There are plenty of fairly good audio interfaces out there. Decent-to-middling, yes. But if you’re picky about getting something really top-notch in terms of audio performance and stable low latency, that list gets a whole lot shorter.
Want it to be really compact? That list gets shorter still. “Pro” often translates to “rack mount” – but just because you want something light and small doesn’t mean you don’t want something serious.
RME is a brand that very often winds up on that short list. And their new BabyFace Pro I suspect ticks a lot of the boxes you want.
First, four is a very good number – as in four inputs, four outputs. A lot of boxes give you two of either of those, but that often finds you running out of I/O. Others give you more – which you often never use. Four inputs cover a lot of recording applications without needing a mixer. A separate headphone out means you can create listen to a monitor or cue mix, or simply have two more line out channels (say, for rear speakers).
And the BabyFace Pro has a lot of other stuff that other boxes leave out:
Digital (ADAT and S/PDIF).
Hardware meters (so you can actually see your levels easily).
Now, MIDI isn’t hard to come by, but it’s nice to have. The I/O configurations make loads of sense, too. You get headphone jacks for both mini and jack plugs – with both high and low impedance, for whichever cans you have handy. You get inputs for both line level and high impedance (for instruments). You get real XLRs for your mics, even though it’s compact. (Only outs 3/4 are on minijack, but that’s not really an issue, I think.) And the form factor is lovely.
The only disadvantage I can see is, it’d be nice to have four line outs and then headphones switchable to 1/2 or 3/4, which is not what you get here – so quad fans may want to go elsewhere.
The BabyFace Pro is a USB interface (USB2/USB3), but RME is one company that seems to get that right. They really do produce devices that can clock reliably, thanks to what they explain is smart jitter production, and I can’t think of a single brand that has their sterling reputation for low latency performance on OS X and Windows and iOS/mobile and (though they don’t mention this) Linux. (Speaking of Linux: a friend actually tried his Linux box on the Messe show floor and verified plug-and-play operation and terrific performance. And, hey, don’t you want to invest in a box that will work with everything?)
The marketing for this interface is a bit funny – with the slogan “reengineered, not remastered” and some pretty generous assumptions that customers will understand, for instance, why having an FPGA is important. But skipping that, I think this will top up that short list of really good audio interfaces. You can sign up now and they’ll let you know when it arrives.