Recording - September 2014 - 38

B Y M I K E M E T L AY

Focusrite Saffire PRO 26
Out with the old, in with the new-and this audio interface has both covered

It's always a treat to review a Focusrite
audio interface. For many years now, the
British audio manufacturer has combined
its sonic expertise-gleaned from decades
of building large-format consoles and rackmount signal processing gear-with a substantial understanding of what computerbased recording musicians want and need.
That results in interfaces that are elegant,
feature-rich, easy to use, and sound great.
In this quick review, we'll take a look at
the latest offering from Focusrite: the
Saffire PRO 26, a tabletop interface that
offers up to-take a wild guess-26
inputs and outputs.

is a "dumb" interface that relies on the computer doing the traffic control. If your audio
interface is sharing the USB data load with
a keyboard, mouse, MIDI control surface,
and one or more hard disks, you run more
risk of dropouts and difficulties than if your
audio interface is happily cruising along by
itself on the FireWire bus.
Put this all together and combine it with
the fact that the Saffire PRO 26 offers this
kind of robust, reliable performance at a
cost comparable to that of a similarly featured USB interface, and you have a compelling argument for keeping the fire(wire)
burning.

The Saffire strategy
Focusrite has made a possibly controversial design decision with the release of this
new interface. The "fire" in the Saffire
name comes from FireWire, and that's how
the Saffire PRO 26 talks to your computer.
Some folks will be scratching their heads,
because you don't see many new computers with FireWire ports on them nowadays-so what's the rationale behind an
"obsolete" port for a brand-new interface?
There are lots of computers in the field
right now that have usable FireWire buses
for handling digital audio. Until a year or
two ago, almost every Mac sold in the 21st
Century had FireWire, and there are a fair
number of Windows PCs with solid
FireWire implementation. The newest Macs
use the Thunderbolt standard rather than
FireWire, but attaching the Saffire PRO 26
to them requires nothing more than an
optional adaptor for the FireWire cable.
And speaking of cables, the Saffire PRO
26 has a FireWire 400 port, but comes
with a cable that connects to the FireWire
800 port seen on most modern Macs.
If your computer has a FireWire bus available, using it for digital audio makes a lot of
sense. It's certainly possible to put a digital
audio interface on your USB port, but USB

The interface
Housed in a compact enclosure that
can run on FireWire bus power or with
the included AC wallwart power supply,
the Saffire PRO 26 offers up to 24-bit/96
kHz recording and playback on six analog inputs, ten digital inputs (stereo
S/PDIF plus 8-channel optical ADAT), six
analog outputs, and two digital outputs
on S/PDIF. Add in a pair of "loop-back"
inputs, where audio created in one computer program can be routed through the
interface and recorded by another, and
that gives us our 26-channel I/O count.
Inputs 1 and 2 have front-panel 1/4"
TRS jacks that override the rear-panel XLR
mic inputs; a pair of front-panel buttons
let you choose between line level and HiZ instrument level for each one. Inputs 3
and 4 have rear-panel combination
XLR/TRS jacks for mic or line-level signals;
Inputs 5 and 6, and all six Outputs, are
balanced TRS connectors on the rear
panel. Digital I/O is on RCA for coaxial
S/PDIF and Toslink for 8-channel ADAT
input (4 channels if running at sample
rates of 88.2 or 96 kHz). The Saffire PRO
26 also has MIDI I/O, and can use either
the coaxial or optical digital input to
slave to another device's word clock.

38

RECORDING September 2014

The front panel controls include the
aforementioned Line/Instrument switches
as well as 8 dB pad switches for Inputs 1
and 2, 48V phantom power switches for
two pairs of Inputs (1/2 and 3/4), gain
controls for the first four analog inputs,
and 5-step LED meters for all six. There
are separate and independent output
level controls for Monitor, Headphone 1,
and Headphone 2, the latter having a
pair of 1/4" TRS front-panel jacks, and the
Monitor control has Dim (18 dB level
reduction) and Mute buttons as well.
The Dim and Mute functions don't
affect the Headphone signals, and
they're designed to prevent pops and
clicks that can damage your speakers;
you can hear the audio swiftly but not
instantly ramp down to silence and back
up again when the Mute button is
engaged or disengaged.
The software
A lot of the Saffire PRO 26's power in
the tracking studio is enabled by Saffire
MixControl, the control and routing program that comes with the interface as a
free download. This control panel software lets you configure the interface to
provide up to eight (mono) or four (stereo)
low-latency monitor mixes for artists. It
can store and recall a variety of settings,
and comes with several basic templates
to help you get started.
The main panel of the software, shown
in the screenshot on the facing page, is a
tabbed virtual mixer with one tab for each
of your mixes. Each input channel has a
meter (with clipping indicator), level fader,
pan control, stereo link button, and controls for mute, solo, and Pre-Fade Listen.
You can choose which channels are heard
in each mix (up to 18 of them, selectable
from the 16 physical inputs and/or up to
8 DAW tracks), adjust levels and panning
without affecting what's being recorded in



Recording - September 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - September 2014

Contents
Recording - September 2014 - Cover1
Recording - September 2014 - Cover2
Recording - September 2014 - 1
Recording - September 2014 - 2
Recording - September 2014 - 3
Recording - September 2014 - 4
Recording - September 2014 - 5
Recording - September 2014 - Contents
Recording - September 2014 - 7
Recording - September 2014 - 8
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Recording - September 2014 - Cover3
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