Since 1988, M-Audio, formerly Midiman, has changed the definition of the word “studio,” inventing and distributing innovative computer-centric products that offer portability, audio-quality, and quick and accurate editing options. The bottom line is that they allow creative options and opportunity like never before.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, project studio, live
Features: FireWire port; 32 kHz Ð 192 kHz sample rate; 48V phantom power; onboard DSP; Windows/Mac-compatible; software bundle
Contact: M-Audio at 800-969-6434, Web Site.
As a sound designer for theatre, the three most important qualities I look for in recording gear are: portability, performance, and price. The new M-Audio FireWire 410 ($499) combines all those years of expertise and experience, causing quite a bit of buzz from sound designers all over the country.
The FireWire 410 has every feature and option I’ve ever wished for in a portable computer audio interface. It’s very sleek and compact – anyone familiar with my reviews probably knows the importance I place on portability. At 9.25 inches by 7 inches by 7/8 inches, this unit weights in at 2.9 pounds and easily fits into my gig bag, along side my laptop, testers and other gear I normally carry everywhere I go. It boasts a frequency response of 20 Hz – 40 kHz, signal-to noise ratio 107 dB and dynamic range at 108 dB. Sample rates can be set from 32 kHz to 192 kHz for the line inputs and some of the outputs, and 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz and 96 kHz for the S/PDIF I/O.
M-Audio gives you four discreet inputs: two Neutrik combo XLR/TRS mic/line inputs with gain control, pads, and a phantom power switch, along with two additional TRS line inputs. On the flip side, there are eight, count ’em eight unbalanced 1/4-inch line outputs, making it ideal for your surround-encoded program. Both 1/4-inch headphone outputs have their own individual volume controls, and the unit has an overall volume level controller. In the rear you’ll also find S/PDIF I/O with coaxial and optical connectors, as well as MIDI in and out.
The FireWire uses, obviously, the FireWire protocol, FireWire 400 to be specific. This allows the 410 to hammer latency down to almost nothing. The 410 also eliminates those nasty audio “hiccups” that you can sometimes get with slower USB 1.0/1.1 interfaces. Usually the unit receives all the power it needs from your computer’s six-pin FireWire port, but an optional wall transformer is included in the event you want to use it as a standalone unit or with notebooks (which often use a four-pin FireWire configuration or a six-pin unpowered PCMCIA adapter configuration).
M-Audio also includes a software control panel that allows you to manipulate all of the interface’s settings, including input and output levels, and auxes, so that you can actually mix your multitrack recording in real time.
Other software that came with the device included M-Audio ProSessions and SE versions of Ableton’s Live Delta and Propellerheads’ Reason Adapted.
For all the marvelous features this device offers, once installed on my computer, I found it hard to get it to actually work. After installing the drivers as per the manual, all audio sounded choppy and eventually my computer froze up. Rebooting did not help. So I called M-Audio for help, and spoke to a technical customer service agent. Together, we did what the book he was reading from told us to do, but when that didn’t work, he was stumped. I suggested that I speak to someone who might know more about it than he did, and he politely promised to have someone call me back. No one did. But after about a month, I again checked the website, and to my delight, there was a new version of the driver which I promptly installed. With the new driver, the interface works great.
I was asked to create a demo recording on location of a new musical commissioned by Signature Theatre. It needed to sound great, and it needed to be inexpensive to produce. The inputs consisted of one piano and three singers – a perfect project for the FireWire 410! So I packed my mixer, laptop, mics and the FireWire 410 into one Pelican case and drove to the theatre. At the theatre, I was very pleased with the interface’s on-sight performance. The gain structure was easy to set, and my multitrack software had no problem at all recognizing all the input options. The footprint on the table was very small, consisting of my laptop, the FireWire 410, a mixer and two powered speakers. Two separate headphone outputs allowed the director and me to set the volume to our individual volume preferences during the takes. The overall product sounded almost as good as if we were in a recording studio, at a small fraction of the cost, and was perfect for potential show-investors to listen to.
After that successful test, I decided to use it in a show I was designing for a regional theatre in the DC area, in conjunction with Stage Research’s SFX Software. Installing it onto the theatre’s computer (Windows XP Pro) took about five minutes, and within 10 we had all eight outputs patched through the SFX software, allowing us to program some pretty complicated sound cues. I was able to control the Yamaha 02R mixer through the 410’s MIDI interfaces without any associated glitches that tend to slow you down. Along with the SFX software, the computer had other audio recording software such as Cakewalk Sonar and Sony Digital’s Sound Forge, and the FireWire 410 easily interfaced with all of it. In fact, all through technical rehearsals, previews, and production, we had no problems with the device whatsoever. Just clean, stable audio.
I give the M-Audio FireWire 410 gets an A+ in portability, performance, and price. It’s a very stable interface that is easy to install and makes good on every promise. From now on I’ll consider it an essential piece of gear that goes with me everywhere.