I think I have (finally) made my decision. After quite a lot of phone calls, forum posts, review readings, and 8-Ball shakings, I've chosen my new semi-portable rig with analog limiters on every channel (that was the feature I've been searching for.) 1. Presonus Digimax 96K 8 channel preamp w/ limiters
Well liked preamp, recently discontinued. 8 excellent preamps, 8 analog quality limiters, 8 good AKM-made A/D converters, 8 channel ADAT-out (48khz only for 8 channels over ADAT) 2. Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP Firewire Interface
This compact, firewire-bus powered preamp/interface from Focusrite has two good preamps, 2 line-ins, 4 level meters, ADAT-in, zero latency DSP on board, TWO HEADPHONE JACKS, and finally, "VRM," Virtual Reference Monitoring technology.
Basically it's a quality, small, firewire interface for my Digimax with two headphone ports (a big plus for me.) The thing that sold it for me is the VRM, which I have yet to use, but I hear works pretty good. My reference monitors are in India (and aren't that great) and I am constantly traveling, so having a way to mix better with just headphones is extremely attractive to me. Plus can be standalone with new firmware. COST:
Saffire Pro 24 DSP ($400 street) + Presonus Digimax 96K [Discontinued] ($1350 street) = $1750 street price
However, I bought my Digimax 96k used, they go for around $650 used, so $650ish + $400ish = $1050ish
I am pretty happy with this decision. This will yield great audio quality, with good limiters, with VRM dual-headphone monitoring, in a semi portable rig for $1000ish, maybe under if you find deals. Cons:
-Digimax 96K is heavy and has a big and heavy (like 5 pounds) external power supply, not super portable.
-It can also only send 48Khz over the 8 channel ADAT (Does anyone think this is important?), or 96Khz over the SPDIFS(who has 4 SPDIF-ins...?), and only one option or the other I think.
- The meters aren't great on the Digimax
-The Pro 24 DSP costs about as much as a Presonus Firestudio 26x26 with the mail in rebate they are having! Any thoughts, suggestions, ideas to improve/change this setup are much appreciated!
For those of you still looking..
-The new Mackie Onyx "i" series looks great. The 820i has 8 inputs, Cirrus A/D converters, is a firewire interface, EQ, faders, etc for $500 street. They have 4 versions, looks cool.
-The Octopre is a cheaper alternative to the Digimax 96K, but I have read negative things about the compressor, and the audio quality probably loses to the Digimax.
-If you have the money RME is probably a good option
-You can always get a Firestudio or whatever with an outboard compressor like the Presonus ACP88 or a cheap Behringer equivilant, though this is too big for me. The possible problem with this is that you can still overload/distort the analog preamps before you send the signal to the limiters, so you'll get analog instead of digital clipping but it's still not ideal...
-The 896mk3 is a decent option, looks good in a lot of ways and apparently the preamps are "ok." The problem with this is that it can't be upgraded from Black Lion Audio (they are using new hard to modify parts) and so your stuck with the "eh" preamps. Plus it's pretty big and expensive itself (although only 12 pounds compared to the Digimax's 15!!)
-I've heard to stay away from the TC Konnekt stuff, good components but crappy drivers apparently.
-Oh and the Edirol FA-66 does NOT have ADAT, so that's not an option.
Should have my stuff next week, I will report back my happy problem-free adventures with it (hopefully.)
Thanks for everyone's help and input. BTW we can keep the thread going to discuss this general question/setup, it's not all about me!