound good and are quiet, even at full gain - I used then on dynamic and condenser mics and was please with the results. The line inputs have switchable sensitivity for -10dB and +4dB operation - switchable in software. Speaking of gain, the headphone outs have plenty, should you need it - something that can be overlooked, making live work without a mixer almost impossible as you can hear anything over the audio in the room.
It is not possible to operate the Saffire Pro24 without installing the drivers and control panel, but there are drivers for both Windows XP and Vista (64-bit too) plus Mac OS X 10.4.11 and above. As far as stability goes, I tested this on OX S with Ableton Live 8 and Logic Pro as well as various other software which outputs and inputs audio, including SoundFlower drivers and didnt find any problems. I was also able to set the minimum latency within Live without any stuttering and good stability.
The Saffire MixControl application is where all the clever stuff happens, as well as all the regular settings (clock, samplerate ADAT mode etc) you have access to full monitor and routing options. Essentially you have up to 6 separate mixes with access to all inputs and DAW returns which can be balanced as required and output to any of the available outputs. In addition, there are two Loopback inputs - these are virtual software inputs, that allow you to route system audio (or anything else) and have them show up in your DAW - making it possible to record say the output of your web browser into your DAW via these Loopback inputs.
If anything, the routing can be a little bit complicated and I could see the situation where someone it listening to the signal both through the zero latency of the Saffire monitoring AND the DAW return resulting in a doubling effect. The key is to remember either to listen to the direct signal via the MixControl software OR the DAW return itself, allowing real-time processing added by your DAW.
Focusrite have pitched this about right, the features verus the cost make for a pretty compelling reason to consider the Pro24 - assuming you have the computer with the requisite FireWire 400 port - you can power the unit of the bus or from an included 12v power supply. You also get Ableton Live 7 LE, Bass Station AU/VST synth, a ton of MTD Drum loops, and another whole bunch of loops from Loopmasters.com on the extra content DVD
The software and routing nearly make this something that could replace your compact mixing desk. I say nearly becuase you can bus mulitple real inputs into a single input bus, like I can with my trusty Mackie VLZ3, but it's close. I would also like to have seen some MIDI control of the mixer software - overall level, dim, mute and possibly fader levels too, but this is something that I beleive Focusrite are looking at and could be addresses with a software update.
A good sounding interface with a solid driver, should make this no brainer if you need a compact Firewire audio interface.
Pricing: Recommended retail price £249/$399 - I have seen it for $299 which I think is a pretty good deal.