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Audio interface devices have become an integral part of music recording and production.
Unless you have a professional studio with a bunch of mixers, isolated rooms and a selection of recording microphones, you will probably want to record all your instruments directly into a computer.
As a matter of fact, even some larger studios use this type of equipment. For the most part, however, audio interface devices are popular with enthusiast producers working with a very limited rig. So far we have seen a large variety of these interfaces, each offering their own take on this technology. However, the core always remains the same.
Without going too far into details, let’s just focus on the way these devices are transferring the signal to your computer. USB standard has been around for a while and is seeing its third evolution as we speak. Even so, USB 2.0 is still the most prolific version in use today. Hence, audio interface devices are mostly based on this standard. With that said, USB 2.0 has some limits.
Major manufacturers of audio interface devices have are slowly shifting to faster standards of data transfer such as Firewire. One of the more popular models based on this technology is Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56, which we are going to talk about today.
Versatility packed in one audio interface
The main reason why different brands are exploring alternatives to USB 2.0 is the limited bandwidth available. USB 2.0 standard was more than enough when audio interface first appeared, but these days things are nearing the point where much faster and more capable data transfer standards will become a necessity.
If you want to send data to and from your computer faster, you have several options available. First one is USB 3.0, which is the next generation of USB standard, and you have Firewire. The latter is capable of transferring data at the speeds in excess of 800 mb/s, which makes it a perfect choice for the application we are talking about today.
Compared to your standard two channel USB audio interface, Liquid Saffire 56 comes packed with all kinds of features. For starters, it’s delivered in am very high quality enclosure that is similar to what you can see on professional studio equipment these days.
However, robust enclosure doesn’t make a good audio interface, so let’s see what else is there. Unlike the majority of devices in this category, Liquid Saffire 56 comes with eight sets of inputs. You have your standard XLR and TRS inputs, but interestingly enough they are separated. On top of that, you also get stereo S/PDIF, a MIDI cluster, and 16 channels of ADAT. That is a lot of versatility packed in one audio interface.Each of the eight inputs comes with a dedicated preamp. Tow of those are third gen Focusrite Liquid Pre amp technology while the other six feature their dual stage design. Liquid Pre amp technology is interesting because it offers preamp emulation.
You can choose form a variety of popular preamps, and get a result that is pretty authentic. With all that said, one of the main advantages of this audio interface and the fact that it uses Firewire is the precision 24 bit/192Hz conversion. Going 192 bit significantly increases the quality of sound you get.
In terms of performance, we are talking about an extremely well integrated system. Liquid Saffire 56 is very easy to use, and all of the controls are pretty intuitive. It offers reliable performance and flawless compatibility with most DAWs available.
However, Liquid Saffire 56 is more than just its hardware component. You also get Saffire MixControl which is essentially a digital mixer which allows you to mix the signal coming from the interface before you feed it into your DAW. The benefit of this piece of software lies within the zero latency communication with the interface.
Overall, Liquid Saffire 56 is a beast. Fast and reliable signal recording and transfer, extensive controls and impressive quality of sound are what defines this audio interface. However, there are some issues. What we found to be somewhat disappointing on this unit has nothing to do with its design or features. It’s about Focusrite’s quality control.
This company usually has great quality control, but it seems that they have lowered their standards if Liquid Saffire 56 is to be judged. There are reported instances of complete failure and hardware damage.
What we like
Great integration with almost any software, fast and reliable connection with the computer and most importantly, great quality of sound. These are all the things that make Liquid Saffire 56 one great audio interface. The software component which follows the hardware side of the business is great and actually practical.
What we don’t like
The only issue we have seen with this model is the not so great quality control. Instances of complete failure are rare, but they do happen more often than it is the case with Focusrite’s other products.
To sum up
Using audio interface devices to record music can be a bad solution, or a very good one. It all depends what hardware you have available, and how versatile it is. If you found out that standard USB 2.0 audio interface just isn’t cutting it for you, Liquid Saffire 56 is one of the few models which will give you the type of performance you need. It’s a very extensive unit that packs a whole bunch of great features, making it a model that is recommended for professional use.
Sure, it has some flaws and issues, however we need to keep in mind that Firewire audio interfaces are not all that common, and some ironing out is necessary before this type of devices become the new standard. Chances are we are going to see that very soon considering how manufacturers are slowly shifting toward USB 3.0/ Firewire combination.
If you need more versatile piece of equipment for home recording or studio use, Liquid Saffire 56 is something you should definitely consider.