A great sounding, well-connected USB 3 modern music interface
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
For the past 27 years, RME has been at the forefront of audio interface technology, from digital conversion to streaming audio covering every conceivable and rapidly changing connection protocol to networked audio. The company’s latest offering is the RME Fireface UFX III, a 188-Channel, 24-Bit/192 kHz high-end USB 3 Audio Interface.
The Fireface Family
As I mentioned in my previous Fireface UCX II review in our November 2021 issue, we have covered the many\faces of RME for decades. A quick look at the current catalog will show that RME is not quick to abandon technology. Not only is there still the hybrid Firewire/USB-based Fireface 802 in the line, but the preceding USB 2 Fireface UFX II remains available as well. This means RME offers options for USB 2, USB 3 and Firewire 400/800, plus ADAT, MADI and DANTE.
Past Featured Reviews
- February 2024: Antares Vocal Reverb by Auto-Tune
- January 2024: Ableton Push 3
- December 2023: KIT Plugins BB A5
- Focal Twin6 ST6
- Earthworks SR117 & SR3117
- November 2023: AEA TRP3 and RPQ3
- October 2023: AudioScape 260VU Compressor/Limiter
- September 2023: Sound Devices MixPre-6 II
- August 2023: Soundtoys SuperPlate
- July 2023: Strymon Zelzah Multidimensional Phaser
- June 2023: RME Fireface UFX III
- Review: Focal Solo6 ST6
So what does one get with the new Fireface UFX III over its predecessor? One word—more! The UFX III offers a higher channel count and expanded I/O options, newly redesigned analog and digital boards, and the UFX III uses a freshly designed RME USB 3 driver.
A Whole Lotta’ Channels
The Fireface UFX III is a fully class-compliant (Mac OS, Windows and iOS) USB 3 Audio Interface that can handle an impressive 188 channels of 24-Bit/192 kHz audio. Out of the box, the UFX III offers 12 analog inputs and 12 analog outputs. The expanded channel count can be fully realized by adding peripheral devices—a remote preamp like the RME 12Mic or 12Mic-D, the company’s M series converters or any appropriately equipped third-party option.
A Familiar Face
The 1-U 19″ face of the UFX III is indistinguishable from the previous UFX II. There is a quartet of XLR-1/4 combo inputs, with LED indicators for signal, +48V Phantom Power and TRS (line) selection.
I am told these have the same overall preamp design found across the line, most notably the 12Mic-D (reviewed in April 2023), but with even better performance due to the aforementioned “newly developed analog and digital board.”
A pair of fully independent headphone outputs can pull double duty as additional line outs with appropriate cabling. Smack dab in the center is a pair of traditional 5-pin DIN MIDI I/O followed by a USB 2.0 input socket that can be used for the standalone RME DURec function.
DURec allows direct, channel-for-channel, standalone multitrack recording to a FAT32-formatted thumb drive or external hard drive (up to 2TB). This turns any DURec-equipped RME interface into a standalone multitrack recorder—no computer or DAW necessary. Recorded files can be transferred to your DAW later for editing and mixing.
Note: DURec records in an interleaved Broadcast WAV file format where each WAV file is split into a successive file after a 2gig limit is reached. These files are easily reconstructed and converted with the free RME Multichannel Batch Processor.
State of Affairs
On the right of the unit, across a field of blue, are two rows of five LED State lights. Sync is on the left (Word Clock, AES, ADAT 1 and 2, and MADI), with MIDI (Host and MIDI I/O 1 and 2) on the right—implementing basic MIDI monitoring is a nice touch.
The controls on the UFX III should be very familiar to RME enthusiasts, as this collection of push-button rotary encoders, function buttons and full-color LCD screen can be found on the UFX II, UCX II and every model in the RME ADI-2 series.
The display defaults to Peak/RMS metering for every channel (no small feat), clocking info and the main output level. A large push-button, stepped rotary encoder and four function buttons (Mic/Gain, Record/Play, Channel/Mix and Setup/Reverb) help menu dive and adjust parameters. Navigation is further controlled with two smaller push-button rotary encoders that default to headphone control.
All of the above offer control of the digitally controlled microphone preamps and input channels, headphone output levels, mix routings, clock settings, tweaking of the onboard DSP and more.
The back panel is clean and logically laid out. Analog connections include eight TRS inputs, six TRS outputs and a pair of balanced XLR outs.
On the digital side, you get XLR-based AES I/O, BNC Word Clock/MADI I/O, Optical MADI I/O and two pairs of ADAT-Optical I/O. There is also a second set of 5-pin DIN MIDI I/O, a USB 3 output socket, a USB 2 remote input and a 3-prong IEC power socket.
Friend of the Modern Synth-Studio
The 1/4” analog outputs are fully DC coupled, which can carry control voltage signals to your favorite analog synths, both standard and Eurorack. This and the impressive MIDI implementation make the UFX III a great choice for any synth-based studio, lessening the need for additional break-out boxes.
Total Mix, Now Totally Remote
No RME review would be complete without mention of the RME TotalMix FX software. TotalMix FX was one of the first software-controlled DSP-based mixing apps ever. It offers deep-level, mixer-style control over the UFX III, including its DSP-based low-latency EQ, dynamics and effects.
A new development is that TotalMix FX can be controlled remotely by any iOS, PC or Mac sharing the same network as the main computer that your RME interface is connected to. Take your iPad into the tracking room and adjust the preamp levels on your drums, dial in your headphone mix from the vocal booth, change the effects level from the listening couch—you get the idea.
Another remote control option is the RME ARC USB. Essentially a USB-based, button-equipped jog wheel, the ARC USB offers 15 fully programmable, backlit buttons and a large 2″ wonderfully resistant, gently detected control dial.
The controls can be configured in the TotalMix FX software, and RME includes handy labels for each function should you move beyond the pre-printed preset options. I found the ARC USB perfect for controlling the levels and functions of the four microphone preamps and for quick control of the headphone outputs and main volume. Nicely you can dedicate a second set of outputs as a B set of speakers, allowing the UFX III and ARC USB to function as a monitor controller. I will also say it feels fantastic.
A final feature of the ARC USB is that it can be connected directly to the hardware or plugged into any USB port on your connected computer, where it is instantly recognized.
In addition to the TotalMix FX software and RME DIGICheck, the RME Fireface UFX III currently comes with a Special Edition software bundle that includes: iZotope Ozone Elements, three months of Antares Auto-Tune Limited, S-Gear Amp Simulation, Brainworx BX Opto Compressor and BX Masterdesk, Gig Performer, GG Audio Blue3 (virtual organ) and Modartt Pianoteq 6. Also just added was the True Sound Studio RME Drum Sample Pack.
In use, the RME Fireface UFX III is not only the sum of its parts but also the sum of whatever else you connect to it to take advantage of its impressive channel count. Even on its own, having a 12 x 12 analog interface is quite handy versus the usual 8 x 8 of similar designs.
The preamps are clean and present, and the conversion is natural and transparent. I actually found the preamps and converters to be a little less “hard-edged” and more natural than my usual (similarly priced) audio interface.
Driver-wise, I was impressed with how quickly and easily I was up and running on a Monterey-equipped Mac Studio and a MacBook Air running macOS Ventura.
On the connection tip, I was equally impressed by how easy it was to hook up a third-party ADAT interface/preamp to take advantage of the additional I/O. The RME SteadyClock FS technology kept all my digital connections beautifully in sync.
RME Wrap Up
The RME Fireface UFX III is a great-sounding, rock-solid audio interface that more than holds its own in the professional interface/converter market. But beyond that, the magic of RME and the Fireface UFX III is its modular paradigm. Thanks to its robust collection of connection protocols inducing some incredible MIDI implementation, the RME Fireface UFX III can be a tremendous ever-expanding backbone of any modern studio setup from full-scale tracking facilities, MIDI composition rooms, immersive audio and more. Plus, as 27 years have shown, RME devices have an excellent track record for longevity.
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