My experiences with writing and playing music have taught me a lot about how both musical notes and different tools work together. Developing an ear for when a bass note should be played or a drum fill should be added is an essential aspect of being a musician, or at least a decent one. Likewise, understanding how the frequency response of your guitar amp interacts with frequencies from your bandmates is essential to an enjoyable live experience. As a player, the road to reward in both these areas is often paved with frustrations and mistakes, but you eventually find your way to tonal satisfaction. But it’s a whole other realm with recording— and that’s an area of expertise I’ve longed to improve for a while now.
Developing a sense of how your recorded tracks should be mixed with others only comes after much trial and error, and I’ve been working on that. To get guitar tracks into my computer, I’ve been using a simple Line 6 TonePort GX1 audio interface with a single XLR input and a 1/4" input. It’s a very rudimentary tool designed for people like myself who just want to get ideas solidified without frustration. However, as I’ve progressed as a musician and amassed a much larger array of gear, I’ve come to the point where I’m ready to move on to an audio interface with more power and sophistication. Enter the Focusrite Saffire PRO 24 DSP FireWire audio interface.
Under the Hood
Focusrite is a trusted name in the audio industry, and the new Saffire PRO includes two of the company’s famous recording preamps—as well as a lot of other goodies. There are a myriad of options and connections, including a standard MIDI in and out jack around back and ADAT and S/PDIF digital inputs. An included wall wart or FireWire 400 cable powers a total of six 1/4" line outs and two 1/4" line-in jacks—the entire shebang. The Saffire also has a really cool monitor simulation feature called Virtual Reference Monitoring (VRM), which lets you hear recorded tracks in different room environments. You can even choose different speaker types and positions. This is infinitely useful for final mixdown because it enables you to hear how your recording will sound in, say, a large hall, living room, or bedroom studio. This is achieved with an internal DSP system that takes the processing load off the computer. By freeing up what would normally be a large amount of resources, the computer has a lot more power left to take care of chores like mixing in real time, thus decreasing dreaded latency issues. Additionally, the DSP system also handles real-time effects such as equalization and compression, including reverb from Focusrite’s plug-in suite.
Taking the Saffire for a Spin
The Saffire was designed specifically for players like me who are ready to capture a musical moment while keeping the inherent tone and character intact—and while keeping it simple. I tend to record on the run, since I like to capture a musical idea as soon as it hits, which usually means anyplace where setting up a full-fledged studio would be impossible. Anticipating this, I decided to test the Saffire with just my Apple MacBook Pro and a set of Sennheiser headphones. For mics I used a Sennheiser e609 and a Rode NT1-A, both of which I’ve had really good experiences with. The Sennheiser is a great mic for guitar cabs, and the Rode has performed very well with capturing room sounds. Together, they’re a great combination. One difference between the Saffire PRO 24 DSP and the previous Saffire PRO 24 is the inclusion of an additional headphone jack on the front plate. This is great for running a separate signal to another musician sitting in the recording space, while the other can be used by whoever is performing the actual recording duties.