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Phonic Firefly 808 Universal Interface - Now with Conclusions


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Phonic is one of those companies that always sort of flew under my personal radar. I'd dutifully stop by their booth at Frankfurt, see products that looked kind of similar to ones I'd seen before, and figured it was more me-too stuff.

But then one year, I noticed that they'd introduced a bunch of FireWire mixer/interfaces, which piqued my interest as they got into this product category pretty early. I started paying more attention, and then two Winter NAMMs ago, a friend turned me on to their PAA6 Analyzer (well actually his words were "You're a geek, Craig, you'll dig this thing over at the Phonic booth") and I thought it was quite cool - an opinion that was verified when I did a Pro Review of it. (Incidentally, that Pro Review is not yet done; I put it into suspended animation when Phonic announced that a software update was forthcoming, but it took longer than expected. When the update arrives, I'll finish off the review based on whatever changes the update brings. I must say I was somewhat surprised that a piece of test equipment received so many page views, I guess I'm not the only geek here smile.gif).

I've also had a chance to play with their Helix Board X16 digital mixer (nee the Summit mixer), which is impressive in terms of cost-effectiveness.

So here we have the Firefly 808 Universal interface, with the "universal" part coming from its ability to work with FireWire or USB 2.0, and work up to 192kHz (with some limitations - more on this later). The price is compelling: Although the MSRP is about $670, you can often find it for less if you look around.

As a result, we're going to start the review by describing the available features, as there's a lot going on. Next, we'll look at how easy or difficult it is to install and get working, and then we'll run it through its paces specs-wise using the RightMark Audio Analyzer. This is what we used to get the lowdown on the performance of Mackie's Blackjack interface, so we'll get a definitive idea of how the 808 stacks up in terms of noise, distortion, crosstalk, etc.

We'll start off with the standard-issue Pro Review photo tour. I've done all the outside shots, but want to take it apart, check out the interior build quality, and include pictures of that as well.

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Here are the main specs.

  • 18 x 18 simultaneous I/O
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394) and USB 2.0 audio interfacing. This is switchable; you obviously wouldn't use both at the same time.
  • 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate.
  • 8 microphone preamps with trim control and +48V phantom power switch for each channel
  • 8 analog line inputs, including 2 Instrument inputs
  • 8 channels of optical ADAT I/O (4 ch. at 96kHz using dual SMUX)
  • S/PDIF I/O, AES/EBU I/O, MIDI I/O and word clock I/O
  • Headphone output and Main output with volume control for monitoring
  • Channel meters on channels 1 to 8, switchable to measure input or output
  • Synchronization, sampling rate, digit I/O and MIDI in/out indicators
  • Dual FireWire ports for daisy-chaining and direct connection to Mac or PC
  • Stand-alone operation for field and studio use without computer
  • Inputs 1 and 2 feature an Instrument input, pad switch, and balanced TRS send jacks
  • Compatible with Mac OS X including Snow Leopard, and Windows XP/Vista/7
  • Includes Steinberg Cubase LE 4 DAW software

Keeping that in mind, let's look at the first attached image, which shows the front panel of this 2U device. Going from left to right, here are the main features.

The two mic/instrument ins (second attached image) use combination jacks and offer a 20dB pad. The jacks are a little different than what I'm used to, as there's a little "shutter" that covers the hole for the 1/4" plug when not in use. Line inputs for these channels are on the back. These inputs are controlled by the channel 1+2 controls (gain, phantom power) as they do not represent inputs above and beyond the 8 audio ins.

Moving right are the eight channel gain controls; the third attached image shows a detailed view of channels 4-8. The knobs are somewhat wobbly; the shafts poke through the front panel, and are not held on with hex nuts. I doubt if this will affect reliability much, as the presumed home for the 808 will most likely be in the studio, and preamp gain settings tend to be set-and-forget. Also note the individual phantom power switches for each channel - nice, considering how many interfaces enable +48V in groups of 2, 4, or even 8.

The meters for each channel register four levels: -40, -20, -10, and clip. The meters can switch as a group of eight between input and output level.

Along the top are a variety of LED indicators. Synchronization shows which option is selected (internal, S/PDIF, ADAT, and word clock), Sample Rate displays 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, or 192kHz), and there are I/O indicators for AES/SPDIF, ADAT, and MIDI (yes, there's MIDI I/O!).

Toward the right (see the fourth attached image) is a headphone monitor with associated level control, main output level with six-LED metering, and an impressively big power switch.

As it actually took quite a bit of time to take those photos and crop/edit them, that's enough for today. Next, we'll take a look at the rear panel.
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If you're getting the idea this is a pretty full-featured interface, you'd be right. Let's take a look at the rear panel in the first attached image.

Moving from left to right along the lower half of the panel, there's the IEC connector for the power cord - as the power supply works from 100-240V/50-60Hz, you just need a suitable power cable to work pretty much anywhere on earth. The power line is fused internally.

Next are the balanced 1/4" output jacks. These are a little more involved than standard output jacks; I'll have to verify how they work during the testing process. But it seems that when not using the 808 as an interface, the odd channels (1, 3, 5, and 7) go through the left output, with the even-numbered channels (2, 4, 6, and 8) going to the right output. When used as an interface, the included software mixer applet lets you mix the amount of FireWire/USB return signals and analog ins appearing at the output. I was a little surprised not to see analog XLR outs, but as I thought about it, you have a stereo AES/EBU digital out which is probably more pertinent to a big studio, while the 1/4" balanced outs make sense for project studios.

You then have the connectors for six identical inputs - XLR mic or 1/4" balanced line inputs (of course, you can always use unbalanced lines with balanced connectors). The second attached image shows a close-up of the inputs. Finally on the right, there are the line inputs that complement the XLR mic/instrument front panel jacks for inputs 1 and 2, but also note they include send outs. Why? Well, if you have a guitar plugged in to the front-panel instrument input, it's really nice to be able to feed an amp as well. Cool.

Moving along to the top left, you'll see word clock I/O on standard BNC connectors. Then comes the ADAT optical I/O, and physical 5-pin MIDI in and out connectors. As I complaina bout interfaces that don't have MIDI connectors, I'll be consistent and give Phonic a thumb.gif for not forgetting that MIDI remains essential in most studios, if for nothing else than controllers.

Further to the right is the USB 2.0/FireWire switch (see the third attached image for a close-up of the 808's digital section). Note the two FireWire connectors for daisy-chaining. Next are S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital I/O, but these are not available simultaneously - you need to switch between one or the other.

The eight analog outputs are more like general-purpose outs you use in conjunction with the mixer applet. For example, you could mix everything down to outs 1 and 2, or use six outs for a 5.1 mix...or whatever.

Okay, now to take it apart and see what the build quality is like...pass the Phillips head screwdriver...as I always say, a Pro Review isn't complete until I've voided the warranty in at least one way smile.gif

I have to say this is looking more and more like an exceptional value. I'm really hoping that it a) installs without problems, and b) sounds really good. If so, then Phonic has a winner on their hands.

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It's always revealing to take a piece of gear apart and check out the build quality. I was expecting a few corners to be cut, but that wasn't the case...the pictures speak for themselves.

The first attached image shows an overview of the insides. The shiny aluminum blocks on the right-hand side are part of the power supply. To the right of that, on the rear panel, is the FireWire/USB card. The upper left shows the analog jack field.

The rest of the circuitry toward the lower left relates to the analog sections. Note that it's far away from the power supply, and therefore, as far as possible from any heat source to minimize any drift caused by thermal issues.

The second attached image shows a closeup of the output jack field. The blue resistors below it seem to be metal-film types, which are chosen for these types of applications instead of cheaper carbon types for their low internal noise. Also note the ribbon cable connecting the output jack board to the main motherboard. What this means is that if after a zillion pluggings and unpluggings you have problems with the jacks, they wouldn't be hard to service. However, the quality of the enclosed jacks looks like they'd last a long time.

The third attached image shows the FireWire/USB board. The two connectors directly above the big FireWire chip are the FireWire connectors; the white connector to the left of them has the S/PDIF jacks, and the other large metal connector to the right is the USB jack.

The fourth attached image verifies what I thought: the gain pots are soldered to the board, with the shafts simply protruding through the front panel. This is why the knobs have "wobble." I'm not going to ding Phonic too much for this, as it's such a common construction technique and helps companies meet price points - what I usually do is give props to those companies that do use hex nuts and washers to fasten a pot to a panel. That said, these pots are not controls that you'll be tweaking all the time, and I suspect that reliability won't be an issue.

Finally, the fifth attached image shows the power supply. Some companies tend to skimp on power supplies, but Phonic clearly isn't one of them - check out the massive heat sink on the left for the three voltage regulator chips. After letting the unit run for a while, I noticed that the heat sink wasn't even particularly warm. Also, check out the additional heat sink toward the right, and the massive filter capacitor in the lower right corner.

I believe that power supplies are an essential part of audio interfaces, as is circuit board design. Clean power supplies, wide traces, and ground plane layers in the circuit board all help keep noise down and reliability up. Phonic has certainly adhered to these design criteria.

I'm glad I took this apart, because the internal construction is more than I expected at this price point. Phonic gets definite props for this.

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Well, the time has come to check out the drivers and do some real world work. For now, I'm going to try USB because I use that more than FireWire, and therefore have a more direct way to do comparisons.

The Firefly 808 universal comes with a CD-ROM with FireWire and USB drivers. I checked the Phonic web site to see if there were newer drivers, but the only document there had a 1.0 designation, so I figured I might as well use the CD-ROM. I decided to install on my Windows XP machine; I did notice there are also x64 versions available, which is great - I'll have to try this next time I boot off my Vista-64 drive.

Installation started off as expected: Close other applications, run setup, wait nervously while things happen behind the scenes...plug in the interface's USB connection and turn it on...Windows did the "Found New Hardware" thing, but then displayed a "Cannot Start this Hardware (Code 10)" screen. Ooops. It said to click on Finish to launch a troubleshooter, which I did; but then Windows indicated he had found everything it was supposed to find, and a screen appeared that said "Completing the Setup Wizard." Uh...okay.

So I figured I'd open up the mixer applet, plug in a mic, plug in a set of headphones, and see what would happen. Success - see the first attached image. I turned up the headphones, and there was the unmistakable dull-but-reliable sound of an SM58.

There's also a control panel applet that you call up from the system tray (second attached image). This lets you set up sync, buffers, and even cooler, "friendly" names to display under ASIO. Maybe I don't get out enough, but I don't recall seeing this in other interfaces - it was always up to the host to do this kind of renaming. I renamed the Line 1/2 input just to see if it would show up with that name.

Note that the control panel is showing the default settings. As you'll see, later on I pushed those sliders all the way to minimum...

Next, I booted up a project in Sonar 8.5. Sure enough, the Firefly 808 drivers showed up (with the "friendly" name I had entered), and once I had selected them, the tracks played back through the outputs...all was working perfectly.

I did a quick sonic reality check by running the outs through my "old standby" E-Mu 1820 interface. The sound was very similar, but after numerous A-B tests back and forth, I felt the 808 had a little more overall "definition." The test was far from perfect, as I had to switch drivers, reassign the outputs, and physically switch the headphones from one unit to the other, but I don't think I was imagining things. Of course this isn't too surprising, given that technology has advanced since the 1820 was introduced. Still, the sound of the 808 impressed me, especially given the price. We'll find out more detailed specs once we hook it up to the RightMark audio analysis software.

So of course, I had to see how low I could go in terms of latency. Just to be mean, I set everything for the lowest possible option: 1 ms Stream Buffer Depth (whatever that is), and 1 ms (44 samples) ASIO buffer depth. Sonar showed a reported latency (including buffer and hardware latencies) of 3.7ms/165 samples input, 8.0ms/353 samples output, and total roundtrip of 11.7ms/518 samples (consistent with what Ableton Live showed as well).

Well, it worked perfectly. No dropouts, no hesitation when starting up, no hiccups when dragging the "now time" cursor all over the project...no issues at all, and this was with all the input and output drivers enabled.

For comparison, I set up the 1820 for 2 ms latency. The reported input latency was the same, but the output latency was reported as 2.4ms, for 6.1ms roundtrip latency. There were definitely some issues (crackles), rendering the 1820 unuseable with the 2ms buffer setting. However, when I increased the buffer setting to 4ms, this increased both the input and output latencies to give roughly the same roundtrip latency as the 808; with those settings, the 1820 gave pretty much equivalent performance.

So...now I have a question for Phonic: Compared to the 1820, the output latency was a little over three times as much. Is there any way this can be reduced for a lower roundtrip latency? Admittedly, I don't have a problem with 10ms roundtrip latency - it's certainly way better than what I used to get in the days before multi-core computers - but I wonder if there's some parameter I can experiment with to alter the output latency, and see if it's possible to get a lower total roundtrip latency. Again, I'm not complaining that no matter which interface I use (not just the 1820), I can't get reliable latency much lower than 10ms; but if I could get it lower with the Phonic, that would put it a notch above the others.

I also tried WDM drivers with Sonar, and was able to get a quoted "effective latency" of 2ms. Now, I'm not sure whether that means roundtrip or not...but so far, I've only been doing playback. The acid test will be to load up some amp sims, set them for maximum CPU sucking power, and see what kind of delay I experience with those.

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...and then I realized that with the E-Mu 1820 and Phonic 808, I was probably comparing apples to oranges because the 1820 hooks directly into the computer's PCI bus via a card, while the 808 goes through USB (or FireWire, which we'll check out later). So, I thought a better comparison would be comparing the Phonic 808 to a USB 2.0 interface.

I disconnected the 808, connected the V-Studio 700 interface, and set the V-Studio latency for the minimum possible value - 96 samples, or 2.2 ms. Looking at reported latency, the input was 6.3ms/277 samples, output 3.2ms/140 samples, for a total of 9.5ms/417 samples. Maybe I should test some more USB interfaces, but it seems like the minimum roundtrip latency going through USB 2.0 is around 10ms. I don't know why there's a variance between the input and output latencies; maybe that's a design decision, or maybe it's the way the unit reports latency.

Also, I don't know if this is coincidence or not, but the Phonic and V-Studio showed almost exactly the same amount of CPU in consumption in Sonar's CPU meter; the 1820 showed a little less.

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I'm a PM from Phonic and I just want to address the issue of latency a bit. There are a few different reasons latency occurs, but part of it is of course hard-wired into the system itself. The minimum latency for the 808, for example, is more or less fix.

System latency:

- Through the chip is 0.7 msec. to 0.8 msec per direction, which
makes at least 1.4 msec for a roundtrip

- ADC / DAC converters add 0.6 msec each way, for a 1.2 msec
roundtrip

- But a big part of the delay is added by the OS and your computer. It
could depend on the BIOS, drivers and different programs running on
your system. The PC / Mac need at least two buffers per direction to
copy the data from the FireWire to the memory and from the memory
to the ASIO buffers. The data from FireWire to memory takes 0.6
msec. A PC / MAC is only able to copy the data to or from ASIO
buffers at minimum of 1 msec. So the best result you can get is a 3.2
msec roundtrip.


This means that the lowest latency with such a system and standard Windows or MAC low level divers is probably 5.8 msec (best case). There are ways to enhance the performance to get this speed with fast converters and/or special PC / MAC low level drivers. This could get the speed down to to 3.5 msec – but the PC systems have to be seriously tweaked; most users' computers couldn't support it.

Also, if you run things like Outlook, a virus scanner, internet and other services on the system probably won't be able to get a latency lower than 7 msec.

Naturally if you're using other similar devices on the computer at better rates, this may not be valid, but the buffer depths in the Control Panel should let you push the Firefly (or your computer) to its potential.

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Hello. I hope you have time to answer a question... smile.gif

I am interested to buy the Firefly 808 mainly for 8 outs (although I'll probably need some ins for mics, quitars, maybe spdif etc.). My question is the following:

Does the firefly in USB mode suport 8 simultaneous outs? Perhaps you are able to answer this one as well: What are the simultaneous I/O specs with USB connection?

I think this info is important for everyone interesed in this piece of equipment.
Thank you in advance! smile.gif

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Quote Originally Posted by vandariu View Post
Hello. I hope you have time to answer a question... smile.gif

I am interested to buy the Firefly 808 mainly for 8 outs (although I'll probably need some ins for mics, quitars, maybe spdif etc.). My question is the following:

Does the firefly in USB mode suport 8 simultaneous outs? Perhaps you are able to answer this one as well: What are the simultaneous I/O specs with USB connection?

I think this info is important for everyone interesed in this piece of equipment.
Thank you in advance! smile.gif
Yes, it does with USB. However, I have not checked it at sample rates higher than 48kHz, so I need to check both USB and FireWire at the higher sample rates...thanks for the suggestions. Maybe Digi2010 can save me some time and provide the answer.
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This is where the rubber meets the road...or perhaps more accurately, where the interface meets the RightMark analyzer. Let's take a look at the specs.

This was tested via loopback - feeding a known signal through the outs, looping them back to the input, then measuring the results. For these tests, I used the individual analog outs instead of the master outs to keep any other channels out of the equation. However, I then thought that maybe this wasn't a fair test, and perhaps "worst-case" conditions would be the way to go. So I re-ran the tests, but the results were almost identical - just a fraction of a dB - and as I had already prepped and cropped the screen shots, I figured it wasn't worth the effort for a do-over.

Again in the spirit of testing worst-case conditions, I used the mic pre inputs set to high gain so their performance would be part of the tests. Well, as you'll see, the specs are excellent regardless.

One more thing: For most tests, a gray line shows the left channel response, and a green line, the right channel. Based on the screen shots, you might think I made a mistake and did the tests in mono, because the channels are so closely matched that the right channel covered the left one. Just to make sure, I offset the left channel by -1dB as a reality check, and sure enough, it popped out from behind the right channel but had the same curve.

The first attached image shows the frequency response. It's down about -6dB at 10Hz, -3dB at 20Hz, and flat out to 20kHz. So, it's for all practical purposes flat from about 30Hz on up.

The second attached image shows the noise level, sitting comfortably below -110dB (A-weighted) - very quiet.

The third attached image shows intermodulation distortion. If you're not familiar with how this is tested, you generate a 60Hz and 7kHz signal, then look for sidebands. You can see one sideband to the right of the 60 Hz signal peaking out at -100dB, and another one to the right of the 7kHz signal peaking at just about -110dB.

So far, so good...actually, so far that's quite impressive.

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The first attached image shows the Total Harmonic Distortion. You can see the 1kHz spike used for measurement, and a couple distortion products at 2kHz (down about -96dB) and another at 3kHz (at -110dB). Beyond that, any distortion products are pretty much lost in the noise.

The second attached image shows THD compared to level. As you probably know, the lower the level with digital signals, the greater the distortion because you have fewer bits to work with. At -6dB, THD hovers just about -80dB, and at -15dB, around -70dB.

Finally, let's look at the third attached image, which shows stereo crosstalk. With a -6dB signal fed into the left channel, the crosstalk in the right channel is well below -84dB up until about 10kHz, where it starts to edge up toward -81dB or so.

And what does all this mean? The 808's audio performance is excellent.

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Hey, while we're here...how many of you use sample rates higher than 44.1/48kHz? And does anyone use 192kHz?

I've been told of some people who use 192kHz for stereo archiving, but not multitracking because of a) CPU issues, and b) plug-ins that don't work up in that rarified part of the sample rate world. I'd be interested in any comments people have about high sample rates, both pro and con.

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Quote Originally Posted by Anderton View Post
Yes, it does with USB. However, I have not checked it at sample rates higher than 48kHz, so I need to check both USB and FireWire at the higher sample rates...thanks for the suggestions. Maybe Digi2010 can save me some time and provide the answer.
Hi

The standalone mode has always the same channel numbers as the selected Audio Modes.


FF808 Audio Modes:

Standard: 44.1 kHz to 96 kHz sampling rate

inputs: 8 x line

1 x SPDIF (Stereo)

1 x TOS (Stereo)

1 x MIDI

outputs: 8 x line

1 x SPDIF (Stereo)

1 x TOS (Stereo)

1 x MIDI



ADAT: 44.1 kHz & 48 kHz sampling rate

inputs: 8 x line

1 x SPDIF (Stereo)

1 x ADAT (8 channels)

1 x MIDI

outputs: 8 x line

1 x SPDIF (Stereo)

1 x ADAT (8 channels)

1 x MIDI



SMUX: 88.2 kHz & 96 kHz sampling rate

inputs: 8 x line

1 x SPDIF (Stereo)

1 x SMUX (4 channels)

1 x MIDI

outputs: 8 x line

1 x SPDIF (Stereo)

1 x SMUX (4 channels)

1 x MIDI





High Speed: 176.4 kHz to 192 kHz sampling rate

Firewire:

inputs: 8 x line

1 x SPDIF (Stereo)

1 x MIDI

outputs: 8 x line

1 x SPDIF (Stereo)

1 x MIDI



USB2.0:

inputs: 6 x line

1 x MIDI

outputs: 6 x line

1 x MIDI


Cheers
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I have found that all analog input and output channels and the SP/DIF and AES/EBU input and output channels work with Firewire in High Speed mode (176.4 and 192 Khz). The optical channels are not enabled beyond 96 Khz.

For USB the matter is different. Only 6 analog input and 6 analog output channels are available (1/2, 3/4 and 5/6) with USB in High Speed mode. There are also a midi input and output channel. The post above says there are 6 analog in and 8 analog out which appears to be incorrect.

In addition their web page says that:

Featured are 8 analog (XLR and 1/4") inputs and 8 analog (1/4") outputs, as well as S/PDIF, AES/EBU, MIDI and ADAT inputs and outputs – all of which are streamed to and from the computer in real time through the FireWire or USB connection in superb 24-bit/192kHz audio.

This apparently is not the case as USB does not support SP/DIF in high speed mode and 2 anlog in/out channels are also not supported.

In addition the Mixer App which is used to select the High Speed mode is not available for USB on the Mac.

This short comings are major issues for me as I wanted the high speed digital interface support with USB on Windows and Mac OS.

I would suggest that there is a firmware issue with the FF808U that needs to be addressed, but until the above post was supplied to this site and sent to me also by phonic support (after 2 weeks of pleading for an answer) I could not get an official stance from phonic that there were significant limitations with their USB implementation and to suggest that it is a Universal 192Khz/24 bit audio interface is misleading.

They should fix this issues immediately or update there web page to reflect their limited high speed USB support.

Buyer Beware if you need full USB support. Firewire however is just fine and it would be a fine box to use as the other posts suggest, but USB support and technical support are lagging far behind.

dave

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Well thank you for doing some research for me smile.gif

I assumed that USB would not deliver the same throughput as FireWire, simply because higher throughput is always touted as one of FireWire's advantages. I just finished checking out a Focusrite Saffire USB 6 and a Saffire Pro 14 (which is FireWire). The Pro 14 had no problem doing 96kHZ with 24 bits whereas the USB 6 doesn't go above 48kHz nor does Focusrite represent that it does. In other respects, the interfaces are rather similar.

I doubt this is simply a firmware issue. When discussing this with People Who Know More than I Do, they say that USB requires significantly more "housekeeping" from the CPU because the FireWire interface's self-contained hardware takes of its own housekeeping. As a result, there's a certain amount of overhead with USB that is unavoidable. They also say that USB 3.0 is Da Bomb and will leave both USB 2.0 and FireWire in the dust...we'll see. I think it is entirely possible that Phonic is bumping up against the limits of the USB 2.0 spec, and that there is little they can do about that (other than clarify any limitations in their marketing).

From a practical standpoint, it seems performance is identical for USB and FireWire up to 96kHz, and that any limitations become apparent only at 176.4 and 192kHz. However, notwithstanding that a web site should contain complete and accurate information, I wonder how much of an issue this is in the real world. If 192kHz is used primary for archiving, then two ins would work for stereo, and six ins for 5.1, and the 808 can handle this with USB. I have had some problems with plug-ins even at 96kHz, and even though I have an eight-core machine, I don't think it could do too many tracks, virtual instruments, effects etc. at 192kHz.

I will do some testing at 96kHz as I do recording at that sample rate for most classical projects, but honestly, I have never recorded at 192kHz in my studio so I don't really have any standard of comparison for the 808.

Just out of curiosity, as you seem to be into the 192kHz thing...how/why do you use 192kHz, and do you hear any audible differences compared to 96kHz?

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I've been searching for information about this audio interface for some time now, and I'm really happy to find this pro review. The thing is I've been offered to buy a brand new unit for about $200, so far it seems almost to god to be true! So if this review doesn't reveal anything negative I do believe I've found my next audio interface. However, the unit is the model with firewire only so I wounder if that unit is identical, except for the addition of an USB-interface?

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Quote Originally Posted by Anderton

View Post

Not familiar with a FireWire-only model. Do you have a model number?

 

It is called Firefly 808, without the extension universal, the look of the unit is, from what I can tell, the same, the only thing that differs, is the lack of the usb-option. I haven't seen it before, and I haven't seen any reviews. Here in Sweden one of the big music stores have been selling the units really cheap, one store had it for less then M-Audios Delta 1010lt...
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Quote Originally Posted by tommyc View Post
It is called Firefly 808, without the extension universal, the look of the unit is, from what I can tell, the same, the only thing that differs, is the lack of the usb-option. I haven't seen it before, and I haven't seen any reviews. Here in Sweden one of the big music stores have been selling the units really cheap, one store had it for less then M-Audios Delta 1010lt...
I was checking this out online, and found the following review from last April: http://blog.dv247.com/phonic-firefly...terface/12490/ It's a "store" review, but I think the guy is pretty on target. I did notice it was for a product marked "clearance" and makes no mention of USB, only FireWire, so perhaps this is the unit you describe...I have heard that Phonic is more prominent in Europe at this time than in the US, so it's possible it's an older product that has been supplanted here by the Universal model, but that's just speculation.

In any event, it sure does LOOK the same, but of course, I have no idea whether the insides use the same components and such to give the kind of performance represented in the tests above. Perhaps someone from Phonic can tell us more. However, if indeed the "Universal" model has replaced a FireWire-only model, then it stands to reason that an older model would be sold for less.

Incidentally, while I was googling, I also ran across a bunch of user reviews. The majority of them had reactions similar to mine - very good generally, but especially for the price. A couple people seemed to have latency problems but I would have to assume the problem was at their end, as there's no evidence of excessive latency here at all, and they were isolated incidents.

One person did point out an advantage that I haven't mentioned: There's no fan to make noise! This is a great feature and I should have mentioned it sooner. I wonder if other companies used heat sinks as big as the ones in the 808 whether they could forego fans as well. In any event, it doesn't seem like heat is an issue; the unit gets warm but not at all hot...certainly no more so than other gear I have. Perhaps one reason they can get away without the fan and instead use big heat sinks is because the case is 2U instead of single space.

I do have to say that the more I use it, the more it holds up to scrutiny.
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Speaking of reviews...there's one on KVR that's pretty interesting. It started off with a guy seeking advice, then a bunch of people come in who didn't actually own the unit saying "caution," "I'd stay away from that," "crap," etc. Then finally, someone came in who clearly knew what he was talking about (and compared the 808 to units from other companies), said he bought two, and that "There is no better deal in price range of ~ 500$."

Moral of the story: When seeking opinions about gear, it's probably best to get them from people who actually have used the gear. smile.gif

It seems a lot of the negative comments were based solely on price - that it couldn't be any good at that price. Yet I read a review from someone online who gave it 9 out of 10 overall, and if the pictures I posted at the beginning of the thread weren't enough, you can check out his gallery of 22 FireFly 808 photos. He also thought that the build quality was better than other units in this price range and often more expensive units, as well.

So, how does Phonic manage to keep the prices so low? Well, again this is speculation and a Phonic representative may or may not want to comment, as any information may be proprietary. But, I believe that Phonic is also an OEM manufacturer for several other companies. What this means is that they're a much bigger company than a maker of audio interfaces would indicate - they need assembly lines to manufacture gear for other companies, and they also can take advantage of quantity purchasing and economies of scale. So, I think it's likely the work they do for other companies allows them to keep costs down for their own products. Again, let me reiterate that this is speculation, but if correct, it could explain how you can get these kinds of specs and features in a unit at this cost. Those previous screen shots from the RightMark analyzer aren't marketing hype, but measurements.

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Why is there a 20-30K price difference between Volkswagen Touareg and the Porsche Cayenne when they are basically the same car? We, as consumers, pay all sorts of price premiums for a brand’s component quality, warranty service, continuous development (firmware updates), packaging, advertising, swag, country of origin, corporate retreats, etc. There are many choices out on the market today, and users decide what they value.

I’m a marketing manager at Phonic. Phonic is in business to develop and produce good quality professional audio equipment, so to us, only the design, quality and service of products matter. In order to keep prices low, we cut out the extra frills that don’t have anything to do with product performance. There are no fancy packaging, no big budget ad campaigns, no free t-shirts or stickers in your products BECAUSE those all end up being paid for by the consumers.

Thank you, Craig, for reminding people that product reviews are supposed to be insights from users who have purchased the product not just unfounded attacks based on the products’ price. The internet is supposed to allow consumers to make better decisions and compare products based on their merits.

Phonic has been designing and manufacturing for other premium brands for more than 30 years. Very few brands manufacture their own products these days, and Phonic is one of the handfuls that still do. Since we still make products for other brands, I won’t comment anymore on this. Every company has their own business model and practice. Phonic products are ‘cheap’ but they are not cheap to make! We have economy of scale plus cut out all the extras like advertising, marketing consultants. We have a very small, hands-on team where the CEO still inspects the production line 3 times a week and review costs one by one. A good product should be more important than good marketing. (Or maybe consumers will decide otherwise.)

p.s. Firefly 808 has indeed been discontinued and replaced by the Firefly 808 Universal. All features are the same except for the addition of USB 2.0 in Firefly 808 Universal.

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Quote Originally Posted by caitlyntw View Post

p.s. Firefly 808 has indeed been discontinued and replaced by the Firefly 808 Universal. All features are the same except for the addition of USB 2.0 in Firefly 808 Universal.
And with that information it is time to retire my old delta1010lt and the even older yamahamixer! I've been looking for a used firewire-interface but since a brand new Firefly 808 is cheaper, it seems like a very good buy! smile.gif
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The USB2.0 implementation needs ca. 10% more CPU to handle the framing and deframing of the USB packets.

Depending on the monitor mixer functions (level meter, volume control etc.) the channels had to be reduced to 6.

So the FF808 runs on USB2.0 at 192kHz with 6 channels on the system limit.

USB2.0:

inputs: 6 x line

1 x MIDI

outputs: 6 x line (Sorry for the previous typo)

1 x MIDI

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Caitlyn - Thank you very much for coming here and participating! It's really important to hear a company's philosophy from someone at the company rather than having someone else speculate, although I guess I wasn't too far off smile.gif

What I find most interesting so far about the Firefly is that the more I work with it, the better it gets. Sometimes with gear, the more you work with it, the more you find little glitches or problems. This is the reverse: The more I use it, the more I realize there are lots of little touches that really add up favorably.

For example, I mentioned the lack of a fan, which is great. But also, having all those monitoring LEDs on the front panel are really useful - I can tell instantly whether I've selected the right sample rate, whether the digital I/O is receiving/sending signals, etc. Very handy.

I also appreciate having 4-stage LED meters for the channels (and six stages for the output) rather than just a clip LED, and being able to switch the metering between input and output. These are the kinds of features that you see immediately, but don't really appreciate fully until you get a chance to use them day-to-day in actual projects.

I think Tommyc is going to be pretty happy with his new toy smile.gif

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