The Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 is the flagship unit of the Saffire range, and is packed with high-end features and the widest variety of I/O options, including some that will really interest the audiophile! The case takes up two rack units, so all the controls are nicely spaced out, and the build quality is as you’d expect for a top of the line Focusrite unit. It’s solid and the use of quality materials is evident as soon as you put your hands on it. As usual, the good stuff is under the hood.
The Liquid Saffire 56 features eight Focusrite mic pre-amps for running your inputs. The quality of Focurite’s pre-amps is renowned. They are one of those firms that do a handful of different things, but they are known for one above everything else. For instance, Technics make home stereos, but they will always be synonymous with the 1200. It’s the same with Focusrite, many of their smaller interfaces are essentially just vehicles for those coveted pre-amps! Each channel has its own phantom power switch, which is ideal if you plan to track multiple instruments at once using different mics. Six of the eight pre-amp units here are exactly as you would expect, clear, expansive and precise, just like every other Focusrite pre-amp over the last decade. The other two are a little bit special.
They feature digital modeling software, something that we see a lot of in effects processing and MIDI instruments, but rarely in recording and production hardware. The two “Liquid” pre-amps feature dynamic software modeling, designed to make those pre-amps mimic the particular type of variance and harmonic distortion found on famous and desirable hardware like the Neve 1073, the Telefunken V72 and a pie-in-the-sky wish list of others. As you might imagine, the differences between these virtual pre-amps are pretty subtle, and whether or not they accurately reflect the devices that inspired them is difficult to tell. But, from a practical standpoint, having that degree, variety and versatility in one box is incredible. The fact that you can be dialed in at a moment’s notice is a huge bonus, as few musicians are enthusiastic about waiting around for you to wire in three or four different mic pre-amps in order to achieve a tiny tweak in the sound.
The included Saffire Mix Control software allows you even further control over the mic pres and effects, acting outside and DAW you’re using, offering a broad variety of adjustable parameters and routing options. You can also use the Mix Control application in conjunction with the “Loopback” section on the rear of the Liquid Saffire 56 to route signals from a DAW to external hardware and back into a completely different application. It really opens up a number of options that would be extremely difficult to implement in any other way.
There’s also a suite of VST and AU plugins from Focusrite, offering high quality compressors, EQs and gates, that can be applied directly to the incoming audio from the Liquid Saffire 56 or to channels within your DAW.
You also have the choice of connecting the Liquid Saffire 56 to your setup using FireWire or Apple’s new Thunderbolt connector. Thunderbolt is blisteringly fast, offering speeds of around 10Gps, but you obviously need the appropriate hardware to support it. It first debuted on new MacBook Pro’s early last year and has gradually appeared on the rest of the range since. Inputs and outputs are comprehensive, the Liquid Saffire 56 offers 28 in total, mic inputs, instruments, and line level connections are present, using XLR, TRS, SPDIF and optical connectors.
The Liquid Saffire 56 may not be a total tracking, mixing and monitoring solution like we’re seeing from some of their rival companies, but for recording top-notch crystal clear mic sounds, it’s among the best units of its type. It does one job to the highest possible standard, and with the broadest possible scope of control. An eight channel mic preamp of this standard for $1000 is a bargain, the digital modeling features and bundled effects make it a steal.