review: Focusrite Saffire 6 USB
Feb 14, 2010 at 10:47 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 31

Armaegis

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So this here was what I finally settled on after searching for a usb sound card with dual (4 channel) or more outputs and balanced connectors. Details and specs here: Saffire 6 USB Audio Interfaces

The parts that would mainly interest us (the outputs): Quote:

Analogue Audio Outputs 1-2 (¼" TRS)
• Electronically Balanced Outputs
• Maximum Output Level (0dBFS): +9 dBu
• THD+N: 0.0025% (0 dBFS input, 20Hz/22kHz bandpass filter)

Analogue Audio Outputs 1-4 (RCA phono)
• Unbalanced Outputs
• Maximum output level (0dBFS): -3.5 dBu
• THD+N: 0.03% (0 dBFS input, 20Hz/20kHz bandpass filter)

Headphone Outputs
• Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz +/- 0.1 dB
• SNR (A-weighted): 103 dB
• Dynamic Range: 103 dB
• Maximum Output into 32R: +3 dBu (-1.4 dBV)
• Power into 32R: 24 mW
• Output Impedance: < 7 Ohms
• Load Impedance: > 24 Ohms


The main competitor I found in its price range was the M-Audio Fast Track Pro, but after painful driver issues I had with their Firewire Solo I decided to try the Focusrite instead. The Emu 0404 (a forum favourite) was not in the running as it only had a single output.

Reviews are fairly sparse online as this product only come out a few months ago.

Sources used: desktop computer (Vista) and laptop (Windows 7) running J.River Media Center and VLC, Sansa Clip+
headphones: Grado SR 80, Shure SHR 840
Speakers: M-Audio AV40, B&W DM11, Yamaha Stagepas 300

Installation/drivers
Downloaded the 400kb driver from the website, installed, that was it. After that, just plug the Saffire in and give it 10 seconds to recognize the device and you're set. This was a refreshingly simply change from the hoops that the M-Audio drivers made me jump through. No issues so far after a whole week, bouncing between two computers and continuously mucking with the settings.

If you want to run dual output, you must use the ASIO driver (at 24/48k) and set the secondary pair with offset=2. I found that I was able to use WASAPI for single output at 16/44.1k, although I occasionally had stability hiccups (granted, that was also when I was trying to run ASIO simultaneously on the secondary output, so that's my own fault. It worked fine otherwise). Other output types worked as well such as Direct Out, but I haven't played with those too much.

The instructions say to install the drivers first before plugging in for the first time, so I can't comment on whether or not these will work without their custom drivers. All I know is that they do work running off Windows WASAPI.

The included plugins work as you'd expect but require registration first. The parametric EQ is probably the only one that would get any use outside of a recording environment, and even then you'd probably be better off with a multi-band graphic equalizer instead.

Build
The all metal casing feels very sturdy and there is a good heft to the entire thing. There are four [size=xx-small]tiny[/size] rubber feet included that you can attach yourself. Slightly annoying is the four screws on the side of the casing which protrude; it would have been nice if those were recessed like the ones on the top and bottom.

The knobs are smooth and produce no static. There's a bit of inconsistent resistance as you rotate them, but this has no noticeable effect on sound quality.

Some of the knobs to not seem to turn fully "off" however. On the instrument/line inputs, there is still input if you turn them all the way down. Same for the mixer dial when turned all the way counterclockwise (so it would be purely instrument output and nothing from the computer), you will still hear the computer playing very softly. Turning the mixer dial fully clockwise will shut off the line inputs however.

The volume controls for the outputs and headphone do go silent at least.

The headphone jack has some slight lateral give. This is simply due to the hole in the casing being larger than the jack enclosure (maybe 1mm, a bit more than 1/32" dia). Not a big deal, but I feel the machining tolerances could have been tighter.

DAC
Somewhat clinical, which is to be expected for a recording/studio interface. I felt that it filled out the low end, making it feel fuller without making it louder. Midrange was neutral. High end felt more distinct and crisp, with an almost "sparkly" tone especially with metallic sounds like cymbals and bells. Vocals tend to sound laid back.

Primarily intended as a recording interface, the dac is surprisingly forgiving of low bitrate mp3s. To my ears, the two most noticeable artifacts of lossy encoding are: the loss of sharpness/clarity in highs and lows, and the loss of detail in "complex" passages where a lot of different sounds are mixing, which can result in a grainy and choppy sound. Regarding the former, the missing harmonics aren't restored, but any muddiness is tightened up. Regarding the latter, once again detail that was lost cannot be restored, but the graininess is smoothed out somewhat. I know I've used a lot of fuzzy terms here; basically, you can still tell that you're listening to a lossy encoding, but the defects aren't as harsh as I've heard from other dacs.

No machine noise that I can discern over usb. This thing is dead silent. No ground loops that I've noticed yet, although that particular beast is hard to predict.

I don't really know the difference between ASIO and WASAPI, but somehow I felt that WASAPI sounded better, giving a sharper and punchier sound, especially prominent with cymbals and bass.

Running dual outputs had no noticeable effect on sound quality. Oftentimes I completely forgot that I even had the second output going.

Headphone amp
The headphone amp is mid-powered going by the specs, but I have easily driven cans so I can't make a good judgement regarding any of the heavy cans. Overall sound is on the colder side, emphasizing the analytical nature of the DAC. Compared to the M-Audio Firewire Solo, I would say the Solo was the more "musical" sounding of the two. I like the Saffire better with my Shure SRH840, whereas with the Solo I preferred my Grado SR80.

There's enough volume to make the music uncomfortably loud at the 3 o'clock position. I would say comparable to other usb devices I've tried. Not quite as loud as the Solo (which was a firewire device and AC powered).

In terms of genres, I liked the Saffire most with rock and metal, less so with soft genres like smooth jazz. So Metallica sounds awesome; Diana Krall not so much.

Headphone output is selectable between channels 1/2 and 3/4.

Outputs
Feeding into speakers is definitely the Saffire's stronger suit compared to the headphone out, especially using the balanced output (TRS). If you've ever spent time in a recording studio, well, that's what you should expect considering that this is a recording interface. My M-Audio AV40s sing beautifully fed from the Saffire. I've also fed into home speakers and PA systems and the sound is equally strong.

Unlike the headphone out, I find the speaker output equally enjoyable across all genres.

Ch 1/2 have both RCA and balanced TRS outputs, with volume controlled simultaneously by a knob on the front. Ch 3/4 have RCA outputs and are fixed at maximum (line out I believe).


Overall impressions
- 4 channel output (ASIO only)
- solid all metal construction
- super easy driver installation, no stability issues on either Vista or Win7
- no computer/usb noise
- clinical sounding DAC
- cold headphone amp, selectable between outputs
- excellent speaker outs
 
Feb 15, 2010 at 1:58 AM Post #2 of 31

Hybrys

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Very cool. It works well for your application I assume then? = D
 
Feb 15, 2010 at 5:04 AM Post #3 of 31

Armaegis

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That it does. And now that I've got these balanced outputs on the back, there's a terrible little voice at the back of my head telling me I should try getting balanced headphones. Anyone know if there's enough juice there to drive balanced headphones without a dedicated amp?
 
Feb 21, 2010 at 3:00 PM Post #4 of 31

brolyzzy

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I'm very interested to your review...

I'm going to buy this soundcard to replace my Edirol UA4FX

I will connect the saffite to my KRK RP% GS speakers and to my Alessandro MS1 phones...

Do you think that i can be happy with this setup?

Thanks and excuse me for my bad english!
 
Feb 21, 2010 at 10:14 PM Post #5 of 31

Armaegis

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I think you will find the combination satisfactory, especially with the KRK monitors. Let me know how the MS1 sounds through the Saffire, as I found the sound a bit cold going through my Grado SR80.
 
Feb 22, 2010 at 7:58 AM Post #6 of 31

GungaDin

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Very good review, Armaegis. I'm using the Focusrite Saffire (this one) with XP.

I may be stating the obvious here and I don't know if this would apply to your setup but I copied the Focusrite ASIO dll and put it in the Foobar components folder so I could select it directly in Foobar. That improved the sound tremendously. Previously, I was just using the ds along with the Focusrite control panel and figured that was utilizing the Focusrite ASIO. Adding the Focusrite dll into Foobar directly made a huge difference for the better. I wish I'd clued in earlier.
redface.gif
 
Feb 22, 2010 at 7:23 PM Post #7 of 31

Armaegis

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I use J.River Media Center, and when I select the playback driver/device it says "focusrite ASIO driver", so I assume it's using the proper one.

I'm curious if you're able to use WASAPI on yours?
 
Feb 24, 2010 at 1:08 AM Post #8 of 31

GungaDin

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Armaegis /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I'm curious if you're able to use WASAPI on yours?


I beleve WASAPI is for Vista and Win7 only. All of my machines are older and running XP so I've never tried it.
 
Jun 1, 2010 at 12:51 PM Post #10 of 31

Armaegis

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I've never heard the 0404, but I would say that all the devices from Focusrite, M-Audio, E-Mu, etc are all fairly equivalent to each other within the same price range.
 
I picked the Saffire because it is the newest of the three (less than a year old, whereas the FastTrack and 0404 have been out a while), a stronger headphone out, reportedly better driver support, and Focusrite has a pretty good rep amoung higher end studio gear. It also has 4 channel out, where the 0404 only has 2.
 
The 0404 seems to have this self-perpetuated popularity on the forums here simply because people are unaware of other brands.
 
Jun 1, 2010 at 9:25 PM Post #12 of 31

Armaegis

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I haven't done any recording, though I did run some tests RMAA input/output tests at one point and the results were good (I don't remember any specifics off hand). If you're looking to restore your tapes though, you'd probably be better off with a device which has RCA inputs for ease of use.
 
Jul 22, 2010 at 7:37 PM Post #13 of 31

zonedout245

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Quote:
Armaegis said:


Headphone amp
The headphone amp is mid-powered going by the specs, but I have easily driven cans so I can't make a good judgement regarding any of the heavy cans. Overall sound is on the colder side, emphasizing the analytical nature of the DAC. Compared to the M-Audio Firewire Solo, I would say the Solo was the more "musical" sounding of the two. I like the Saffire better with my Shure SRH840, whereas with the Solo I preferred my Grado SR80.

There's enough volume to make the music uncomfortably loud at the 3 o'clock position. I would say comparable to other usb devices I've tried. Not quite as loud as the Solo (which was a firewire device and AC powered).

In terms of genres, I liked the Saffire most with rock and metal, less so with soft genres like smooth jazz. So Metallica sounds awesome; Diana Krall not so much.

 
Hi, what do you mean by better suited for rock and metal. I'm thinking about getting this unit, but I want to play a lot of clean. I like Jazz music and blues, but after I get an interface I might record with more gain since my sound will be cleaner. Is it the character of the preamps, or just the headphone out? How do the two models you mentioned compared in terms of final recorded sound? Also, do you know of there is any downside to usb 1.1 besides the technical aspect? I keep coming across the topic but I don't plan on recording more than one channel at a time, but I want to be able to if necessary. Thank you.
 
Jul 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM Post #14 of 31

Armaegis

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Sorry, I haven't done any recording, so I can't comment on that directly. Focusrite in general has a very good track record though.
 
That said, I think it's just a character of the headphone out. Playing through speakers seems more neutral across different genres.
 
USB 1.1 is suitable for most audio applications. There are tons and tons of audio devices which are NOT usb 2.0 and the industry has been doing just fine.
 
Jul 23, 2010 at 3:02 AM Post #15 of 31

xnor

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With 24 bit / 48 kHz audio (that's the best format this interface supports, correct me if I'm wrong) USB 1.1 should be sufficient for transfers up to about 9 channels.
 

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