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UAD Apollo X4 v. RME Babyface Pro FS v. Clarett 8Pre
Old 17th October 2022
  #1
UAD Apollo X4 v. RME Babyface Pro FS v. Clarett 8Pre

I've used an Apollo x4 for the past two years on Windows 10 with Ableton as my DAW after upgrading from a focusrite 2i2. I've found the Apollo X4 tobe disappointing for my specific use-case. I think others may get a lot more out of it than me. As a result I'm wondering if I wouldn't be better served by a RME Babyface FS or something by Neve or Focusrite.

I primarily use my home recording setup for demo making and individual stems recordings that I then will send to producers or mixing engineers my band works with to arrive at a final product. My band is going to take the leap and try to self-produce our next song, so I'm awash in production tutorials at the moment to try to round-out my knowledge about vocal production in particular. We'll then likely send a 'target/reference mix' and individual stems to a mixing engineer/producer to finish the songs off.

I've used the Apollo plugins, but having never properly learned to be an audio engineer or use actual outboard hardware in a real studio (I've sat back and watched producers using them, but at a certain point you become annoying when you keep asking your producer "why/what are you doing with that compressor..."), I often find their plugins that recreate famous pieces of kit (neve, manley, SSL etc.) more confusing than useful. I find Pro-Q/visual EQ interface plugins far more intuitive and useful. And I'm sure my ears aren't as developed as they should be to hear why/what's going on.

But for better or worse, my go-to bread-and-butter plugins that I actually use to accomplish the sounds and stems I want are all not Apollo plugins. As a result, and likely because I use Ableton, I have a frustrating amount of latency despite having a solid PC (I run an i7 6700k, which I admittedly need to upgrade, but which is still no slouch at 4GHZ). Here are my most used plugins:

SoundToys (EffectsRack, LittleAlterBoy, Decapitator, etc.)
Valhalla (verb, shimmer)
Assorted Synth VST's (Arturia V, Tal U, Softube Model 84, etc.)
Ozone 8
Melodyne
EZDrummer
Fabfilter (Pro-Q, etc.)
Ableton utilities/effects

My gripes/experience with Apollo on Windows 10 PC:

- Using thunderbolt on PC has been very problematic for me. I have an Asus motherboard that requires an add-in card (AIC) to use Thunderbolt 4. I've had repeated problems with it. The wrong random driver/windows update can screw with your drivers, or sometimes windows just doesn't recognize it on startup etc. Sometimes I'll have to restart the apollo, or restart my entire machine, or sometimes take out my thunderbolt 4 card do a restart and then install it again to have it be recognized. That's mostly been ironed out in the past year (knock on wood), but it is far from seamless.

- Apollo Plugins all show up in your list of plugins in your DAW, even though I haven't purchased 70% of them. It makes it a pain to find the one you wan't ("oh shit I meant the 'UAD Teletronix LA-2A Legacy' not the other four named the exact same way (LA-2A, LA-2A Gray, LA-2A Silver, LA-3A) that I haven't bought).

- This is neither here nor there, but the X4 runs HOT. Even when you're not making music with it.

- When you do use apollo plugins, if you use too many, it just stops working and declares insufficient DSP. I'd rather have a computer/session that just runs slow than fundamentally doesn't work at points. Yes these can usually be remedied by re-organizing your plugin chain/bus setup etc., but it's another pain.

The GAS Journey Begins...
So given the above, I find myself wondering if I should sell my Apollo x4 (looks like I could sell it for about $1400 on reverb minus the hit reverb takes) and exit the Apollo cinematic universe in favor of something from RME, Neve, Focusrite, or Apogee.

I don't have a separate pre-amp or any rack-gear. My studio gear is a bunch of synths, a midi station, a mixing board that I run those synths into, which then goes into my Audio interface, with monitor outputs going to a pair of Yamaha HS8's.

Should I stop complaining and use what I got, as it's good enough? Or would I be better served switching to an RME Babyface RS? Or perhaps the Neve 88M?

In concept I want the highest quality pre-amp/input so I can get the best quality in, knowing that I don't need a ton of inputs etc. I welcome anyone's thoughts on this. Some guys I've recorded with use a Clarett 8PreX with Logic on a mac laptop and get great sounding results, though there's a bit of 'sheen' to their stuff - I think some of that is their (over?)use of compression.

I've been looking at these, but as you can tell I'm all over the place and at the beginning of my search on this topic. Anything that reduces latency (I'm separately going to buy a new PC this winter) and sets me up to have as high quality of signal input for recording synthesizers, guitars, and voice, is what I'm after. This is a bedroom gig, so there's no drums or other instruments that will require a ton of mic inputs at the same time. I'll be recording a single instrument or mic at any given time.

What I'm looking at:

Focusrite Clarett+ 8Pre:
https://focusrite.com/en/usb-c-audio...rett-plus-8pre
Pros: USB-C, Lots of inputs so it's a bit future proof if I do decide to get ambitious as a home-recorder. Won't cost me any extra money to get one (I might even have cash to spare if I sell my X4 and get a used 8Pre).
Cons: Am I downgrading in sound quality going from the X4 to this?

^ Perhaps get my rackgear journey/moneypit started with this and then a preamp. My instinct is that this isn't for me, but ya.

RME Babyface FS
https://www.rme-audio.de/babyface-pro-fs.html
Pros: USB-C, I've heard this has a higher quality input with better top-end and they claim it helps reduce latency. Not sure if that would actually impact my real-world use-case in Ableton on PC. Again, it costs less.

Cons: I think I'm losing a little bit of input flexibility, as it has 2 mic inputs and 2 instrument inputs, but the X4 has 4 that can be either 1/4 or XLR inputs. Is there a learning curve to get into the RME monitor/software user interface?

Neve 88m
https://www.sweetwater.com/store/det...udio-interface
Pros: USB, 'that neve sound' (though apparently it's not the 1073 - which honestly I don't even know if it would matter to me),
Cons: Less inputs (2 instead of 4), apparently easy to get clipping going.

Other option
- Keep the Apollo and go buy a pre-amp or other piece of outboard gear that would make more of a difference? OR....
- Do nothing, stop the GAS before it starts.

Help me please, Jedi Gear Masters.
Old 18th October 2022
  #2
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Evenings Empire ➡️
I've used an Apollo x4 for the past two years on Windows 10 with Ableton as my DAW after upgrading from a focusrite 2i2. I've found the Apollo X4 tobe disappointing for my specific use-case. I think others may get a lot more out of it than me. As a result I'm wondering if I wouldn't be better served by a RME Babyface FS or something by Neve or Focusrite.

I primarily use my home recording setup for demo making and individual stems recordings that I then will send to producers or mixing engineers my band works with to arrive at a final product. My band is going to take the leap and try to self-produce our next song, so I'm awash in production tutorials at the moment to try to round-out my knowledge about vocal production in particular. We'll then likely send a 'target/reference mix' and individual stems to a mixing engineer/producer to finish the songs off.

I've used the Apollo plugins, but having never properly learned to be an audio engineer or use actual outboard hardware in a real studio (I've sat back and watched producers using them, but at a certain point you become annoying when you keep asking your producer "why/what are you doing with that compressor..."), I often find their plugins that recreate famous pieces of kit (neve, manley, SSL etc.) more confusing than useful. I find Pro-Q/visual EQ interface plugins far more intuitive and useful. And I'm sure my ears aren't as developed as they should be to hear why/what's going on.

But for better or worse, my go-to bread-and-butter plugins that I actually use to accomplish the sounds and stems I want are all not Apollo plugins. As a result, and likely because I use Ableton, I have a frustrating amount of latency despite having a solid PC (I run an i7 6700k, which I admittedly need to upgrade, but which is still no slouch at 4GHZ). Here are my most used plugins:

SoundToys (EffectsRack, LittleAlterBoy, Decapitator, etc.)
Valhalla (verb, shimmer)
Assorted Synth VST's (Arturia V, Tal U, Softube Model 84, etc.)
Ozone 8
Melodyne
EZDrummer
Fabfilter (Pro-Q, etc.)
Ableton utilities/effects

My gripes/experience with Apollo on Windows 10 PC:

- Using thunderbolt on PC has been very problematic for me. I have an Asus motherboard that requires an add-in card (AIC) to use Thunderbolt 4. I've had repeated problems with it. The wrong random driver/windows update can screw with your drivers, or sometimes windows just doesn't recognize it on startup etc. Sometimes I'll have to restart the apollo, or restart my entire machine, or sometimes take out my thunderbolt 4 card do a restart and then install it again to have it be recognized. That's mostly been ironed out in the past year (knock on wood), but it is far from seamless.

- Apollo Plugins all show up in your list of plugins in your DAW, even though I haven't purchased 70% of them. It makes it a pain to find the one you wan't ("oh shit I meant the 'UAD Teletronix LA-2A Legacy' not the other four named the exact same way (LA-2A, LA-2A Gray, LA-2A Silver, LA-3A) that I haven't bought).

- This is neither here nor there, but the X4 runs HOT. Even when you're not making music with it.

- When you do use apollo plugins, if you use too many, it just stops working and declares insufficient DSP. I'd rather have a computer/session that just runs slow than fundamentally doesn't work at points. Yes these can usually be remedied by re-organizing your plugin chain/bus setup etc., but it's another pain.

The GAS Journey Begins...
So given the above, I find myself wondering if I should sell my Apollo x4 (looks like I could sell it for about $1400 on reverb minus the hit reverb takes) and exit the Apollo cinematic universe in favor of something from RME, Neve, Focusrite, or Apogee.

I don't have a separate pre-amp or any rack-gear. My studio gear is a bunch of synths, a midi station, a mixing board that I run those synths into, which then goes into my Audio interface, with monitor outputs going to a pair of Yamaha HS8's.

Should I stop complaining and use what I got, as it's good enough? Or would I be better served switching to an RME Babyface RS? Or perhaps the Neve 88M?

In concept I want the highest quality pre-amp/input so I can get the best quality in, knowing that I don't need a ton of inputs etc. I welcome anyone's thoughts on this. Some guys I've recorded with use a Clarett 8PreX with Logic on a mac laptop and get great sounding results, though there's a bit of 'sheen' to their stuff - I think some of that is their (over?)use of compression.

I've been looking at these, but as you can tell I'm all over the place and at the beginning of my search on this topic. Anything that reduces latency (I'm separately going to buy a new PC this winter) and sets me up to have as high quality of signal input for recording synthesizers, guitars, and voice, is what I'm after. This is a bedroom gig, so there's no drums or other instruments that will require a ton of mic inputs at the same time. I'll be recording a single instrument or mic at any given time.

What I'm looking at:

Focusrite Clarett+ 8Pre:
https://focusrite.com/en/usb-c-audio...rett-plus-8pre
Pros: USB-C, Lots of inputs so it's a bit future proof if I do decide to get ambitious as a home-recorder. Won't cost me any extra money to get one (I might even have cash to spare if I sell my X4 and get a used 8Pre).
Cons: Am I downgrading in sound quality going from the X4 to this?

^ Perhaps get my rackgear journey/moneypit started with this and then a preamp. My instinct is that this isn't for me, but ya.

RME Babyface FS
https://www.rme-audio.de/babyface-pro-fs.html
Pros: USB-C, I've heard this has a higher quality input with better top-end and they claim it helps reduce latency. Not sure if that would actually impact my real-world use-case in Ableton on PC. Again, it costs less.

Cons: I think I'm losing a little bit of input flexibility, as it has 2 mic inputs and 2 instrument inputs, but the X4 has 4 that can be either 1/4 or XLR inputs. Is there a learning curve to get into the RME monitor/software user interface?

Neve 88m
https://www.sweetwater.com/store/det...udio-interface
Pros: USB, 'that neve sound' (though apparently it's not the 1073 - which honestly I don't even know if it would matter to me),
Cons: Less inputs (2 instead of 4), apparently easy to get clipping going.

Other option
- Keep the Apollo and go buy a pre-amp or other piece of outboard gear that would make more of a difference? OR....
- Do nothing, stop the GAS before it starts.

Help me please, Jedi Gear Masters.
Here's my take on this: the apollo x4 is certainly suitable for what you are doing, however if using the UAD plugins and Unison tech is not part of the interest or workflow, it's probably not the best choice for you as that is literally the main selling point of these over the competition.

The Clarett+ I would consider in the same league in terms of raw preamp sound and conversion quality. The preamps are rather clean and neutral sounding, so don't expect mojo. But if you havent been using unison with the Apollo, you'll probably not notice any difference in that regard, they are rather clean and neutral also when used raw.

The RME is certainly of good quality, and gets tons of recommendations for a reason. It's rock solid, long support track record from the company, great low latency drivers, excellent conversion and preamp quality. But if you feel the i/o is limited or will make difficult what you want to do, that's a HUGE consideration.

No opinions on the Neve as I have no direct experience there. But similarly, make sure the interface will meet your needs now and possibly future (short term at least) with i/o capabilities.

There is nothing wrong with not doing anything and just going at it with the Apollo you already own either, it will likely serve the purpose just fine.
Old 18th October 2022
  #3
Lives for gear
 
nightchef's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I can only speak from experience of the Clarett 8 pre, as I haven't used the others. But it sounds really good. Clear, quiet, detailed, all that good stuff. The pres and A/D are very comparable to my Apogee Ensemble; maybe, if anything, a little more uncolored (or less euphonic if you want to put it negatively). I'd say the D/A is one tick less fabulous than the Apogee's, but then the latter is the best I've ever used.

The only thing I'd be wary of with the Clarett is that I've heard people reporting issues with Focusrite Windows drivers. As a (mostly) Mac user I don't know that from personal experience, and the only time I've used a Focusrite interface on a regular basis with a Windows system, it was completely trouble-free. But I gather that some folks have had issues.
Old 18th October 2022
  #4
Lives for gear
 
Progger's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
In your shoes I would definitely sell the Apollo and get the RME. I can't tell you how many times my BFP FS has paid for itself. It works flawlessly, day in and day out, and only becomes more useful the more I get to know it. RME does things VERY well, and the Babyface, while not cheap, is a bargain for its quality.

I'm also a musician first, engineer distant second, and I only use my BFP to record myself for remote sessions, my own compositions/productions (soundtracks, underscore, etc), and creative projects. So I'm not ever recording full bands or really any more than two mics or two DIs at a time. I could expand with another 8 channels if I needed to, but I haven't so far. Professionally, I do a ton of remote session work, writing, and arranging, and the BFP is the solid, quiet, capable, worry-free center of it all. A ton of it has to do with RME's drivers, which are industry-standard for good reason, but I actually really enjoy the clean and VERY powerful preamps. More gain than I need, even with ribbons and moving-coils, without inline boosters.

I think the Focusrite Claretts are perfectly good as well, good contenders in that price range... but I'd still go RME. (I've also heard that the Clarett pres, while very good and clean, are a bit shy on gain overhead. But this is second-hand info, I haven't experienced that personally.)
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