MAKING TRACKS STUDIO…HARDWARE…SOFTWARE…
AUDIO INTERFACES FROM RME & CENTRANCE
By Wesley Bryant-King
CEtrance Mixerface R4: Easy mobile recording.
One of the most fundamental components of any studio set-up is the audio interface — the hardware needed to get sound into your studio computer (and DAW) when recording vocals or live instruments, and to get sound back out again to the monitors or headphones you need to hear your work. Unfortunately, there are a dizzying array of options on the market today, and they vary considerably in price, capability — and quality. And when you start factoring in the need to go mobile or tackle applications, like recording your own video, things get complicated. In this piece, I take a look at a couple of different options: RME’s Babyface Pro and the CEtrance Mixerface R4.
RME’s Babyface Pro: High-end capabilities.
CEntrance MixerFace R4
RME Babyface Pro
RME may not be all that well-known in the United States, but this German company has wide array of audio products, including audio interfaces, converters, preamps, and more. The Babyface Pro is a compact, desktop USB audio interface. The unit boasts 12 inputs and 12 outputs, but the raw numbers obscure the reality of how most users will connect the unit… There are two XLR inputs, two XLR outputs, two ¼-inch, balanced inputs, and a headphone output. It provides ADAT and/or S/PDIF connections as well, and it’s in ADAT mode that those extended ins and outs can be configured and used. While many users might benefit from those, I think from a purely practical standpoint, most users are going to see this as a device that has two mono outs for your monitors, and four total mono inputs — or one stereo out, and two stereo ins, if you want to look at it that way — plus headphones. RME has taken a bit of a page from the Apple playbook in building the Babyface Pro by machining it from a block of aluminum. It looks nice, it feels nice, and it simply reeks of quality. The aesthetics beyond the aluminum are also quite nice; there are LED level displays on the top panel, along with various buttons and a rotary encoder that allows you to see and configure various levels (both inputs and outputs). The various connections are on the sides and rear of the unit. Given its size, a “full” configuration with everything connected is a bit unwieldy, with lots of cables sort of running everywhere — one of my few quibbles with the Babyface Pro. One of the nicer parts of the Babyface Pro isn’t the hardware; it’s the so-called TotalMix software. It provides a typical virtual mixer view of the device, and allows you to configure, tailor and control how the device works, and signals are routed. You can dial in effects, EQ, filters, and, of course, the usual gain, pan and other mixer controls. Compared to a lot of the virtual control panels I’ve seen and used for audio interfaces, RME deserves props for providing something that’s flexible, powerful and easy to use. I was hardpressed to come-up with a single use case that wasn’t in some way covered (continued on page 40)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have a rather unique audio interface that I first got a sneak peek at during Winter NAMM 2018. There, I had the opportunity to meet with the small team from Illinois-based CEntrance, showing-off their new entry in the space, the MixerFace R4. As is often the case, it can take a while to get products from demoing on the NAMM show floor to production and into retail and reviewers’ hands, but I finally had a chance to cozy up to one of these fun little devices. The primary use case for the MixerFace R4 is mobile recording, and that’s evident from the size and a specific design feature: an on-board lithium-polymer battery that promises to power the unit for hours at a time. Just connect it to your iOS device through a Lightning/USB adapter (it also works with many Android devices), power it on, make the connections, load your favorite recording app, and get to it. I found it just as appealing that it operates “plug-and-play” (i.e., no drivers needed) with modern Macs; Windows users will need to download and install an ASIO driver (downloadable from the CEntrance web site). The desktop connectivity provides extra utility for the roughly $350 investment. And if you need yet another use case, the ability to use it with video cameras to record more professional sound might tip the scales even farther; the MixerFace R4’s arrival was well-timed, since as it happens, I was preparing to shoot a video where I needed to connect a conventional dynamic mic to my mid-level DSLR – it fit the bill perfectly. At this price point and in this size a container, you’re not going to get infinite channels, but you do get a pretty useful configuration. On the front you’ll find a pair of Neutrik combo XLR and ¼-inch inputs (channels 1 and 2), along with 1/8-inch TRS balanced outputs that — with the right cables — you can (for example) connect to full-size studio monitors. On the back, you’ll find 1/8-inch stereo aux input (channels 3 and 4), a pre-monitor line out, and a headphone jack. And on the top and back, you’ll find knobs, switches, and USB connections that round out the set-up. CEntrance chose recessed switches for certain functions – the idea being that in a portable setting out in the field, you wouldn’t accidentally bump one of them. That’s all well and good, but I found it a little painful to have to locate a paperclip and bend it open every time I needed to change settings. (A ballpoint pen tip might work, too, but I’m not sure I’d want ink smears on the unit.) It’s the price of this small a package, I suspect. (continued on page 40)