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Focusrite Saffire PRO 26 FireWire Audio Interface Review

September 5, 2014

The Focusrite Saffire PRO 26 is the company’s latest FireWire audio interface. It features a total of 18 inputs and 8 outputs with operation up to 24 bit/96 kHz. Best of all, the four-preamp and dual-headphone unit comes in at an amazing price. Let’s take a closer look at the Focusrite Saffire PRO 26 in this in-depth review.

Connectivity

The Focusrite Saffire PRO 26 is a bus-powered 18 input/8 output unit. Inputs 1–4 are combo XLR/TRS jacks with switchable 48V phantom power located on the back of the unit. Inputs 1–2 are also available on the front of the unit in the form of instrument inputs. These jacks are useful for when you want to easily record something like electric guitar or bass. Two more analog inputs come in the form of TRS line inputs on the back of the unit.

While 48V phantom power can’t be turned on or off on a per channel basis, there are two switches for Inputs 1–2 and Inputs 3–4, respectively. There are four gain knobs and individual 8dB pad buttons for Inputs 1–4.

The Saffire PRO 26 also features eight channels of ADAT digital inputs for connectivity expansion. For example, hooking up a Focusrite OctoPre MkII would add eight more preamp channels enabling you to record a full band or large group. Two digital S/PDIF channels bring the input count up to 18. Lastly, the Saffire Pro 26 also features MIDI IN and OUT to connect keyboards and other MIDI gear.

In terms of outputs, the Saffire PRO 26 features two independent headphone outputs on the front of the unit and six channels of TRS line outputs on the back. There are also two channels of digital S/PDIF output. This brings the output count to eight channels. Be aware that that Saffire PRO 26 does not feature ADAT outputs, so look elsewhere if you need an audio interface with more than six analog outputs.

Design & Build Quality

I’ve always appreciated the utilitarian look of Focusrite’s Saffire line of audio interfaces. The muted blue color looks more “professional” compared to the Scarlett series’ shade of bright red. There aren’t any unnecessary design choices, and all the important controls (volume and gain knobs, mute and dim buttons, and phantom power and pad buttons) are easy to access.

My favorite feature of Focusrite’s Saffire audio interfaces is the five level LED input meters on the front panel. I like to record audio with -6dB peaks, and the input meters allow me to adjust gain without having my eyes glued to Pro Tools’ mix window. It might not seem like a huge deal at first, but it actually is super convenient.

The Focusrite Saffire PRO 26 sports a durable metal chassis. While it’s not as hefty and solid as a comparable interface from RME, it is by no means poorly built. Knobs are buttons, while plastic, probably won’t break if they’re treated with care. The RME comparison might also be a moot point because the Saffire PRO 26 costs four times less than a comparable RME interface.

Saffire MixControl

MixControl is Focusrite’s software mixer for its audio interfaces. Software mixers come in a lot of different flavors, and I think MixControl isn’t necessarily bad. It can be a little confusing to figure out at first, but the learning curve is short. Once you understand the layout of the UI, making custom mixes and sending them to different outputs is an absolute breeze. Lastly, MixControl enables you to save and load presets. This makes it simple to load up custom mixes quickly.

In addition to physical connectivity, the Saffire PRO 26 also features a loopback function which can be configured in MixControl. This enables you to route and record system audio. This is really useful if you’re trying to record something like application audio for a screencast.

Conclusion

The Focusrite Saffire PRO 26 is a great product. The six onboard inputs can be used for a variety of recording situations. For example, you could record a vocalist, guitarist, bassist, and keyboardist all in one go. If you add an external preamp module like the OctoPre MkII, you can record a full drum set as well. The Saffire PRO 26 also ships with Focusrite’s Midnight Plugin Suite (a $99 value). These are emulation of the classic ISA110 EQ and ISA130 compressor. A demonstration of the plugins can be found in this video. I can’t speak to the authenticity of the modeling as I’ve never used the hardware equivalents, but I do like the plugins.

While Focsurite has recently rebranded the Saffire line as “ThunderBolt and Firewire” interfaces, it’s important to realize this detail only refers to compatibility with Apple’s FireWire adapter. The Saffire interface don’t actually feature a ThunderBolt port.

The only thing I really miss in the Saffire PRO 26 is the onboard EQ and compression from the PRO 24 DSP. I found DSP effects to be extremely useful for zero latency tracking and headphone mixes. If you can live with two less XLR/TRS inputs, the PRO24 might be a more powerful and cheaper option. With that said, the PRO26 is a great choice for an upcoming project studio.


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