The Edirol Audio Capture FA-101 ($625) is a half-rack-width FireWire audio and MIDI interface capable of 24-bit, 192 kHz recording. It has ten audio inputs and outputs (eight analog and two digital) and one MIDI port. The FA-101 is housed in a sporty red anodized aluminum chassis with a block diagram silkscreened on the top, and it can be powered from the FireWire bus or from an included lump-in-the-line DC power supply. The minimum system requirements are a 900 MHz Pentium or Celeron processor running Windows XP, or an 800 MHz Mac G3 running OS X 10.3.3. Using the higher sampling rates will also require lots of fast storage.
The front panel has two mic-line inputs, one of which doubles as a high-impedance instrument input, served by Neutrik combo connectors. Both inputs have a gain control. There are also inputs and outputs with optical Toslink connectors for digital channels 9 and 10, whose front-panel location makes them best suited for occasional use. Space permitting, it would be better to have them on the back. A 4-segment LED level meter sits above the optical I/O, but strangely, it does not function at 192 kHz.
The front panel also has a switch to select external sync for the digital inputs, along with a sampling-rate-select switch that gives you most standard sampling rates between 44.1- and 192 kHz. In what seems like a glaring omission, 176.4 kHz is not offered, even though it is a multiple of the Red Book CD audio standard 44.1 kHz. There is a small monitor section with a mix control for main outputs and inputs, a switch that allows the user to enable software control of output and input mixing if using ASIO 2.0 on Windows, and a Mono button to collapse the stereo image. A ¼-inch headphone jack with volume control and power and FireWire LED indicators round out the front panel.
Back of the Rack
The rear panel has a 48V phantom-power switch, main L-R (channels 1 and 2) outputs, and I/O for channels 3 through 8. All rear-panel I/O uses ¼-inch TRS connectors, which support balanced and unbalanced cables. Inputs 7 and 8 have a sensitivity knob for interfacing with lower output gear. A power switch, located next to the DC input allows you to select between bus and external power. Finally, there are MIDI input and output jacks and two 6-pin FireWire connectors.
I tested the FA-101 using Logic 6.3.3 on a 550 MHz Mac G4 running OS X 10.3.6. My G4 processor speed is slightly under the FA-101's minimum requirements, which can affect issues such as monitoring latency. The FA-101 is one of the few (if not the only) audio interfaces to use Apple's driver, which is integrated into OS X. That means that there are no drivers to install — just plug and play. (If you use OS X 10.3.3, you will need to update the FireWire audio driver.) The documentation is clear, brief, and nicely laid out, and gives some basic setups for those just getting started.
Let's Rol, Edi
The mic preamps have decent gain and are fairly clean, with a neutral, uncolored sound quality. At the upper end of the gain range, however, the level seems to jump suddenly, and the unit exhibits some noise. I would suggest using a higher output microphone when recording quieter material. There was some zipper noise when I adjusted the monitor mix knob, but because that is a set-and-forget control and doesn't affect the recorded signal, I could tolerate it.
I missed having insert jacks, particularly for recording bass guitar and vocals. There was the typical delay between input and software return when recording, but it was manageable and would be even less of a problem on a faster computer. There is also a direct-monitor option that allows you to monitor the input (although not the processed signal) without latency.
One to Go, Please
Despite its anomalies, the overall sound quality is good for recording and monitoring, and the unit is easy to use. I was particularly impressed by the number of inputs and outputs, as well as the high recording resolutions offered in a portable package at this price.
The inclusion of a basic MIDI interface makes the FA-101 a complete portable studio solution suitable for a range of users. Its feature set definitely earns it a place in the growing field of mobile audio and MIDI portable interfaces.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3
Roland Corporation U.S. (distributor)