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Three Best Firewire Audio Interfaces | Reviews & Comparisons vs USB

Updated on April 5, 2014
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Firewire Audio Interfaces: My Top 3 Review Picks

If you're looking to set up a home recording studio, whether it's a personal project or a professional application, you're probably trying to find the fastest and most capable unit for your money. Luckily, there are a ton of quality products to choose from. You've probably noticed the large number of Firewire audio interface options already, and you may have some questions about how they work.

In the studio recording world today, there are a few different common options for connecting an interface with your computer. USB is by far the most common and popular, at least among the affordable choices. Firewire is a big player as well, and Thunderbolt is just starting to enter the market.

I have written this article in order to show off three of the best Firewire audio interfaces in shops today. I will go over each one, and I'll mention why it's in my top three and what the advantages are, as well as any potential detractors. I will also look into the question of a USB vs a Firewire audio interface, and the pros and cons of the different technology. Let's get started!

Be sure to leave any comments or clarification requests at the bottom of the article.

Saffire 24 Pro: A top quality Firewire audio interface

I'm going to start with the unit that I think is the best all-around choice (and subsequently the most expensive), and I'll work down from there. The Saffire Pro 24 is an excellent choice, not only for the amateur or beginner home recorder, but also for seasoned professionals and semi-pros. It's a great and lightning fast interface with tons of inputs and outputs. It's the ideal choice for a recording artist who wants to record and mix their own stuff on a budget.

Obviously, the unit has a Firewire connection and power source, with all the bandwidth and versatility that provides (read on for more details on the benefits of Firewire over USB). It features a high quality 24-bit capability, meaning that the sound is perfect and well synchronized without lag or latency issues. On the subject of sound, this is a great Firewire audio interface for studio use because the internal pre-amplifiers are among the best in this price range, offering bright, clear and true recording quality.

It comes with a built-in mixer application called Saffire MixControl, which allows you most of the benefits of a physical mixer using your computer. It features four inputs in total, including two multi-use ones in the front that allow for either XLR (microphone) or 1/4 inch jack input sources (both with 48v phantom power too). The number of inputs is also expandable, via ADAT.

Slick, versatile and usable, this is a full-featured interface with LED display on the front to easily read the levels through your inputs. All you'll need to get running is a Firewire 400 port (or 800 with an adapter).

One of my top choices.

Firepower Dual: an inexpensive audio interface with great features

This is a wonderful audio interface with both Firewire and USB capability, which makes it very versatile. You may not be familiar with Behringer, but they're a brand dedicated to bringing studio quality microphones, amps and recording equipment to the market with very reasonable price tags.

The 610 is one of the best Firewire audio interfaces in this affordable price range for a number of reasons. First off, it has the same 24-bit resolution as the Focusrite reviewed above, yet it's about a third cheaper.

It also has a lot of inputs and it's capable of running a decent number of devices all at once. The front panel features two XLR / quarter inch inputs that will work for both microphones (even condenser) and guitars and similar instruments. Both inputs feature phantom power and other useful additions such as Pad and low / high cut filters. It also has a MIDI in / out, which is very helpful if you're wanting to use virtual instruments.

The unit is well built and attractive, with LED lights for the inputs on the front panel to let you know how much gain you're dealing with. It's very versatile, receiving power and connectivity from either USB or Firewire depending on your needs. (If you have Firewire, I recommend using it over USB, but if you're in a bind the USB 2.0 works well too).

The unit is compatible with most major recording software, and it's usable right out of the box with built-in drivers.

Why is it less expensive? Behringer is great and capable, but I wouldn't say the pre-amps are quite at the same quality level as, say, the Focusrite listed above. Still, the mic inputs sound amazing and it's a powerful and inexpensive Firewire audio interface unit worth checking out.

Inspire Firewire: One of the best cheap audio recording interfaces for straightforward use

OK, now that I've listed a couple of very feature rich (yet affordable) Firewire audio interfaces, this time let's take a look at a dead simple and inexpensive one. The PreSonus Inspire isn't nearly as feature-packed as some of the more expensive offerings, but it gets the job done, and depending on your needs could be perfect for you.

Because it's Firewire, you get to take advantage of a superior resolution, so you get 24-bit recording capability. Surprisingly, there are four inputs and four outs, including two XLR (only) inputs and two 1/4 inch ins. The XLR inputs feature 48v phantom power if you need it.

Interestingly, you can apparently daisy-chain these interfaces together for up to 16 ins and outs, though I'm not sure why you wouldn't just opt for a better interface if you needed that much capability.

Once plugged in, this simple Firewire audio interface features a software mixer called the Control Panel, where you can do much of what you could with a physical sound board, and even save settings. It should also sync easily with popular recording software like ProTools and Cubase.

Because of its recording limitations, this would be best suited for the amateur recording artist, or for someone who wants to record for songwriting purposes rather than producing full-blown mixed and mastered releases. The sound quality is not bad for the price, actually, but it's dirt simple and might not have all the features you'll need.

I'd recommend this as a good choice for a podcaster as well, since it's small, light, simple to use and set up. Overall it's hard to beat this price tag, and I think it's one of the best cheap Firewire audio interfaces out there. Check out the customer reviews on it.

USB vs Firewire Audio Interfaces: Pros and Cons

The technology behind USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 is actually quite close in terms of capability, so this can be a tough comparison to make. The truth is you're unlikely to notice a great difference from one to the other, but there are differences worth noting.

  • Firewire has a higher overall bandwidth than USB 2.0. That's why you'll see more of them with 24-bit / 96 kHz resolutions. That being said, you won't notice latency issues on USB unless you have a lot of inputs going at once.
  • Because USB is used for a variety of purposes, and Firewire is generally dedicated to audio and video, it can be more efficient than USB overall, especially if there is a lot of device interference.
  • You can link multiple Firewire devices together in a single port, and it shouldn't affect performance (to a point) because Firewire uses streaming data rather than packets. That way you don't have to have lots of ports tied up at once. USB 2.0 would require a port per device, which can get tricky on some PCs.

There are some downsides to Firewire, however. USB is far more ubiquitous, and many computers don't come with a Firewire port out of the box, so you'd have to install one. Many Macs feature it natively, but it is less common on Windows PCs. In fact, some computers can't even be upgraded to Firewire (typically older PCs).

USB devices also tend to be more common and therefore cheaper to purchase.

Overall, if you have a Firewire port on your computer, why wouldn't you use it? In my opinion, the advantages far outweigh the cons.

Audio Interface Poll:

How many inputs do you need to record at once, max?

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What About Firewire 800?

Firewire 800 is a newer technology that features a huge upgrade in bandwidth and capability. However, not many computers come with 800 standard, and it's a rare thing in the digital audio interface world too. It supports up to 400 megabits per second transfer rate, and as such could theoretically handle a nearly limitless number of audio inputs at once.

Models such as the RME Fireface 800 can support up to 56 channels recording at once! The price of these devices is extremely high, and is likely only of use to full-fledged recording studios and professionals. It's the same story as Thunderbolt.

I'd stick with 400; for all intents and purposes it should be more than enough bandwidth for the majority of home recording studios and podcasters.


What do you think about these devices? Questions or Comments?

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