Building on the success of the Fireface 800, this new unit offers enhanced features and connectivity, writes Simon Allen.
The Fireface 800 is responsible for growing much of RME’s strong reputation in the audio devices market. With new technologies available today and many exciting developments in RME’s newer line of products, it was time for the 800 to undergo a major update. Meet the all new Fireface 802.
RME’s name was built by combining great functionality at competitive pricing, with high-quality sound. Typically, RME’s products are affordable for serious amateurs, and yet of a high standard to cater for industry professionals, being developed by designers who are all musicians or sound engineers.
I imagine that nearly every engineer, and many musicians and producers, have found themselves working with a Fireface unit at some point over the past 10 years. I know I certainly have. The feature set they had in such a small footprint that also worked easily on a variety of systems, often made it a very easy choice when deciding which interface to use. However, with so many interfaces available today and systems becoming more versatile, what has RME put into the 802 to ensure it continues to hold its place in the market?
There is a total of 30 input and 30 output channels combining analogue and digital connectivity. On the analogue side there are 12 in and 12 out, made up from eight balanced TRS line inputs and four mic preamps. The mic amps have balanced XLR/TRS combo sockets for instrument direct inputs. For the outputs, there are eight balanced TRS line outputs and two TRS stereo headphone outputs. These headphone outputs are high powered and suitable for high impedance headphones.
Although the total I/O count is only slightly higher than its predecessor, the emphasis is on higher quality. All the analogue circuitry is designed to have low noise-to-signal ratio and low distortion values. The converters behind, and in front, of the transparent analogue circuits are equally clear, as I find out later. These analogue I/O now boast 118dBA of dynamic range, including the headphone outputs. One feature from RME that I really like is the inclusion of their SteadyClock with jitter reduction, even when you are clocking from an external clock source.
On the digital side there are two simultaneous ADAT connections providing you with up to 16 in and out. With an additional couple of A-D/D-A units this could give you up to 28 analogue connections. The ADAT 2 connection will also support SPDIF for extra flexibility, while an AES/EBU, Word Clock, and MIDI connections are also on hand. The 802 will support sample rates of up to 192kHz.
Firewire and USB
The original Fireface 800 was geared around a Firewire 800 or 400 connection. However, more recent developments from RME such as the Fireface UC have proven the same level of performance and reliability from a USB2.0 connection, which RME now favours. Here with the 802, RME is offering all three for the simplest connectivity to modern computers that we’ve ever seen; USB2.0, FireWire 400 and 800. This is possible due to RME’s own audio interface core rather than third-party audio technology.
The USB connectivity also permits the 802 to be used with an iPad. As well as an audio interface for the iPad, RME’s new TotalMix FX software is available as an iOS app too. The TotalMix software is extremely powerful and beautifully presented, but often it is awkward to operate with a mouse while hopping between other applications such as DAWs.
Apart from the optional monitor controller described later, there is a TotalMix template for the iOS and Android app, ‘TouchOSC’. This enables wireless remote control via an iPad or iPhone conveniently on a separate screen.
The 802 also comes with onboard processing power and the new TotalMix FX control application. Combined, these in essence provide low latency monitoring solutions with a surprising amount of control, flexibility, and processing power. As well as acting like a studio-style console for monitor management, the TotalMix FX software also controls the units settings such as clocking and sample rate, etc.
The TotalMix FX app is vastly improved from the old Fireface 800 TotalMix software. There is a new design that looks more up to date and is much easier to use without prior knowledge of its functions. The amount of new features within the app is very impressive; dedicated control room section, channel options for mono, stereo, M/S processing and phase, channel strip settings such as EQ and dynamics, a new matrix system, to mention just a few.
The number of possible routing scenarios is endless. Any of the 30 input channels and any of the 30 playback channels can be routed and mixed to any of the 30 output channels. To aid this, there are also 15 stereo sub-mixes available. To complete the modern digital console feel, channels each have EQ with filters and complete dynamics modules with reverbs and effects running on separate busses.
All this processing power means you can create very low latency monitoring mixes without concern of your recording software. The processing is handled by two onboard DSP chips, which manage the routing and effects processing respectively. The effects and signal processing will run at any sample rate by self managing its system resources, which RME calls automatic overload surveillance.
Optional monitor controller
Even though the TotalMix software is a huge development, both in terms of what it can do and the better user interface, you still have to work with the mouse, or of course on an iPad. If working within a DAW at the same time, RME’s optional Advanced Remote Control (ARC) provides a simple tactile surface for quicker and easier workflow. There aren’t many hardware controls on the 802 unit itself so the ARC is almost a must if you are going to purchase one of these units. With an ARC attached, the 802 can then be mounted into a rack and doesn’t need to be at arm’s reach for better studio integration.
The ARC provides anything from mono, dim, talkback, store, recall, and of course volume. In fact any of its keys can be user programmed to operate a huge selection of the software features. The store and recall snapshot function inside TotalMix allows users through the ARC, to very quickly change between projects or system setups.
On the road
One of the applications that most suits compact audio cards is location recording. So, for my test purposes I decided to use the 802 out on the road. This time it was a classical choir project in a location which sounded great for a medium-sized choir, but didn’t have any recording equipment installed. Therefore all monitoring headphones, microphones, and the recording system had to be taken in and rigged on the morning of the session. The 802 was simply ideal. With an external preamp unit connected via optical ADAT for additional microphone inputs, the 802 had everything covered and was easy to setup.
The TotalMix software really is very easy to use and offered more functions than we could have ever needed on this session. It makes the whole unit simple and easy to use without any reference into a manual. It’s also helpful when tracking something as sensitive as a classical choir, to have all the controls and metering on one screen. Best of all, however, was the ability to quickly create two different headphone mixes. Utilising the two independent headphone outputs on the front of the unit meant we didn’t need an additional headphone amp.
As for the built-in preamps, they are excellent. Clearly a development over its predecessor the Fireface 800, the preamps are extremely clean and hardly add any coloration, which was ideal for this classical project. The gain structure was noticeably linear and easy to work with, unlike some other interfaces’ built-in preamps.
For me, the biggest surprise was listening back to the audio in the studio afterwards. The additional preamps on the ADAT connection I have used many times before and feel I know how they perform with the same microphones. I’ve always been concerned about their A-D conversion yet with the RME there was a clear improvement. I can only assume that this was down to the SteadyClock inside the RME which I clocked from, and the jitter suppression technologies.
This is a brilliant product update with all the functionality we have come to expect from RME. Again the company has combined high-quality sound with the maximum specification at a competitive price. The 802 has found a gap of its own in an increasingly crowded market, and has done so in true RME colours. Onboard, low-latency DSP processing and the TotalMix FX controller app is an important development from RME, which has pushed the boundaries of what is possible from such a convenient unit. The materials that encase all these inner workings might not be scratch-proof, but at this price, the industry needs the 802 and I’d be happy to use one again soon.
Simon Allen is a freelance internationally recognised sound engineer and pro-audio professional with over a decade of experience. Working mostly in music, his reputation as a mix engineer continues to grow.