PreSonus FireStudio Mobile
Studio One software integrates especially well with PreSonus'' line of audio interfaces. Studio One Artist ships free with each of the company''s hardware units, and the upgrade to Studio One Pro (which you''ll need if you plan to use third-party plug-ins) is attractively priced.
I tested Studio One Pro with the FireStudio Mobile on my MacBook Pro. The Mobile ($299) is a compact but solidly constructed piece of gear with a surprising range of capabilities. It can operate at 24-bit, 96kHz, and though it isn''t class-compliant, driver installation was painless. The front panel sports a pair of XLR/TRS Neutrik connectors with input trim pots. The 48-volt phantom-power button on the front lights up when active. Three-LED metering is provided for each of the front panel inputs. A headphone jack and volume knobs for the main output and headphones finish off the front panel.
Around back are six more line-level balanced TRS inputs, a pair of TRS main outputs, two 6-pin FireWire ports and a strange-looking multipin connector. In the box is the attachment for this connector, and when I first saw it I was having flashbacks to the bygone days of PCI soundcards: Dangling from the attachment are a pair of MIDI jacks and a pair of RCA phono jacks. The RCA jacks provide the S/PDIF digital audio I/O, making the Mobile a true 10-in, 6-out interface. The multipin connector and attachment are a neat solution to the fact that the form factor of the Mobile is very compact; there''s no room back there for separate MIDI jacks.
The 12VDC power-supply input has two features that some other manufacturers have been known to skimp on: a strain-relief hook and clear labeling of the voltage and tip polarity. When connected to a computer via the included 6-to-6-pin FireWire cable, the Mobile doesn''t even need a power supply; it draws power from the computer. If your laptop has a 4-pin FireWire port, however, you''ll need to use the included wall-wart power supply.
Studio One senses the presence of PreSonus hardware and enables some extra signal-routing goodies. Most significant, especially for musicians working in small studios or recording live shows, is the ability to define a separate zero-latency cue mix. The headphone and S/PDIF outputs from the Mobile don''t simply duplicate the main stereo output; they can be separately addressed from the Studio One mixer. This makes it a piece of cake to dial up a separate cue mix for a vocalist''s headphones, for example.
I haven''t A/B''d the PreSonus mic preamps against other mic preamps, but the company has an excellent reputation in this department. The overall quality of the Mobile leaves me confident that I''ll like the sound of the pre's.
Everything about the FireStudio Mobile is a pleasure to work with. If you''re shopping for a basic audio interface for your computer music system, this unit is absolutely worth a close look.