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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.

The snake eats the snake

I was just trying to explain something about computer updates to someone and discovered that a GIF search in Apple Messages for “Sisyphus” doesn’t auto-complete, so you think there are no results, but if you actually do the search there are lots of results and I thought “They should fix that” and to make a long story short, that is how I invented the word “Metametaphor.

Too Big Not To Fail

A while ago, we received a pretty nice Delta kitchen faucet via UPS. It was addressed to us, and had a UPS tracking number. We had not ordered it.

This was not brushing—it’s Costco, not GriftAsInfrastructure, and nobody’s going to brush with $190 items. But we hadn’t ordered or paid for it, so the right thing to do was return it. That is what I tried–really tried–to do. I could not.

It can be difficult to find out what company sent you something if it is sent via courier. There was a return address on this package, but the company name was Frederick Ecommerce. That’s a fulfillment center for Costco in Maryland. You can find that out by using a search engine, but you’d have to want to.

I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Costco, trying to figure out what should be done with this thing. Mostly, I was on hold, working on other stuff and enjoying the 35 second music loop, while the extremely helpful and polite support person and I waited to hear back from someone higher up.

This was the third time in 12 months that I’ve tried to do this, with three different companies. It’s pretty obvious that none of these companies have a procedure in place for dealing with orders that get sent to the wrong person. At the volume that online sales work at, especially right now, there should be. These mistakes are inevitable.

As with every other time I received stuff I wasn’t supposed to, the answer was “we can’t really trace where that item was supposed to go.” I was told that, if I wanted to, I could drop this thing off at a Costco. The implication there is that if I wouldn’t like to do that, I just got a new faucet.

This means that, for Costco and at least three other companies (I got some other stuff a couple years ago the same way) the only way these errors can be dealt with is by either just shipping another product to the customer who didn’t receive it, or spending time arguing with the customer about whether they DID receive it. Both of these are expensive options, which are added on to the cost of giving me a faucet AND shipping it to me.

I’ve worked in retail, and in warehouses, and I knew that, if I took this item to my local Costco, it would just create a huge headache for whoever ends up having to deal with it. They don’t stock this item in-store and would have no record of how it got there. It’s going to end costing them more time, and probably end up getting junked or sitting somewhere forever.

I understand that, when you work at high volume, this might be the least expensive way to deal with problems like this. I will bet you a nickel that if you run the numbers on fixing this, it is more cost-effective for companies to just keep giving away stuff when these mistakes get made than it is to add the tracking (and more expensively, people) and whatever else would be required to resolve these issues. It’s much more wasteful, but it costs less.

So on one side, profitability and speed, on the other, less waste, more cost, lower efficiency. It’s all a matter of what you value more.

I gave the faucet to someone who could use it.

Bonus tip: If you should ever have a kitchen faucet sent to you by mistake, it is perfectly reasonable to try to think of which of your friends and family members may have sent it to you. But I don’t recommend you pursue that line of inquiry too strenuously. It is remarkable how fast a conversation dies when you start it with “Hey—did you send me a faucet?”

Todaily 1

Topics

String dampeners to stop stray ring from the strings behind the bridge on instruments with trapeze tailpieces. I was specifically looking for ideas to use on my bouzouki, but this thread has good ideas for those poor unfortunates who are stuck using Bigsbys as well.

Let’s just say this and get it over with: I have been using ear plugs behind my nuts, and I would like to find something more elegant.

You’re 12.

Idea of the day:

Start a fleet of ice cream trucks, but instead of playing music to attract people, play the backup beep sound that trucks make.

Annoyances:

  • Firefox 90 on Mac: Anyone know how to make the scroll bars work LIKE SCROLL BARS and not like some edgy designer’s idea of how they could look if you didn’t use them?
  • Chrome on Mac: Dude, you really have to learn to let go of the cache. Not only is it super annoying, it’s such a clumsy and obvious metaphor for who made you.
  • Safari on Mac: This is very much not the worst web browser you could use, but it is a terrible browser TO use.

The Who – “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy”

About a year ago, someone tagged me on [social media] on one of those posts where you list 10 albums that influenced your life. Here is the third album on my list.


Image search for The Who “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” album cover

This is not my favorite Who album. “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” is basically a collection of The Who’s biggest UK hits up to about 1971-–before any of the stuff that made them (endlessly, tiresomely) arguably the greatest and/or loudest and/or most influential rock band in the world, before all the boozy fun became alcoholism, the “mind-expanding” drugs became mind-numbing problems, the financial issues went from charming to unseemly, the debate about relevance transformed from an engine to an anchor, the inevitable untimely deaths, and the endless stream of final shows. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album. I don’t think that anyone who calls themself a Who fan (in that tone we use that indicates “Yes, I am aware of The Beatles and the Stones and all the other Old People Gods, and I CHOOSE this band”) would say this is their favorite album. When it came out, most people who were fans of the band had already heard everything on this album, and what they really wanted was new old Who, not the same old Who. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album. Though like most bands of the time, they started out trying to make hit singles, the Who moved very quickly into making concept albums and rock operas. Those albums—“A Quick One/Happy Jack,” “The Who Sell Out,” “Tommy,” “Quadrophenia”—became pretty influential, maybe as much for what those albums tried to be as what they were. There’s still—for me at least—a dichotomy of The Who’s music: “Regular” albums (collections of songs recorded/released around the same time); and “concept” albums (collections of songs written around a common idea or narrative). That said, most of The Who’s “regular” albums still feel like there was some common tone or context informing the whole thing. None of this applies to “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” though. It’s a regular “regular” album. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album. The Who’s experimentation was almost all driven by Pete Townshend—the rest of the band would have been happy playing any kind of music live, as much as possible A lot of the band’s volatility over the years came down to Townshend not wanting to simply go out and kill himself on tour playing the same stuff over again and the rest of the band not wanting to faff about while Townshend figured out what he wanted to agonize over next. That conflict, and the dedication of both sides to their opinion, drove and filtered everything the band did for decades. The results were some of the strongest rock albums and live performances of any major band, as well as a few absolutely heroic disappointments. For a Who fan, all of these things felt important. “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” does not feel important. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album. The Who was very much bigger than the sum of its parts. It had a great singer (the Meaty Roger Daltrey), a unique and busy drummer (The Beaty Keith Moon), an innovative bay splayer (Big John Entiwistle) and a guitarist/songwriter (Bouncy Pete Townshend) who always wanted to be brilliant, and was seemingly never convinced that anyone, including himself, could be. A big part of being a Who fan was knowing what these parts were, so that you could see how they added up to more than their sum. Pretty much all the songs on this album were done while the band was still developing these personas and trying to get the world to notice them. To most of the people who heard these songs when they were first hits, The Who was just a band like any other, made up of four guys. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

This is not my favorite Who album, but it’s the album that got me into The Who, and from this album I went backwards and forwards through their catalog and became a lifelong fan. More important to the rest of my life, The Who made me want to be in a band, and John Entwistle made me want to play bass. This album influenced the rest of my life more than any other. It’s just a bunch of really fun pop songs, mostly hits.

Messages is still terrible

Is there an app that actually reliably does what Apple Messages is supposed to do?: Send text messages with attachments from IOS and OSX, use SMS if necessary, show the same history across all my devices sharing the same account, not require the people I am messaging with install anything.

I am not concerned about security. This is just for messaging people for whom that is not a consideration.