Using the Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 with Linux Mint

If you found this page by searching, then you, like me, are trying to figure out a problem with your Focusrite Saffire Pro 14, a Firewire audio device which you are trying to use with Linux. I will cut to the chase. After quite a few hours of reading (mostly old) posts and articles and trying different solutions on and off over the course of a few weeks, here is how I arrived at a workable Linux recording machine with the Pro 14:

Cat not required, but recommended

In a nutshell:

  • Air-gap the Saffire Pro 14
  • Add an audio interface that works with Linux and is not terrible.

Yep, I just gave up.

If you are just trying to get some recording done and have the option of giving up on the Pro 14, I really recommend you do so, and stop reading here. If you are determined/have to make this thing work with Linux, maybe the rest of this will be helpful in some way.

First, I have to be clear about something: I hate wasting stuff. I hate replacing things that still work perfectly well. Which means I usually hate audio interfaces for computers.

Or maybe just the companies that make them.

Most audio interfaces themselves are fundamentally cool pieces of gear. When you consider how many different bits you need to fit into one of these things, and how well most of them do all the things they need to do, they really are wonderful, powerful, useful things. Or at least, the hardware part of them is.

Audio interfaces have a lifespan imposed on them by the people who make them. If they didn’t, I would still be using the UA-100 I got in 1998 or so, which could do everything I wanted the Pro 14 to do (and more). Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or the Pro 14.

But at some point, your interface will no longer be supported for the computer you want to use it with, and the countdown will begin to the day you will need to discard this perfectly functional, mostly non-recyclable piece of equipment and buy pretty much the same thing, hardware-wise, again.

Sometimes, you can work around this by using Linux. I’m not going to get into the details of that here–if you’re reading this, you probably already know what I mean–but in the case of the Pro 14, it’s juuust annoyingly not worth doing. Really close, but not worth it.

There are three main obstacles to running the Pro 14 on Linux:

  1. It’s a Firewire device
  2. It’s an audio device on Linux
  3. A bunch of its cooler functionality is tied up in proprietary controller software

There are also fundamental issues with the Pro 14

  • The input preamps are really weak, and kinda noisy
  • And so are most of the outputs

Cumulatively, these issues just make running away a great option. I’ll go through them in order.

At time of writing, I was trying to use the Pro 14 with LInux Mint 20.3 Cinnamon on a Late 2008 Mac Pro.

1 There was no problem running Firewire. I added Jackd2, Jackd2-firewire and QJackctl when I was installing/setting up the machine, and those made it easy to get the Pro 14 set up as my input and output device in Audacity and then other DAWs just by mashing buttons in QJAckctl and then in the application’s preferences.

2 That meant that the “audio device on Linux” part was taken care of as well. It all pretty much Just Worked. Over the last 20+ years or so, I have developed a really solid repertoire of rants about audio on Linux, and I didn’t get to use a single one. I was really impressed (and disappointed) with how easy this part was.

But seriously, when I was your age, we made our own .conf files–out of dirt and bits of our hair–and we were HAPPY!

I’d go into more detail about the settings/routing, but that would all be specific to my setup, and you’ll be better served if you search for information about settings for your stuff. Also, by the time you read this, you might be using Pipewire or something. These kids, with their fancy audio on Linux, amirite?

3 All the cool routing stuff you could do with the Pro 14, including the ability to use all the inputs and outputs, was controlled by some proprietary software that Focusrite made. It was not made very well, never made for Linux, support was dropped at some point due to some unforeseeable, insurmountable issue like an operating system being upgraded or a new product being released.

Thanks to the work of [not the manufacturer], your Saffire Pro 14 will work on Linux, but it will never be able to do all the things it’s capable of. It won’t work at all on most other current operating systems I guess, so uh, yay for us. But you still have to do deal with issues. If there isn’t a switch right on the box to turn something on or off, you might not be able to turn it on or off.

For example, in my last attempt to use this thing, I noticed that the “inst” light was lit on the channel 2 input, and was out on the channel 1 input. Basically, I had one channel locked at each input type. I have no idea whether there is some way to switch the input type without the software, but the next two points made me quit before that fight even started.

The Pro 14 is just not very good to use its own. The preamps are really weak, and they get noisy and start to clip if you turn them up. I don’t know if an external preamp would help, or if it would just make the clipping worse. It might also help to use a separate (15VDC) power supply. But adding more gear in order to save bad gear doesn’t make much sense.

The outputs seem to suffer from the same problem: Very low output, and they get uglier as you turn them up. You can fix this problem by turning up whatever you are using to monitor, and the power supply might also help. But again, you’re throwing more gear after bad.

I have gear lying around that might fix these issues (not the power supply, I’d have to get one), and I was almost ready to try them, but I did a test recording with the Pro 14 and noticed some regularly-spaced sizzling noises in some tracks, with no common source (sometimes in a mic recording, sometimes line, sometimes channel 1, sometimes channel 2).

It’s just not worth trying to troubleshoot that (Firewire? Interface? Buffer? Power supply? Random electromagnetic something? New shampoo?) in order toend up with a device with limited functionality. Not to me, anyway.

I hope someone can find a use for this thing. It could have been cool.

If you have solutions to any of the problems I found, or tips to get the Pro 14 working with Linux, please comment. I will add anything helpful to this post. I would love to keep these things working if we can.

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