RME Audio | Fireface UFX | RME Fireface UFX

REVIEW
RME Fireface UFX
While DAWs may be becoming more introverted with their attitudes towards their
processing requirements, you still have to get the stuff in and out. ROB JAMES evaluates a
box that integrates but also stands alone.
T
he DAW world shifts on its axis once again.
All of a sudden native is cool. After years of
skirmishing between hardware and native
even players like Avid are now agreed; native
works and it’s getting better all the time. So, if you are
no longer tied into buying expensive DSP and interfaces
from a DAW vendor, what
else should you be looking
at? For a start, it’s worth
saying that interfaces and
DSP that use a PCI or PCIe
card are more effective than
anything based on FireWire
or USB. However, for sheer
convenience and, of course,
for laptops, FireWire or USB
are the answer.
RME has long been a
force to be reckoned with
where PCI, FireWire and USB interfaces are concerned.
The timing of the release of its latest, all singing, all
dancing interface, the UFX, seems almost prescient.
Housed in a 1U box and finished in the RME
house colours of blue and silver the UK£1699 (+ VAT)
Fireface UFX is deceptively powerful for its size. The
headlines are impressive, 60 channels of audio and
a 90 channel mixer with 42-bit internal resolution.
There are practical constraints on these numbers if you
want to use the HD sampling rates (up to 192kHz),
but the UFX is even more than this. It boasts a
comprehensive and flexible routing matrix and mixer,
a monitor controller, high quality clock source, very
serious digitally controlled analogue preamps and
some intriguing potentialities for the future.
On the front panel the left hand side is dominated
by four XLR/jack combo sockets for Mic/Instrument
analogue inputs 9-12, analogue outputs 9 – 12 are two
stereo headphone jacks with abundant output level,
two DINs do MIDI 2 In and Out, and there is a USB
A socket labelled Memory. A quick perusal of the user
manual reveals that, although this socket is not yet
active, a future firmware update will enable recording to
a memory stick or hard drive with the potential to record
every signal passing through the unit. The excellent
Digicheck suite of utilities already has a Global Record
function so this shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. It
could be used as a backup location recorder and would
make perfect sense.
Every input and output has gain options switchable
individually from the front panel or via TotalMix:
-10dBV, +4dBu, HiGain (equals +2dBV, +13dBu and
+19dBu for 0dBfs). The balanced XLR outputs go up
20
to +24 dBu. The other half of the panel begins with a
block of State LEDs for WC source, MIDI Rx and Tx
and USB and FireWire active. A large Volume knob,
which is also a push switch, sits next to four function
selector buttons to the left of the very high resolution
colour screen. On its right, two further rotary encoders/
switches work with the
display to change settings
and levels without recourse
to a computer.
The display is superb
but titchy. This is of
no consequence when
displaying numbers and
single parameter graphics
but, when showing 60 audio
meters, it’s for the young
with 20/20 vision. Around
the back ¼-inch balanced
jacks access analogue inputs 1-8 and outputs 3-8.
Analogue outputs 1&2 are XLR and intended primarily
for monitoring use. AES-EBU I-Os are XLR and the
UFX will also accept SPDIF signals here. Four Toslink
optical sockets provide 16 channels of ADAT format
I-O while the second pair can also be used for optical
SPDIF. Word clock I-O is BNC and there is a 75Ohm
termination switch and indicator LED on the input. A
mini DIN is for the optional monitor remote, USB and
FireWire sockets connect to a host computer, with USB
taking precedence if both are connected, and two DINs
are for MIDI 1 In and Out.
RME has an optional remote control, the ADI-8 QS,
with a Volume knob that doubles as a dim toggle when
pressed and a couple of buttons for setting and recalling
calibrated level.
With Apple apparently going cold on FireWire and
many PCs not so equipped as standard, the dual,
either or, FireWire/USB2 interfaces are very welcome.
Of course, it will also work with USB3 and FireWire
800. RME have eschewed a conventional off-the-shelf
chipset for USB/FireWire. Instead it’s developed its own
solution using FPGAs. This technology enables simple
firmware updates, if required, and is behind RME’s
justifiable (in my experience) claim to have the most
compatible USB and FireWire interfaces available for
real-time audio.
I really like the Quickstart Guide, silk screened onto
the top of the unit along with the block diagram, ‘Just
fire it up!’ Well, you can do that, but collaboration with
a PC or Mac needs a simple driver installation. TotalMix
FX, the digital mixer and signal router application, is
far more intuitive than previous versions. Powered by
resolution a couple of DSP chips it offers a comprehensive routing
matrix and a full mixer with integrated 3-band EQ
and high-pass filter, dynamics and reverb/echo effects.
Mixer outputs can be rerouted back to DAW inputs
for recording. Mackie Control Protocol is supported for
hardware control of the mixer. The EQ is very good, as
are the dynamics, and the effects are no slouch. The
control room section even includes a talkback button.
Although the mixer is resolutely stereo it is possible
to use the Volume encoder to control a surround mix
output by creating a 6-channel fader group that includes
Outputs 1&2.
Six complete configurations can be stored in on-board
memory locations and recalled, even when the unit is
used standalone. This opens up possibilities of using
the UFX to replace a variety of hardware boxes, for
example; a 12-channel A-D/D-A convertor, a monitor
mixer, analogue/digital routing matrix, 4-channel mic
preamp or digital format convertor.
The mic pres punch well above their weight and
the UFX uses Cirrus Logic A-D convertors and a digital
filter with latency of just 12 samples in SD. Each mic/
instrument channel uses two convertors to improve
signal to noise and conversion accuracy.
Like other RME products the UFX is characterised
by excellent engineering, accuracy and neutrality, all
cardinal virtues. It might just be the only extra box
many people will need for a DAW rig. It has a multitude
of applications in other roles as a standalone and in
conjunction with other kit. n
PROS
Studio in a 1U box; quiet and neutral;
easy to grasp.
CONS
Four mic pres may be insufficient for
some; display is small.
EXTRAS
Equipped with 192kHz A-D and D-A
convertors and two reference class
microphone preamps the RME Babyface
is bus-powered via USB 2.0.
It employs RME’s SteadyClock and
the digitally controlled preamps have
individually switchable 48V phantom
power. The feature set includes optical I-O,
usable as ADAT port with SMUX support
or SPDIF for sessions at up to 192kHz. In
combination with an ADAT convertor, like
the RME ADI-8 DS/QS or OctaMic II, the
Babyface provides 10 analogue input and
12 output channels. A headphone output
is available directly on the unit and also on
the breakout cable.
With one main control knob and two
single buttons it provides direct control
of volume, reference volume store and
recall, volume dim, input selection/
switching, and input gain control. The
next generation of TotalMix delivers
hardware mixing/routing and adds
3-band parametric EQ, reverb and echo.
Contact
RME, GERMANY:
Website: www.rme-audio.de
November/December 2010
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