PreSonus Firepod Audio Interface

The PreSonus Audio Electronics Firepod is a 10-channel bidirectional FireWire audio interface for computers running Windows XP or Mac OS X (10.3.5 or later). Like other PreSonus gear, the Firepod ($799) provides the engineer with a thoughtful set of recording features at a reasonable price. Included with the Firepod is Steinberg's Cubase LE 48-track recording software for PC and Mac, giving the purchaser a complete recording solution right out of the box.
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The PreSonus Audio Electronics Firepod is a 10-channel bidirectional FireWire audio interface for computers running Windows XP or Mac OS X (10.3.5 or later). Like other PreSonus gear, the Firepod ($799) provides the engineer with a thoughtful set of recording features at a reasonable price. Included with the Firepod is Steinberg's Cubase LE 48-track recording software for PC and Mac, giving the purchaser a complete recording solution right out of the box.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, project studio

Key Features: 10-channel FireWire interface; eight mic/line inputs; two instrument-level inputs; MIDI and S/PDIF I/O; no-latency monitoring system; separate cue, headphone and control room outputs; two balanced inserts; ships with Steinberg Cubase LE software

Price: $799

Contact: PreSonus at 225-216-7887, Web Site
Features

The PreSonus Firepod features eight microphone/line combo inputs and eight line outputs for multichannel communication to and from the host computer. The Firepod also provides two channels of digital I/O via S/PDIF jacks, for a total of 10 input/output channels (two units can be daisy chained via FireWire for 20 channels total).

Analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion within the Firepod is at 24-bit resolution and sample rates up to 96 kHz. Likewise, the S/PDIF interface is 24-bit/96-kHz capable.

On the front panel of the Firepod are eight Neutrik 1/4-inch/XLR-combo connectors for source inputs. Channels one and two are wired for microphone and instrument level (on TS 1/4-inch) sources, while inputs three through six are wired for microphone and line level (TRS 1/4-inch) sources.

The microphone preamps use PreSonus' Class A, discrete gain stage design and provide +22 dB of headroom. The preamps feature a 10 Hz - 50 kHz bandwidth (no ± dB tolerance is specified) and an input impedance of 1.3 kohms; instrument input impedance is at the standard 1Mohms. Preamp THD is <0.005%. Channels 1 and 2 have corresponding rear panel preamp out and line input balanced 1/4-inch connections for the inserting of external analog devices.

To the left of the eight Neutrik combo connectors are two phantom power buttons; phantom power is switchable in groups of four channels (1-4, 5-8). Immediately to the right of the combo connectors are eight stepped preamp gain knobs corresponding to the eight front panel inputs.

At the far right of the front panel are three knobs labeled Main, Mix and Phones, plus a 1/4-inch headphone jack and dual-colored power/digital sync status LED indicator.

On the back panel are eight TRS 1/4-inch channel output jacks. Outputs one and two are also available on a pair of 1/4-inch jacks labeled Main CR (Control Room) Output. The control room output level is adjustable via the front panel Main level knob; this system is intended for routing to the control room amplifier and speakers and provides overall stereo level control.

The Mix knob provides a balance control between a summed live-input mix and computer output channels one and two. This allows live blending of the input source(s) and a stereo output from the computer for zero-latency recording. The resulting live and recorded audio affects the phones and CR outputs as well as an additional set of 1/4-inch jacks labeled Cue Mix (for connection to an outboard headphone distribution system).

Also on the back panel is a pair of RCA jacks for S/PDIF I/O, a pair of six-pin (full size) FireWire jacks and MIDI I/O connectors. A rear panel rocker switch controls power to the Firepod; the unit is powered by a "line lump"-style transformer.

In Use

When I first received the hot-off-the-assembly-line PreSonus Firepod for review, I had assumed it was simply another eight-preamp input device with built-in A/D converters. This was a reasonable assumption given the abundance of similar devices selling near the Firepod's $599 street price.

I was more than pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this reasonably priced eight-channel preamp/converter was actually a 10-channel bidirectional FireWire computer interface complete with MIDI and digital I/O, plus a decent no-latency monitoring system with separate cue, headphone and control room outputs. It even had balanced inserts on two of the channels!

Installation on a Windows XP machine was simple and I was up and recording with the Firepod in no time. Though I did not install the Steinberg Cubase version that comes with the Firepod (since I use Steinberg's flagship Nuendo), its inclusion with the package is a major bonus for those without a good recording/sequencing application.

The PreSonus preamps sounded characteristically good, as did the 24-bit/96 kHz converters. The system had plenty of headroom - something I find occasionally lacking in similarly low-priced multiple-preamp units. The inclusion of the two balanced insert paths is a major plus, though of course, inserts on all inputs would be even better (and far more expensive as well).

The built-in monitoring section (summed live input mix blendable with returning computer channels one and two), separate cue mix outputs and powerful headphone amp (it goes to eleven - and is labeled as such), MIDI I/O and S/PDIF I/O quite possibly make the Firepod the only piece of outboard gear a project studio needs. Just add a talkback mic system and a few two-track returns and it would be utterly complete.

It should be noted that the only means of inputting an external clock source to the Firepod is via a S/PDIF digital signal, as it has no dedicated word clock I/O. This was not a problem for me, as I had several devices that are running on the master studio clock with unused S/PDIF outputs with which to feed the Firepod.

With the exception of the insert path preamp output jacks on channels one and two, the Firepod does not provide analog preamp outputs so it cannot be used as an eight-channel standalone preamp (i.e. without a computer).

Summary

PreSonus Audio Electronics has a history of producing high-value, quality audio products at reasonable prices, and the Firepod is no exception.

The Firepod is a well thought out interface that embodies some of the best product design and build quality I have seen recently. With 10 channels of bidirectional FireWire communication, eight mic/line inputs, MIDI and S/PDIF I/O, a no-latency monitoring system with separate cue, headphone and control room outputs, two balanced inserts and the 48-track Cubase LE software for a street price of around $599, it is also an excellent value.