Saturday, January 23, 2010

Presonus Firepod (FP10) Firewire Preamp Review

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

(NOTE: This is a review moved from the Wirebender Audio Systems site. The product may have changed from the hardware I tested in 2008)

I purchased my Presonus Firepod (also known as the FP10) practically the moment it became available at my local Guitar Center. I paid $440 for the unit and put it to use immediately. I immediately took a load of crap from other engineers for even considering such a low-priced piece of equipment, especially from Presonus. I have to beg to disagree.

Sort of.

First, I disagree that there is some inherent defect in the basic Presonus preamplifier sonic design philosophy. I believe that being quick, clean, and quiet is all a microphone preamplifier should be. Others believe that a microphone preamplifier should have as much personality as microphones. Presonus took the less trendy approach with the Firepod and their engineers attempted to create a product that is relatively invisible to the record chain. That works for me, but it may not be your cup of distortion. They have, since, moved over to the other side of the audio fence with their XMAX preamp circuitry and the collection of tube pres they currently offer.

The Firepod is one of the most successful OS X/Windows XP Plug 'n Play devices I've ever experienced. My Mac G4 and My WinXP laptop recognized and incorporated the Firepod seamlessly and flawlessly. Unlike every other piece of equipment I've added to either of my systems, the Firepod simply worked from the moment I connected the Firewire cable to the computer. Even my old PC standby, CoolEdit Pro v1.2, snagged the Firepod device and was able to multi-track record and playback without any difficulty.

The eight microphone preamplifiers have 60dB of gain and can be used as either line amplifiers, mic pres, or instrument DIs. The first two channels incorporate inserts, so external equipment (such as EQs, compressors, or alternative mic pres) can be inserted into the analog signal chain.

The Firepod's outputs are equally flexible. The back panel offers balanced main, cue, eight line (group) outputs, SPDIF, and MIDI outputs. A pair of Firewire connectors complete the rear panel. Up to three Firepods can be connected to create a 24-channel recording system. One SPDIF channel pair can be used along with the included channels, upping the max record chain channel count to 26.

I have used and/or owned Digidesign's 001/002/003 interfaces and, based on sound quality, the Firepod is my preference in comparison to that group, both for sound quality and flexibility. If quiet and clean is your recording objective, the Presonus Firepod is a reasonable, low-cost option. For no other reason, the fact that Presonus' drivers are far more compatible with non-Pro Tools DAWs than the Digidesign drivers could be a motivating factor.

For the money, it's hard to beat the value provided by this simple and functional product. However, if reliability is entered into the equation, it's a tough call. I owned my Firepod for five years without any problems. I used it on dozens of projects, in-studio and in the field. Finally, it gave up the ghost in a weird way. I was adding the Presonus Central Station to my system and tried to use the SPDIF output to free up a Central Station input for my 002. I discovered during the setup that the SPDIF output was out-of-phase. I swapped back to the balanced main output and found it was unbalanced and out-of-phase.

This is not a field-repairable unit, as Presonus is notoriously stingy with service information. So, I returned it to the factory for a $90 repair. In the meantime, I had another project to record so I bought a replacement, mostly to be able to use Pro Tools and Logic with the same interface. By the time the Firepod came home, I was sold on the replacement unit and the Firepod ended up on eBay. It sold for $300, so I can't complain about either the use I got from the unit or the resale value. It did die at a particularly inconvenient time, in the middle of a project, but that's as much a function of Murphy as Presonus.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.