RME’s Babyface is the little USB2-connected brother of the Fireface. Where the Fireface is an imposing rack-mounted unit with all sorts of ins and outs, the Babyface is very minimal. In fact, it doesn’t really look like it does much at all. But looks can be deceiving.
GUESS WHO’S HAVING A BABY
The Babyface’s hardware interface is incredibly simple: two buttons and a jog wheel (which also doubles as a button), plus two LED-driven level displays. On the side you’ll find headphone out and high-impedance guitar input jacks, while a unique custom breakout cable — which looks like an audiophile’s cat o’nine tails — provides another headphone out, left and right XLR line ins, XLR line outs and MIDI in and out 5-pin DIN connectors. It’s a clever little solution to the problem of needing to something get all that audio into that tiny little box, and RME even includes an extension cable in case you need the cords to be a little further away from the unit for whatever reason. The breakout cable links to the Babyface through a 25-pin D-Dub connector. The unit is equipped with the latest 192 kHz AD and DA converters, along with two reference class microphone preamps. It’s USB 2.0, but is also USB 3 compatible, and it is optimised for highest performance under Windows and Mac OS.
The jog wheel allows you to control the gain of both analog inputs simultaneously or separately, as well as the volume of the main line outputs and the headphones output level. You select between these three by using the buttons. The jog wheel itself selects left, right or both analog channels in input mode, or a temporary volume reduction function while in out or phone mode. There’s also a LED to show the sync status of the digital clock, the source of which can be internal or external via ADAT and S/PDIF.
The Babyface is an extremely powerful unit but if you’re after a plug-and-play box — which the Babyface can be — you’re gonna have to work a little bit for it in the early stages. This is definitely one of those ‘read the manual’ units. It took me a good 20 minutes of digging around, searching the manual and trying various things before I figured out how to get a signal into the guitar input (let me save you some time and tell you, you have to open up the Settings dialog for that track and select the Inst. setting beneath the Stereo button). This button seemed just a little too tucked away for such a crucial function, and a lot of other interfaces make this sort of thing a lot easier by not locating it in a sub window. But as I said, although the learning curve can be a bit hairy, this is a very powerful box and once you’ve figured it out once you probably won’t forget it.
The included TotalMix software controls 22 channels of audio as well as 3-band EQ, a low-cut filter, reverb and echo, although compared to RME’s Fireface interface you miss out on the dynamic module with compressor/expander and auto level. TotalMix offers temporary mute, solo and fader groups as well as four stored mute, solo and fader groups.
One of my favourite features on the Babyface, being a guitarist, is the high impedance guitar input. Combined with the extremely high sample rate, this prompted an unprecedented level of realism from AmpliTube 3, Guitar Rig 4 and POD Farm 2. I’ve experimented with — and adored — external impedance converters to achieve this, but obviously without the high resolution offered by the Babyface, there’s only so far one can go with this. With the Babyface my amp models responded much more like a real amp than plugging straight into a line-level input, and the sound was so clear and detailed that it was kinda demoralising to go back to my old recording rig.
The Babyface may look simple but it’s very powerful and, once you’ve mastered its intricacies via thorough reading of the manual, it works its magic by getting out of your way and simply allowing you to make music. The built-in effects are a great touch, especially for acoustic instruments, and the high impedance guitar input is a great idea.
Price: RRP $995.00
Distributor: Innovative Music
Phone: (03)9540 0658
By Peter Hodgson