Compact Audio Interfaces: RME Babyface Pro and Universal Audio Apollo Twin mkII
Updated: Feb 25
The market for home recording studios or small studios is simply overflown with options of gear in an affordable range that can yield professional sounding records - if driven by the right hands. Since the audio interface is generally at the core of a recording studio, we decided to take a look at two contenders which have a lot of traction in the market: the RME Babyface Pro and the Universal Audio Apollo Twin mkII.
Let us just clarify, for the record, that are plenty of other options capable of delivering the results you are after. Competent companies like Apogee, Focusrite and Yamaha, amongst others, all have perfectly good options in the same price range as the two we will analyse here. But we have decided to focus on these two options for now.
Form Factor, Feature and Specifications
The RME Babyface Pro is a compact and portable interface which feels robust and is as reliable and high-end as the name RME suggests. The pedigree of this brand is quite impressive; many companies out there use their Fireface range of products for serious product development activities related to audio. During our visit to Winter Namm 2019, we could see the Babyface being demonstrated by no less than Michael Angelo Batio, whose shredding skills demand the lowest latency possible.
RME Babyface Pro
The summary of the features is listed below
· 4 x Analog Inputs (Mic, Line, Instrument)
· 4 x Analog Outputs (2 x XLR, 2 x Phones)
· 1 x ADAT I/O or 1 x SPDIF I/O optical
· 1 x MIDI I/O
· 1 x USB 2.0 (USB 3 compatible)
· Digital Gain control on all inputs
· Separate outputs for high and low impedance headphones
· TotalMix FX (with EQ, Reverb, Echo)
A more comprehensive set of specifications can be found at their website.
The Universal Audio Apollo Twin mkII is also quite compact and portable, with an impressive looking user interface and quite a pervasive presence both at NAMM and on home studios around the globe. We will explore why a little bit later on this article, but this company has a long history of producing outboard analog gear for studios and is now bringing that history to your home studio for an affordable price.
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII
The summary of the features is listed below:
· 2 x Analog Inputs (1 with Mic or Line option, 1 with Mic, Line or Instrument option)
· 4 x Analog Outputs (2 x Monitor with headphone jack in parallel, 2 x Line Out)
· 1 x ADAT I/O or 1 x SPDIF I/O optical
· Option of USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt 2.0 at purchase (different product under the same umbrella name)
· Gain on all inputs with plugin option
· DSP capability selected at purchase (from one to four, called solo, duo and quad) for running UAD exclusive plugins
· Console Application with 9 included plugins at the time of writing (quad version) and hundreds more available for purchase
For a more comprehensive set of specifications check their website and look for the user manual.
Our point of view: slight advantage to the RME Babyface Pro here. 2 more inputs on board, 2 headphone outputs, slightly better specs in the A/D conversion (while debatable if this makes a difference or not depending on the application) and just easier to shop for, as there is one option, take it or leave it. The Universal Audio Apollo Twin mkII requires a decision of interface (USB or Thunderbolt) and that is a good option for mac users, but the selection of the DSP power is important and can be a bit overwhelming. We'll dedicate a special section for that as it is unique to the Apollo. On the I/O front, it could use more outputs and at least 2 headphone outputs for a better producer / musician scenario without additional gear. For our set-up we've expanded the I/O with an 8-channel ADAT, the Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre.
User Interface and Software
To have an efficient workflow in your home studio you need to be able to operate your interface quite efficiently. The combination between its physical user interface and the software provided to operate it via DAW are what makes or breaks an audio interface regardless of its capabilities, as no one wants to be slowed down by a cumbersome workflow.
The RME Babyface Pro sports a quite streamlined physical interface that allows basic settings via its front panel. Level settings for all inputs and outputs can be achieved there, as well as dimming the outputs.
The TotalMixFX software is installed when the drivers are installed and has a comprehensive set of features and routing options. The highlights on our tests were:
· The real mixing console look and feel
· The ability to pad inputs or turn phantom power quite easily
· Software outputs, which allows control of the system audio independently from the inputs
· Monitoring inputs at ultra-low latency, before the audio goes to the DAW, and control volume without affecting the recorded input
· The ability to customise a control room with separate mixes for monitor and headphones
· Additional EQ and reverb options can be applied to the outputs