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PreSonus Firebox

6-in/10-out 24/96 FireWire audio and MIDI interface By Dave Nagel
Summary: The PreSonus Firebox is a 24-bit, 96 kHz FireWire audio interface that includes six audio inputs (two instrument/mic preamps, two mono line in jacks and two channels via S/PDIF) and 10 audio outputs (six analog mono line outputs, two channels via S/PDIF and two channels via the stereo headphone jack), as well as MIDI I/O. The box's front panel offers two mic/intrument preamps with separate trim controls and 48V Phantom power, a 1/4-inch headphone jack with volume control and a main level adjustment dial. There are two balanced, 1/4-inch line-in jacks on the rear, as well as two 1/4-inch jacks for main out and four for line out. It also offers two FireWire ports (the extra one for daisychaining additional units) and a DB9 connection for a breakout cable that offers two channels each of S/PDIF I/O and 1x1 MIDI I/O. The unit can be bus-powered for mobile recording, but it also includes an external power adapter.
Manufacturer: PreSonus Audio Electronics (
Platform: Mac OS X and Windows
Price: $250 to $300 (street)
Users: Home recording studio users, amateur musicians, garage bands
Recommendation: Buy

PreSonus' Firebox has been on the market for more than a year now, so I'm not exactly the first one out of the gate with a review. But it was a long and circuitous route that eventually brought me to it, and, now that I've had a chance to use it--initially under duress of a sort--I feel compelled to share my experience, albeit a bit late in the race. For a sub-$300 audio/MIDI interface, the Firebox offers surprisingly clean sound and flexible routing options and should do the trick for anybody setting up a home studio on a budget.

Now, here's the situation that brought me to the PreSonus Firebox in the first place. 2006 has proved to be, so far, a total disaster for me in terms of my computer equipment. I'm on my eighth hard drive in as many weeks. I've burned through two graphics cards and am now on my third. And I've been through three internal audio interfaces, most recently my G5's base sound card, which was probably a good thing to be rid of anyway, since you can't record anything good through that piece of junk. Out of necessity, I replaced my graphics cards and hard drives. But I was determined not to burn through another internal audio interface. Even though I think I have the problem with my G5 under control, I'm not ready to risk throwing away a lot of money on another PCI-based solution. Besides which, PCI/PCI-X is out, and anything I'd buy now wouldn't work for me when I eventually upgrade later this year to an Intel-based Mac. (That's a good reason for anybody on the Mac to avoid PCI/PCI-X audio interfaces at this point.)

So, essentially, I was looking for something temporary--just something decent to tide me over for now so that I could get some recording done without the risk of losing more hardware and, preferably, without spending a lot of cash at this point, as I'd intended to go balls out later this year when I have my Intel Mac and when audio equipment manufacturers move the good stuff to PCI-Express.

I knew from the start I wouldn't be going with anything USB. With the way I practice and record, I can't deal with any latency. So FireWire was what I needed. Then, on top of that, I needed an interface that could accommodate my mics (instruments and condensers), as well as line input for my guitars, bass and other electric instruments. And preferably something with at least four analog inputs so that I wouldn't have to swap out cables whenever I want to record a new part to a composition.

In terms of specs, the PreSonus Firebox fit the bill nicely. The only two things left to do were negotiate the price down at my local Guitar Center (final price: $245 plus a free guitar stand and half off a mic stand, both of which I needed anyway) and then get it home and make sure that it was actually viable for my needs (in other words, make sure it wasn't a piece of junk).

In short, it exceeded my expectations on every front: noise, vocal and instrument clarity, headroom and flexibility. It's a great little box that I do not intend to abandon even when I begin tricking out my home studio with higher-end gear down the road.

Firebox hardware
The first point to make about the Firebox is that it is truly a plug and play device. There are no drivers whatsoever to install on the Mac (as it should be). Just plug it in with the included FireWire cable, and it works. In fact, I didn't even have to do any manual switching to use this device for input because the audio software I was running when I plugged it in (Apple's GarageBand, for the record) recognized it as a new audio device and configured it for input automatically. (Under normal circumstances, you'd need to select this device for input in either the Sound control panel in System Preferences or in AudioMIDI Setup.) Firebox can be operated through FireWire bus power, but it also includes an AC adapter for external power.

For control of specific features, Firebox does come with two utilities for the Mac, which we'll get to below, but they aren't required for basic operation. (Incidentally, it also ships with Steinberg Cubase LE.)

In terms of specifications, Firebox is a 24-bit, 96/88.2/48/44.1 kHz FireWire audio interface that includes six audio inputs and 10 audio outputs, as well as MIDI I/O.

The box's front panel offers two Neutrik plugs for the mic/instrument preamps. For those who are unfamiliar with this type of plug, it's a combo jack that accepts wither 1/4-inch TRS jacks or standard XML microphone plugs. The Firebox offers separate gain controls for each of the preamps, as well as switchable 48V Phantom power for condenser microphones. Also on the front panel, you'll find a main level knob and a 1/4-inch headphone jack with its own volume adjustment knob (which "goes to 11," for whatever reason). There are also clip indicators for each of the mic/instrument pres, as well as a sync indicator for the FireWire connection.

Firebox front panel, sporting Neutrik plugs, independent gain controls for the two preamps,
48V Phantom power, main level adjustment and headphone jack and level control.

On the rear of the unit, you'll find two 1/4-inch line-in plugs (for four total inputs so far). There are also two main out jacks (for connecting to your monitors) and four 1/4-inch  line-out jacks. Your additional I/O comes in the form of a breakout cable connected to the DB9 port on the rear of the unit. This includes S/PDIF in and out, as well as one MIDI in and one MIDI out port.

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Related Keywords:presonus firebox, preamp, firewire audio interface, budget, home studio


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