Review: FIREPOD

Ultimate GarageBand 2 Audio I/O Box (May 31st, 2005)

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Product Manufacturer: PreSonus Audio Electronics

Price: MSRP: $799 US

The Good

  • Ultimate GarageBand 2 Audio I/O Box. Reasonably priced professional class FireWire audio/MIDI interface. High quality microphone preamps, band oriented design, and class-compliant design.

The Bad

  • Not bus powered and has cord-block power supply.

While the new M-Audio iControl was consciously designed as the ultimate controller for GarageBand 2 (GB2), it does not address the fundamental need of importing sound and MIDI. You must rely on the modest two channels of quasi-CD quality audio available on selected Macs or you need to buy a sound card or box to put music into GarageBand 2 and other applications.

When PreSonus released the FIREPOD, they captured the sweet midrange in audio devices cold. In one fell swoop they offered eight fully preamped mike channels (via Neutrik combo jacks), two SPDIF digital channels, high performance audio, good FireWire implementation, and easy installation; all for a reasonable price. In a nutshell, it is a central I/O device capable of recording ten instrument tracks at once plus MIDI.

Out of the Box and into the Studio

When you open the box you find a sturdy well-designed full-width single rack. Almost everything you need to control the FIREPOD is physical, that's right, dials and push switches. Eight line/mike levels dials are flanked with a main level knob, a mix control for monitoring the pre-computer input, a single headphone jack and a Phones level knob (honoring the Nigel Tufnel esthetic by going to 11). You can connect a hard disk with the two FireWire ports. When tested with several channels of audio going through the unit, there were no noticeable data transfer hangs.

Any standard mike setup can use the 48V phantom power available on all eight audio inputs, switchable in groups of four. Two jacks (Channels 1 and 2) accept instrument level inputs (also providing effects sends and returns,) while the rest are all active microphone level inputs. Since the FIREPOD has real physically discrete channels there is no need to run any routing software. The only configuration software needed is already built in to the operating system.

FireWire Compatibility

This device is fully compliant with Mac OS X FireWire. It only works with OS X 10.3.5 or above since Apple engineers wrote the drivers into the operating system themselves. It requires a moderate speed G4 processor (800 MHz or above), 512 MB of RAM and a built in FireWire port. It handles 24 bit wide by 92 kHz sampling right out of the box, thanks to its hardware and built-in support from CoreAudio. Other brands of FireWire interfaces require proprietary drivers even on Mac OS X so the PreSonus approach is distinctive and commendable.

When you plug the cable into the FireWire port, wait for the blue sync LED to stop blinking and it just shows up in Audio MIDI Setup. Nothing else to do! This device has zero configuration downtime - just select, choose the audio resolution and go. The only software supplied is a simple control panel to set external clock source since the FIREPOD doesn't generate one, plus Steinberg's Cubase SE, a serviceable cross platform audio/MIDI recorder to get you started if you don't have any other application.

Tiger Update Enhanced

With all those live channels and MIDI, the FIREPOD allows GB2 to easily live up to its new eight-tracks-at-once potential. A listening test revealed a clean, quiet unit, where Class A pre-amps add no noticeable coloration or noise of their own. The FIREPOD's impressive sonic clarity is remarkable. Another benefit to Core Audio is that the FIREPOD's inherent throughput speed is fully exploited by the low latency Apple drivers. While GB2 doesn't allow direct selection of latency settings (down to the number of audio samples), Logic 7 does and the FIREPOD will easily go below 3 milliseconds. There is zero latency monitoring provided during recording, as expected.

The FIREPOD is not designed as a portable device because it requires AC power (or outboard DC so it could be run from an external battery source). I'm sure if total portability was indispensable PreSonus could steer you to the tiny Firebox product with many of the same advantages.

If you're starting a project studio or want to expand past USB audio limitations, this product should be first on your list. No other product on the market combines its abundant practical features, operational transparency with exceptional performance at this reasonable price point. The mystery remains, since it has the best Mac support built in, how come this product isn't featured at every Apple store?

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Peter Mengaziol


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