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An oddity that didn't escape the attention of those who saw RME's flagship Fireface UFX audio interface at launch is that it had a USB slot on the front panel. There was very little mention of what it was for, but the rumours were that you would be able to record directly to a mass storage device at some point in the future.
Well, this functionality has now entered public 'alpha test' phase, so last weekend I downloaded and installed it to give it a try. Turns out, it's rather good...
In order to activate the recording features, a new version of the UFX firmware needs to be uploaded to the interface, which is done via a PC or Mac over USB. Once updated, the Meters button on the front of the unit allows you to toggle the recording controls. Setting this up is simple; use the Channel button to scroll through all the channels and activate the 'Record' check box for the channels you want to record from. Your inputs will be recorded directly to whatever storage device is connected to the front USB port. There are just a handful of caveats before you start:
- The recorded file will be a single multichannel WAV, not individual files.
- Drives must be formatted to FAT32, otherwise you'll see a File System Error message.
- Your recording will be dry inputs, so effects added within TotalMix will not be captured. Some drives don't seem to work, but most do.
- As a point of reference, I had no problem recording ten minutes of 20 tracks on a 4GB Kingston memory stick.
Uses for direct recording...
Although this is not an official release - and RME are using this period to iron out any flaws and incompatibilities - I can't praise this update highly enough. There are clear uses for this technology, from having a safety recording running in the event of a DAW crash to being able to record live gigs where using a computer might be ill-advised. (Excessive bass vibrations, for example, can play havoc with internal drives in computers, and Apple MacBooks have a safety feature that 'parks' the hard drive in the event of it being dropped to prevent head damage. The problem is, it can't distinguish between bass vibrations and a nasty fall, resulting in some untimely shutdowns when recording!)
Sometimes there are just situations where a standalone recorder is what you want to use, and that's exactly what this firmware update turns the UFX into - a standalone hard disk recorder. The decision to record a single multichannel audio file is a good one too, as it makes it much easier to write high data volumes to slower devices (such as memory sticks) than trying to simultaneously write multiple files. It also ensures that all files remain synchronous when importing into an editing program like Pro Tools or Cubase which both handle multichannel files natively, automatically showing each channel as a separate region.
A couple of (minor) downsides...
Unfortunately for users of Apple's Logic Pro and Logic Express, Logic doesn't handle multichannel audio at all (other than surround formats) but you can use a freeware application such as Audacity to export the individual tracks from the multitrack WAV, after which it is business as usual. It's also unfortunate that the file format is FAT32, as this imposes a 2GB size limit on recording files. If you're recording from all 28 available mono inputs then you've got just under 15 minutes of run time before you have to drop out of record and start a new file but, unless you're recording a prog rock opera, that should just be a case of waiting for a gap between songs.
My overall verdict...
The RME Fireface UFX was already one of the best professional audio interfaces available based on stability features and sheer audio performance, but once this update leaves preview and becomes official, it's going to stand out from the competition, pushing the UFX into an exciting class of its own and making it a simple choice for people looking to record critical, non-repeatable performances.
Head over to the RME forums to download the pre-release firmware (including an updated version of TotalMix).
Call us for more information on 03332 409 306, email audio@Jigsaw24.com or leave your thoughts in the comments box below and we'll be in touch.