Audio interface for low latency live performances

RME Babyface Pro:  My go to audio interface for low latency live performances

Wow, what a pricey, exhausting, long and winding road it has been getting here. Over the past 15 years I have tried a ton of audio interfaces, having owned or tested several USB units (like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, PreSonus AudioBox, Avid Mbox…) -they all had too much of a lag in latency for my use. This is because I track my vocals live while running multiple fx plugins. I’ve got a relatively inexpensive Resident Audio T2 thunderbolt interface which is conceptually ideal, unfortunately the audio driver is old/never updated and not high enough quality. It has tons of unpredictable and intermittent pops/clicks. With the same buffer settings I use on my Resident Audio T2, I never get pops & clicks when using my UAD (Universal Audio) Apollo Twin Thunderbolt interface. Its good quality audio but I dislike UAD Console and I also don’t want to use an AC power adapter.

Which leads me to the lovely RME Babyface pro. Bus powered, thunderbolt comparable latency, solid, USB 2.0 (compatible with any computer), XLR outputs! -what?!! (most small interfaces have 1/4″ outputs), compact, and the tech support for RME products is amazing, knowledgable, and down to earth

I had the babyface on my radar for years but I kept jumping onto the thunderbolt bandwagon, because of my bad experiences with latency on all the other brands that sell USB interfaces.

Finally I took a leap of faith with RME and was pleasantly surprised to find that USB 2.0 has all the capabilities of firewire and thunderbolt in relation to latency reduction. It was simply an issue of the other companies skimping on developing truly high quality drivers and physical connections. RME did not skimp here and that is exactly why a USB 2.0 interface works better than many thunderbolt rivals.

The only caveat about the babyface is that the onboard DSP capabilities can’t handle dynamics like compression, because it gets power from USB which can’t handle such power intensive processing. But that’s totally fine for me, as I prefer to run all my plugins directly inside my DAW anyway. This way I stay in a single environment for everything and don’t have to switch back and forth between my DAW and a DSP mixer. This is especially helpful when using stock DAW plugins that I can adjust live on the fly, for example while using Push 2 in Ableton to tweak the reverb on my vocals. My macbook pro never goes above 30% CPU usage in my DAW despite having more than 5 fx plugins running real time on my live vocal track. So, onboard DSP isn’t really needed when dealing with an audio interface that handles it’s biznass like a champ! (My MacBook Pro specs: 2013 MBP, i7 Core, 16GB ram, 1TB SSD).

4 Replies to “Audio interface for low latency live performances”

  1. I’m considering moving from NI Komplete Audio 6 to a Babyface Pro. What sample size are you running in live and what is the resulting latency please?

    1. Hi Stuey,

      I’m on a 2013 MacBook Pro/i7/16GB RAM/1TB SSD Hard drive.

      Most of the time I’m at a 32 buffer setting in live. When I have a ton of tracks, a ton of clips on grouped tracks in session view, and more than 3 return tracks I’m often at 64 or 128. I never have to go above 128, it’s awesome!

      The Plug & Play you get with the NI Komplete vs having to learn and tweak RME’s “TotalMixx” mixer is probably going to be the biggest con. That being said, totalmix is pretty simple to learn compared to Universal audio’s “console” mixer.

      1. Hi! Thanks for sharing your experience with the BFP. I’ve also been searching for an interface for the past 6 months… UNDECIDED big time Ahah !!!!

        I currently own the scarlett 2i2 and it’s been working okay for guitar/vocal recordings. Though i’m doing more and more Live looping stuff with projects that have around 6 midi tracks (NI komplete Vst’s) + 3 audio tracks (1 vocal, 1 comping guitar, 1 lead guitar). Like you, these tracks have FX (guitarRig amps simulator, reverb, compressor, etc).

        So I guess my main concerns are as follow :
        -decent Latency

        In terms of sound quality, I don’t hear much difference in somes video comparison between the babyface pro and other interface such as the Scarlett 6i6, 2i2. Someone even posted the raw Wave Files for uncompressed quality playback, and my ears are TOTALLY unable to justify the 600$ difference between those cards. I could do a blind test and not precisly tell which one’s the best :

        What are you thoughts on these ^^ ??

        Also I don’t have the perfect room treatment / awesome condensor mics so i’m not sure if the “pro” sound quality of the Babyface pro is too OP for me anyway.

        Thus, it seems I would be paying the extra $$ for reliability, drivers support from RME and better latency ?
        This could still justify it eheh! I want to built a live set that I can go on the road with and be confident it’s not gonna crash on me in the middle of a set.

        What are your thoughts on my dilemma ? Should I save the money and put more juice on my PC instead of the audio interface?

        Here are some others thoughts I’ve came across so far :
        – Because I don’t use that much audio channels (only 2) and I am more oriented with VST’s, my pc horse’s power is more important than the card itself (in terms of latency)
        – If i plan on doing more live gigs than studio work, the high end quality audio interfaces may not be needed (or used atit’s full potential as it would be in a studio)

        ehhhhhh, don’t know what to think anymore ^.^

        Thanks in advance and sorry for the long post !!

        1. Hey there, drivers support from RME and better latency are the reasons I go with them. The Scarlett line and several others have finally come out with thunderbolt versions but the drivers themselves are still lacking quality unlike RME.

          If your computer is ready to be replaced/upgraded, I’d say get a Dell Precision with a Xeon E 2186 processor, which allows 128GB of RAM. Or you could wait a couple months for Lenovo’s version of that setup in the Thinkpad P72. With discounts and coupons out the door you are looking at about $4500 for a laptop with 6 cores/4.8Ghz processing, 128GB RAM, and up to 6TB of Solid State HDD storage. You’ll be able to live track multiple instruments/vocals with tons of plugins running without affecting the latency much at all with this setup.

          If you do that and are still unhappy with your audio interface, call RME, tell them what your computer specs are, and they will set you up with the best and most affordable interface they offer for your system. That’s my recommendation. 🙂

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