Cut-price Firestudio action!
Multi-channel audio interfaces these days usually include not only A-D and D-A conversion, but preamps and monitor mixers too. Plug a device like M-Audio's Profire 2626, MOTU's 896 Mk3 or PreSonus's Firestudio into your laptop, and you have a portable recording system that can tackle small band recordings with little or no additional hardware. And should you find yourself wanting to record large bands, most of these products offer digital inputs that can be used to attach further eight-channel preamp/converter units.
You can already pick up a Profire or Firestudio for under £500, but PreSonus's latest offering applies a further twist to the price/performance ratio. In essence, the Firestudio Project takes the existing Firestudio concept, throws out most of the digital I/O, and makes the rest of it available at a very competitive £399.
The Firestudio Project is in many ways identical to its older sibling, which was reviewed in the December 2007 issue of SOS, but there are actually a couple of ways in which the Project version improves upon the original. The power supply is internal, phantom power is switched in four banks of two, and the metering boasts an extra LED per channel — all welcome bonuses.
Missing in action are the optical digital I/O, word clock, and the ability to connect PreSonus's MSR multi-channel monitor controller. Importantly, however, all the analogue I/O is present and correct, including nice features such as the insert loop for channels 1/2 and the additional pair of 'Main' outputs that duplicate outputs 1/2, but with a front-panel level control.
Installation was very easy indeed, and the drivers seemed robust in my Windows XP system. PreSonus's control panel software isn't pretty to look at, but it works, and makes it easy to set up separate low-latency monitor mixes for each pair of outputs.
With manufacturers falling over themselves to emphasise the quality of their preamps, not to mention finding ever more important-sounding names for said preamps, it's good to report that PreSonus's 'XMAX' design delivers on both fronts. I had no complaints about the audio quality, and there is noticeably more gain available here than on the M-Audio Profire 2626, so it could be a good choice for those who use a lot of ribbon and dynamic mics.
A minor irritation is the single headphone output. Most of the Firestudio's rivals at least offer two, and it's high time someone built a multi-channel interface with four or even more. A more serious problem with the unit as a whole is that despite the provision of two Firewire ports, you can't daisy-chain multiple Firestudio Projects to build up a 16- or 24-channel recording system. If this were possible, the lack of digital I/O would be an irrelevance to many users, but as it is, there is effectively no way to expand the system. If you're happy with eight inputs, though, the Firestudio Project delivers in style.
Firewire audio & MIDI interface
- Compatible with: Mac OS 10.4 and later, Windows XP SP2 and later, Vista 32.
- Analogue inputs: eight, balanced, on combi XLRs.
- Built-in mic preamps: eight, plus two high-impedance instrument inputs.
- Analogue outputs: eight, balanced, on quarter-inch jacks; outputs 1/2 duplicated on Main output.
- Headphone output: one, on quarter-inch jack.
- Digital inputs: stereo co-axial S/PDIF.
- Digital outputs: stereo co-axial S/PDIF.
- Other I/O: MIDI, balanced inserts on channels 1 and 2.
- Sample rates: up to 96kHz.
- Highly affordable.
- Decent audio quality, with plenty of gain available on the preamps.
- Internal power supply.
- Only one headphone output.
- Not expandable at present.
If you want to record up to eight mics at once, this is the most affordable way of doing it, and it sounds good too.
£399 including VAT.
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