RME Babyface by PaPi61
The RME Babyface was released in early 2011 and it's now one of three USB 2.0 interfaces produced by the German manufacturer. These three devices (the other two are the Fireface UC and the Fireface UFX, although the latter is a Firewire/USB hybrid) essentially share the same architecture, not to mention the same drivers and mixing software. Unlike its bigger brothers, however, the Babyface only has stereo analog I/O's and it's entirely bus-powered. That's because Babyface is clearly aimed at the "portable" market and its direct competitor is the Apogee Duet 2. That, however, does not mean it couldn't be an excellent solution for project or home studios. If you're an ITB (In-The-Box) musician/producer, you don't need anything more than a stereo output and 2 input channels (with mic preamps) is all you need to record the occasional vocalist/soloist. The Babyface can also appeal to the multi-input/multi-pre crowd because of its ADAT optical link that makes it capable of handling up to 22 channels of audio.
Babyface is housed in a 13 x 10 x 4 inch 2.2 lb stylish box available with blue or silver top panel. Recently two new "special editions" have been introduced with white (dubbed "Snow") and pink ("Ladyface") accents. The controls are limited to a large rotary encoder and two buttons. One selects the parameters controlled by the encoder while the other quickly recalls the main output. The rear panel includes a 15-pin D-sub connector for the breakout cable, TOSlink optical I/O (ADAT), USB 2.0 port and external AC adapter socket (although that is neither needed nor provided.) The right side panel has two quarter-inch connectors for the auxiliary hi-z "instrument" input and auxiliary headphones connector. The included short breakout cable has XLR connectors for all I/O's, plus MIDI I/O (DIN) and a quarter-inch female for the headphones. An additional extender cable and a very nice soft pouch are also provided. The software suite consists of the drivers (for both PC and Mac, the former fully compatible with Windows XP, Vista and 7, the latter only limited to Intel Macs but compatible with every OSX version since 10.5) and the TotalMix application. Most likely you will find the software on the bundled CD to be obsolete, since RME updates often. This is where you get the newest drivers and TotalMix: RME: Downloads
A typical question I get asked all the time is "is USB 2.0 as good as Firewire?" Judging by the average performance of cheaper USB 2.0 devices, the answer would be "not quite!" (although some of the newer products are slowly getting there.) But RME's implementation of the same protocol is rather different than the competition's and well capable of exploiting the full capability of the protocol. The result is excellent latency figures that compare well to the best Firewire units. So, don't be put off by the USB thing, it's actually an advantage because nowadays Firewire is on its way out and not found on many computers, especially laptops. And when it's found, it's most likely not handled by the TI chipset and therefore prone to technical trouble. USB gets rid of all these potential headaches, and RME's implementation gives you Firewire-class performance. Truly the best of both worlds.
OK, now we're getting to the crux of the matter. How does it sound? Well, the Babyface's converter technology is essentially the same (*) used in much more expensive RME units like the brilliant Fireface UFX ($2,000.) So, you're basically getting $2,000-class converters in a $700 box. If you thought the Babyface was expensive (and in absolute terms it is), now it's starting to look like a super-bargain, isn't it? But it doesn't end there. The same can be said about its preamps. While not as "hot" as those of my Fireface UC (and, I presume, those of the UFX) in that they have slightly less gain, the quality and clarity is indeed the same (in truth, you will only notice the difference when using some types of ribbon microphones.) Now, if you're asking me how they compare to the pres of the Duet 2, I would tell you that they are the same. No, really, they are ACTUALLY the same, since the use the very same chipset. In my A/B tests with my Fireface UC, I found the Babyface to be sonically indistinguishable from the former. So, if you don't need the 8 analog ins and the 6 analog outs of the UC, save some money (actually more than just "some", as the UC costs a whopping $1,300) and buy yourself a Babyface. To tell you the truth, I would have bought a Babyface myself, if it was available when I purchased my UC, as I never record more than one instrument/vocalist at the same time and never used once the multiple outputs. The reason why I added Babyface to my arsenal is because I suddenly found the need to record my wife's chamber ensemble at their (wonderfully acoustically-treated) rehearsal location and didn't want to unscrew my UC off its rack every time I needed to take it outside the studio (not to mention the hassle of having to go to the back of that rack holder to reconnect everything...) If your only interface is the Babyface, moving it to and from your studio would be a much more hassle-free task. And if you buy an extra breakout cable, you wouldn't even need to reconnect your I/O's. Score another point for the Babyface...
The TotalMix software is so good, it's slowly becoming a de-facto standard for digital mixing. It's so powerful and flexible, it allows you to really do anything you wish. One of the brilliant features of the Babyface is the dual heaphones output. The two pairs of stereo channels are completely independent in TotalMix, and that allows you, for example, to send a different mix to the recording artist than that the engineer is listening to. Couple that with the Babyface's internal DSP FX and zero-latency direct monitoring and that means you can send a zero-latency effected feed to the artist you're recording while you're hearing a completely different mix featuring your DAW's effects and a more conservative/realistic fader level for your artist. Simply brilliant! Another thing I need to point out about RME's excellent software is that the Windows ASIO drivers are fully multi-client capable. No more switching between your DAW and, say for example, a YouTube video you want to check out on the fly. They will both work at the same time.
Another question I get asked often: Babyface or Duet 2? Well, if you don't use a Mac, there is really no choice, as the latter can ONLY be used with OSX (incredibly stupid decision by Apogee, if you ask me...) The pres are the same, so not really a factor. Converters, well, both use very high quality ones and the differences are minimal and probably subjective. Where Babyface totally crushes its opponent is on features, both hardware and software. Babyface has ADAT, MIDI and the peerless TotalMix, to which Maestro can't really hold a candle. Unless you have some kind of emotional attachment to Apogee, the decision really is an easy one.
OK now, where's the catch? Well, there isn't really one, even trying to be picky. Maybe some people can find TotalMix a bit intimidating. But then again, isn't every powerful piece of software more inherently complex? If you work with Garage Band or any other entry-level DAW, wouldn't you find Logic or Cubase intimidating too? And could you honestly hold that against Logic and Cubase? Come on people, let's not exaggerate. If you're an experienced engineer, you'll master TotalMix in less than a day. If you're not, it might take you a tad longer, but hang on in there, it's really no rocket science. I've heard some people complaining about the jog dial not being entirely smooth. I've never experienced that and I attribute it to defective units. If it doesn't feel right, send it back for a replacement.
(*) It doesn't mean they actually use the very same components.