Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 by Arthur Stone
I needed a W7 compatible interface and after reading reviews and Gearslutz I opted for the PRO24DSP. The unit does what many in this category do - it offers a couple of preamps, a few ins and outs and a software mixer; the Focusrite adds a little extra in that it can emulate different monitoring environments (monitors and rooms) through the headphone outputs...a system called VRM or 'Virtual Reference Monitoring.'
The hardware is robust, stylish and has good ergonomics (unless you have large-sized hands). The unit sounds great for this price-range. Maybe 'design classic' is too much but the unit certainly doesn't disappoint and Focusrite are an established and innovative company with a good reputation for support.
It took me a week or so to get to grips with the software - not that complicated (compared to any other interface) but quite extensive in it's abilities. I've been using for a year now and it's second nature although I'm still finding new features and tricks.
The unit is very flexible with the 4-ins and 6-outs, plus S/PDIF & Adat, DI's, and 2x headphone outputs (each has dedicated level control and shared DSP environment). I usually send a digital signal to the unit via S/PDIF from a Sound Devices702 A/D - the Pro24DSP then sends that signal via firewire to the DAW; the signal from the DAW is then sent back via firewire to the Pro24DSP and out via S/PDIF to a KRK Ergo (for monitoring). This system works great for me and I find the unit rock solid in the 'middleman' role.
Like other budget interfaces, the preamps, although smooth and tasty, lack grunt (in comparison to pro preamps); also the useful gain is bunched in the last 1/4 of the range - not so bad for large-diaphragm condenser mics but hard work controlling the noise-floor with an SM58 and a quiet singer. I do use the preamps quite often though - perhaps not for critical recording - but the sound quality of the preamps and digital converter is appropriate for many sources and the DI's sound ace. Guitars sound good too - through the DI and mic'd.
The VRM technology ( Saffire PRO 24 DSP Audio Interfaces Saffire PRO 24 DSP ) is the icing on the cake; IME it's not a substitute full-time listening environment, rather it's something to run a nearly finished mix through. The VRM emulates different professional and consumer monitors/speakers in either a lounge, bedroom or studio setting. I usually use the studio setting and play through a mix a few times listening on different sets of emulated monitors e.g. similar to Adam, KRK, Quested, NS10, Genelec, etc. - I tweak as I go...so if the bass sounds too heavy on the Quested emulation I can adjust the DAW EQ to compensate and then switch to the Adam emulation to check how the tweak affected the bass. After a few play throughs it's possible to get a mix sounding reasonable on many emulations...then I switch back to normal non-headphone monitoring to finish the mix. It's a great tool - totally immersive, great fun and educational.
I'd have no problem recommending this unit (in the price range) with the proviso that it takes awhile to appreciate it's full potential. With careful settings and mic placement it can produce sounds worthy of more expensive units. It's good value, has great design and style. The VRM is the icing on the cake.