Sponsored by RME USA, Synthax Inc.

RME is second to none when it comes to audio interfaces, but they also make some of the best format conversion boxes, excellent microphone preamps and a wide range of solutions for networked audio. In this article we'll cover the vast array of possibilities offered by two of their flagship products: the impressive Fireface UFX+ USB & Thunderbolt audio interface (with the accompanying mixing/routing app TotalMix FX), and the 12mic, a crafty multi-channel microphone preamp with AVB & MADI. We’ll explore their features in detail and look at how they can be used both in the studio and for remote audio work. Lastly, we’ll have a quick look at how to build a recording setup around them, or how to integrate one or both into existing setups.

The Fireface UFX+ audio interface

The Fireface UFX+ improves upon its UFX siblings, the UFX and UFX II - adding Thunderbolt connectivity to enable a much higher input/output count and latency figures that are lower than ever before. The UFX II was a 60-channel device, which is an impressive number in itself, but the UFX+ takes it to the next level and reaches a whopping 188 possible channels of audio thanks to the addition of the MADI protocol for the first time. The UFX+ offers 24 channels of analog audio (including four mic preamps and eight balanced line inputs/eight outputs), 16 ADAT on two input/output pairs, AES input/output, plus 64 channels via MADI for a total of 94 channels. Adding inputs to outputs gives a grand total of 188 channels - which are fully available only when operating on a Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 connection. You can use the unit with a USB2 port, but the channel count is reduced as the MADI channels are no longer transmitted to the computer.

Multiple MADI devices can be connected in series via a single port, and the wordclock connectors can be morphed into MADI I/O ports via coaxial cables. A special split mode is available for using both connectors simultaneously, with 32 channels via optical and 32 more via coaxial which greatly expands the connectivity options, enabling the UFX+ to work with all sorts of external devices. The UFX+ can also function as a USB 2.0 or 3.0 device for situations where using Thunderbolt is not an option, (albeit with I/O counts limited to 30 channels max on USB.)

Other improvements over the previous-generation Firefaces include the introduction of SteadyClock clocking technology on the brand new analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters and an improved analog signal path - both lower the signal-to-noise ratio and total harmonic distortion figures. The preamps have been revised, now offering 75 dB of range with a +18 dBu maximum input level, which should be more than enough to amplify even the most demanding microphones such as gain-hungry ribbons or the notorious Shure SM7B. The headphone outputs have been updated as well and can deliver up to +19 dBu maximum output, enough to feed high or low impedance headphones with ease. Cleverly, the headphone outputs are now DC-coupled, which means they are able to send control voltages, something that modular synthesizer users will certainly appreciate.

The UFX+ can work as a remote multitrack recorder without a computer attached, handling external USB storage drives of up to 2 TB, giving users plenty of space to record remotely with ease. The interface also offers built-in playback functionality, which can come in very handy for soundchecks and other stage duties.

Moving over to the software side: one of RME’s most revered traits is their constant update support, with stable, industry-standard drivers and a long held reputation for never leaving an interface without a proper update. As usual the company excels with their robust solution for dealing with routing, mixing and monitoring in TotalMix FX, available for Mac/Windows and iOS. TotalMix FX can also remotely control interfaces through a network, with one device (such as a computer or iPad running the TotalMix FX app) controlling a UFX+ or 12Mic connected to other computers in the network.

There are two visualization options in the app: a patchbay-like matrix for simple routing assignments and a mixing console-style view for advanced control, which is essentially a de-facto mixing solution that completely replaces a real world mixer with a virtual one in the digital sphere. The matrix is quite simple and easy to learn, so we’ll focus on the mixing view. Despite being a little daunting at first glance, the mixer is quite intuitive due to its clever layout with three main fader rows: the bottom row controls the physical outputs on the interface, the middle row controls the software streams such as DAW outputs and audio from the computer, and the top row controls the physical inputs from the interface. Each channel gets its own fader, input gain trim, pan control and aux send, while input and output channels are equipped with EQ and dynamics as well - all latency-free.

TotalMix FX Mixer view

The workflow with TotalMix FX is straightforward: highlight an output at the bottom row, and raise the faders in the mid and top sections that you want sent to that particular output. Voilà, you have a mix from the inputs and/or software streams going through to that output. Add EQ and dynamics to taste - not to mention delay and reverb auxiliary effects - and you have a mix! Need more alternate or headphone mixes? Simply repeat the process on each desired output and the job is done. TotalMix FX also offers ‘control room’ functionality (with mono check) on up to four headphone mixes, quick speaker switching, a dim and a button for muting the auxes if needed.

If you want more hands-on control, RME offers the ARC USB Remote Control, which is a freely assignable controller with 15 buttons and a jog wheel encoder that can seamlessly control any parameter within TotalMix FX. Lastly, we should mention DIGICheck, a set of measurement utilities included with all RME audio interfaces that allow for accurate analysis of any audio coming in our out: frequency analysis, detailed level measurements and integrity signal checks are offered in a lightweight yet extremely handy tool.

RME UFX+ features at a glance:
  • USB 2.0 and 3.0 or Thunderbolt for computer connection
  • 4x XLR-TRS combo inputs (Hi-Z on TRS)
  • 8x TRS balanced line level inputs
  • 8x balanced line level outputs (6x TRS + 2x XLR)
  • 2x stereo headphone outputs
  • 2x ADAT I/O (optical)
  • 2x MADI I/O
  • AES I/O
  • Word Clock I/O (BNC)
  • 2x MIDI I/O (DIN)
  • USB2 Memory Slot for onboard recording
  • USB2 for remote control
  • 19” enclosure / 1 rack unit height
  • Full color display with control knob
  • SteadyClock ultra-low jitter digital clock technology
12Mic multi-channel preamp and analog-to-digital converter with AVB and MADI

The 12Mic is a microphone preamplifier with digital conversion made the RME way: reliable, flexible, feature-rich, ultra-clean sound quality, SteadyClock FS technology for precise clocking, redundant power supply (which means the unit can be connected to two different electrical circuits and if one of these circuits fail, the unit will continue to operate as normal!) That's 12Mic in a nutshell.

As the name implies, this analog-to-digital converter offers twelve high-grade preamplifiers on four combi XLR/TRS Mic/Inst/Line inputs with high impedance (Hi-Z) for instruments - plus eight regular XLR Mic/Line inputs, a headphone out, remote control and plenty of digital connectivity that allows for a choice of ADAT (three output ports), MADI on coaxial ports (optical is optional, and added via a Multimode or Single Mode fiber optic SFP) or AVB through Gigabit Ethernet and two redundant network ports. The 12Mic also features a color display with a pushable encoder that allows users to control the core functions such as gain or phantom power/+48V on the mic preamps and access the onboard matrix for quick routing from inputs to outputs.

The AVB ports are fully compliant with IEEE standards, which enable the 12Mic to be ‘discovered’ and fully controlled from any AVB controller in the network, ensuring full compatibility with devices from many manufacturers. It’s important to note that all signals coming to or from the 12Mic can be routed or streamed on AVB networks with fixed latency and secured bandwidth, no switch configurations are required.

On the ADAT side, the outputs can serve up to 24 channels at 48 kHz sampling rate and 12 at 96 kHz, which can be a combination of the inputs or signals coming from the AVB or MADI inputs. Likewise, the ADAT output ports can be used to provide monitor mixes from either AVB or MADI.

The microphone preamps are what we expect when it comes to RME: they’re pristine, offering lots of clean gain and superb headroom, with a whopping 75 dB gain range and the ability to take signals of up to +18 dBu before clipping occurs.

RME 12Mic specifications:
  • 4x XLR-TRS combo inputs (switchable P48 on XLR / Hi-Z on TRS)
  • 8x XLR microphone inputs (switchable P48)
  • All analog inputs +18 dBu, 75 dB gain
  • Phones output for monitoring of all signals (stereo or balanced mono)
  • Word Clock I/O (BNC)
  • 2x RJ45 1 GigE AVB, 8 streams (each up to 16 ch.) per direction with redundancy
  • 1 x MADI I/O coaxial
  • MADI optical via optional SFP module
  • MADI input redundancy (requires optional SFP module)
  • 3x ADAT outputs (24 ch. @ 48k, supports up to 192 kHz)
  • Internal routing of up to 268x282 channels
  • 19” enclosure 1 unit height
  • 1,54” full color display with control knob and four buttons
  • SteadyClock FS - ultra-low jitter digital clock technology
  • Remote control via HTTP, JSON, IEEE 1722.1 AVDECC, MIDI over MADI
  • internal PSU, optional 12V DC redundant power supply
  • USB 2.0 (for remote control and firmware updates)
Setting it all up

There are a lot of ways to set up the UFX+ and the 12Mic, either rocking together, flying solo or working with other hardware, the possibilities are extensive. Typical scenarios might include:
  • Scenario one - UFX+ as a studio centrepiece: the UFX+ is a superb interface to build a studio around, with all the functionality most people would need for virtually any recording or mixing job, plenty of connectivity thanks to its massive channel count, superb sound quality on all fronts and four mic preamps to sweeten the deal.
  • Scenario two - expanding the UFX+ with a 12Mic: There’s little to be said here other than “16 high-quality mic preamps and stellar conversion” with the UFX+ running the routing-mixing-monitoring show via TotalMix FX. A setup like this needs very little salesmanship.
  • Scenario three - adding the 12Mic to an existing setup: Thanks to its vast connectivity options, it would be a difficult ask to find a scenario where the 12mic doesn’t fit. Generally speaking, ADAT is probably the most common expansion path as there are an enormous amount of interfaces and mixers out there with unused lightpipe ports, but protocols such as MADI and AVB are on the rise and becoming increasingly popular. The only expansion option where the 12Mic doesn’t fit is in an all-analog setup since there are no direct analog outputs available.
  • Scenario four - UFX+ and 12Mic remote recording without a computer: as mentioned earlier, using the UFX+ as a standalone recorder is an excellent choice for remote recording or computer-free operation. Setting it up with the 12Mic is an enticing option for putting together a relatively portable setup with 16 preamp channels for microphones or instruments and a considerably vast channel count.

Closing thoughts

The UFX+ and 12Mic are two pieces of gear that can truly elevate a recording rig to its highest standards, and whether you get one or both, your new toys from RME are going to deliver on all fronts.

For more information the UFX+ and 12Mic, visit: https://www.rme-usa.com/