What’s the Skinny?
The TubeFire 8 includes eight balanced, combo XLR/TRS 1/4" rear panel inputs. On the front, each channel includes a 70dB input gain control, –10dB pad, 100Hz/–6dB low cut filter, 180-degree phase reverse switch, output control, and LED metering. The first two channels include high-impedance TS instrument inputs; the channel gain control adjusts both mic and instrument, as plugging in an instrument overrides the mic preamp. The eight mic pres can work inline, as each channel has its own low impedance TRS 1/4" rear-panel output jack. The back panel also has a master output level switch (+4/–10dB) for easy integration with both pro and consumer environments.
Phantom +48V is on two grouped channel switches (1–4 and 5–8). My only concern is whether these groupings might pose a limitation if you want to record with a number of different mics having different power requirements.
Output source switches for headphone or stereo out monitoring are paired (1–2, 3–4 and so forth). Once channels are selected for monitoring, these toggle between D/A and preamp outs. You can avoid monitoring latency altogether by selecting the preamp switch in combination with the designated channels. If D/A monitoring is selected, the software control panel adjusts latency.
Initially, the headphone/line out mixer functionality was counter-intuitive. The headphone out corresponds to the paired channel selection in combination with the D/A or preamp switches, and every permutation thereof. The signal is muted at 12 o’clock on the dial; turning to the left gives a mono mix and turning to the right, a stereo mix. In stereo, odd-numbered channels are panned hard left while even-numbered channels are panned hard right.
Combining functions such as phantom +48V and output monitoring conserve valuable front-panel real estate, yet increase the learning curve and require more forethought in signal routing. However, the immediate ease of use, and satisfaction with other features, outweigh any limitations.
The TubeFire 8’s crowning feature is the silky-smooth, class-A vacuum tube preamps. Warm, quiet, and present, these eight pres offer precision and clarity. Kudos to the engineers who developed this piece; these pres achieve a remarkable transparency that is normally accompanied by a much higher price tag.
Furthermore, the TubeFire 8 is also a high-quality A/D converter with FireWire connectivity and sample rates from 44.1kHz to 96kHz (as displayed on the face, and changed through the software or control panel). And it comes bundled with Cubase LE4.
Out of the box, the TubeFire 8 is plug-and-play. Installing the drivers on both PC and Mac is simple; I was ready to record with this piece within minutes of removing the wrap. Words cannot express how satisfying this is after having spent hours setting up project recording environments with no added value over the TubeFire 8. The accompanying manual was so anti-IKEA I was in shock: I really appreciated the straight, simple instructions, replete with workflow tips and suggestions for achieving the lowest noise levels.
Perhaps the best feature is that you can chain multiple TubeFire 8s, as each unit has two interchangeable In and Thru FireWire ports. Word clock input and thru BNC jacks are provided to sync the TubeFire 8 externally to a master clock source. Whether serving as a mic pre and/or I/O, the TubeFire 8 effortlessly accommodates a pro or project environment.
The Final Analysis
On my test drive, the ART TubeFire 8 continued a smooth and level course all the way to the end of the journey—and back again. Attractive yet rugged, warm yet clear, the TubeFire 8 can serve as the core of any recording environment or a welcome addition. All in all, this is a fine piece of equipment that’s well worth the modest sticker price.
Product Type: Mic preamp and I/O with A/D-D/A converter.
Target Market: Pro and project recording studios.
Strengths: High quality pres. Inviting price point. Can daisy-chain multiple units. Great documentation.
Limitations: Hefty weight makes for a less-than-ideal traveling companion. Best used as a permanently racked unit.
List Price: $629