Presonus Firestudio Mobile

Firewire Audio Interface

Published in SOS May 2010
Bookmark and Share

Don't be fooled by its small size: the Firestudio Mobile packs a lot of interface into a diminutive case.

Martin Walker

Presonus Firestudio Mobile

The Presonus Firestudio Mobile is a deceptive little beast. At first sight, it appears to be yet another dinky little 24‑bit/96kHz stereo I/O interface with mic/instrument options, but once you look on the rear panel you find another six line inputs. There's also a separate stereo headphone output alongside the main stereo outs, and when you include the coaxial S/PDIF I/O, this brings the total to 10 inputs and six outputs. It also comes with an impressive accompanying software bundle comprising Presonus's Studio One Artist DAW software for PC and Mac and over four gigabytes of virtual instruments, plug‑ins, loops and samples.

A Quick Once-over

First impressions are good: this little box is built like a tank, with a reinforced metal chassis that should last for years during mobile recording duties. The rotary controls are firm but smooth for repeatable settings, and before you scan the spec, yes, it can be powered from the Firewire bus if plugged into a six‑pin Firewire 400 port, so the supplied wall-wart PSU can be avoided.

Even when the Firestudio Mobile is powered via the 12V DC on offer from such a port, internal trickery ensures that the two XMAX Class‑A mic preamps can be run from 30V rails, and that a full 48 volts of phantom power is available for plugging in condenser mics, both of which ensure plenty of headroom. Presonus are also unusual in avoiding op‑amps in their preamp circuitry, in favour of discrete components (in order to avoid crossover distortion), while the instrument input impedance is a high 1MΩ for guitar use, all of which augurs well for audio quality.

On the digital side, I suspect that not everyone will like the four‑way breakout cable for the S/PDIF and MIDI I/O, but this is the only real way to keep the case as small as it is. I was pleased to see some very specific advice on compatible Firewire chip sets in the manual, along with a list of suitable PCI and PCI Express Firewire cards, and that the Presonus drivers support up to four units from the Firestudio range, with a healthy maximum limit of 52 inputs and outputs in total.

The Presonus Firestudio family all use the same Universal Control utility, with a Launch window where you set up buffer size, clocking arrangements and the like. However, most of the day‑to‑day work will be carried out in the virtual mixer of the Device window, where you can set up three different monitor mixes to feed the main, headphone and S/PDIF outputs respectively, using a familiar set of level and pan sliders, mute/solo buttons and peak‑reading meters. It doesn't take long to get up to speed, and once you do, the Load/Save buttons are really handy for retrieving different setups.

Testing, One Two

At the rear we find an input for the 12V PSU, two Firewire ports, a connection for the MIDI and S/PDIF breakout cable, and two outputs and six inputs on quarter‑inch jack sockets.At the rear we find an input for the 12V PSU, two Firewire ports, a connection for the MIDI and S/PDIF breakout cable, and two outputs and six inputs on quarter‑inch jack sockets.

I was impressed by the audio quality of the Firestudio Mobile, which is clean, clear and extended, with good stereo imaging and depth. The mic preamps provide a generous 70dB maximum gain for quiet sources or low-sensitivity mics, and offer a smooth, open sound. The headphone amp is also perfectly loud enough for even high-impedance phones (the level markings even go up to 11 as a warning!), which is yet another advantage of the high voltage rails. Being able to set up a totally separate monitor mix for this headphone output is also a handy extra.

During my audio comparator listening tests, the Firestudio Mobile eclipsed my Emu 1820M budget benchmark with its more focused stereo imaging and greater front/back depth, but sounded slightly constricted compared with my far more expensive Lavry DA10, placing it firmly in the high-quality area of the mainstream market, along with other manufacturers such as Focusrite and TC Electronic.

Using Rightmark's Audio Analyser test suite, frequency response proved to be well extended at the bass end (‑0.3dB at 15Hz). While the analogue electronics at the top end apparently extend to ‑0.3dB at 50kHz, this is restricted overall, as with many other interfaces, by the digital filters, in this case to about 23kHz with a sample rate of 96kHz. Total distortion levels were lower than many, at 0.002 percent, while noise level measured a rather good ‑106dBA.

My CEntrance Latency Test Utility audio loopback measurements showed total extras (A-D, D-A and 'hidden' buffer delays) of a constant 467 samples whatever the sample rate, equating to an extra 10.59ms at 44.1kHz. I could happily run the Firestudio Mobile on my PC at its lowest buffer setting of 256 samples, for an acceptable minimum input latency of about 8ms at 44.1kHz, and this slight delay is no problem in practice because zero-latency monitoring is also available. However, with this 256‑sample buffer the real‑world output latency was a rather larger 12ms — perfectly acceptable to most (but not all) musicians for playing soft synths 'live'.

Final Thoughts

Nowadays, there are plenty of compact audio interfaces offering a pair of mic/instrument preamps, but few offer a total of eight analogue inputs and four analogue outputs in a package as small as this. The robust, all‑metal case also makes it an ideal candidate for being carted around on location, and the fact that it's daisy‑chainable with other Firestudio interfaces means that you can add more inputs and outputs later on if your requirements increase.

To survive in a very competitive market, audio interface manufacturers have to make sure that each new model they introduce offers at least a slightly different feature set from its competitors. With the Firestudio Mobile, Presonus have managed to offer quite a lot that's different at a very competitive price. I expect it to become rather popular!  .

Alternatives

If you're looking for a compact and portable Firewire audio interface with two mic preamps and several line‑level inputs, there are various possible alternatives. Suitable models to look at include the Alesis I/O14, Echo Audiofire 4, Edirol FA66, Focusrite Saffire LE and TC Electronic Impact Twin. All have broadly similar specs, although none offer as many analogue inputs as the Firestudio Mobile.

Vital Statistics

Firewire audio & MIDI interface.

  • Analogue I/O: two mic/instrument inputs with up to 70dB gain, three‑LED level/clip indicators, global +48V phantom power, six line‑level TRS balanced inputs, two TRS balanced outputs with level control, headphone output with level control.
  • Digital I/O: coaxial S/PDIF In/Out, MIDI In/Out, zero‑latency monitoring, two Firewire ports for cascading up to four Firestudio units.
  • Power: from six‑pin Firewire port, or using supplied PSU.
  • Operating System: Mac OS 10.4.11 or 10.5.2 or higher, Windows XP32, XP64, Vista 32 and 64, Windows 7.
Presonus Firestudio Mobile £269$299
pros
Excellent audio quality.
Loads of inputs for such a tiny package.
Phantom power of 48V, even when powered from a Firewire port.
Competitively priced.
Robust metal casing for mobile reliability.
cons
S/PDIF & MIDI connections are on custom breakout cable.
Like most Firewire interfaces, playback latency is higher than on PCI/PCIe interfaces.
summary
The Presonus Firestudio Mobile does what it says on the tin, providing similar audio quality to the rest of the Firestudio range, but in a much more portable, bus‑powered package suitable for both mobile recording and studio use.
information
£269 including VAT.
Source Distribution +44 (0)208 962 5080.
$299.95.
Presonus +1 225 216 7887.
Test Spec
Firestudio Mobile driver version 3.4.1.5782
PC with Intel 2.4GHz dual‑core processor, 2GB RAM and Windows XP with Service Pack 3.

SOS Readers Ads
GRAB A BARGAIN

£558,739

of Second-User Gear for sale now — don't miss out!
WIN Great Prizes in SOS Competitions!

 

Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help

 

Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26

         

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2014. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents. The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media