The PreSonus Inspire 1394 is an affordable FireWire interface that offers two mic/instrument preamps, up to four simultaneous inputs, and the ability to link with up to three other units.
The PreSonus Inspire 1394 ($229.95) is a compact FireWire interface that offers such features as 24-bit, 96 kHz operation; up to four simultaneous inputs; an onscreen control panel; and multiple-unit linking. PreSonus supplements the hardware with a generous software bundle that includes Steinberg Cubase LE, Minnetonka Discwelder Bronze, a Discrete Drums loop sampler, a collection of plug-ins, and more.
The Inspire 1394 sports a pair of solid-state preamps, each of which can be accessed by either XLR or ¼-inch (instrument) front-panel inputs. You also get selectable line or phono (with RIAA filter) inputs on the rear panel. Stereo outputs are provided on unbalanced RCA and mini TRS jacks, which can be used simultaneously. There's also a mini stereo headphone jack. Two FireWire ports allow for connection to both your computer and other Inspire 1394s. Up to four units can be linked together, which gives you plenty of potential expandability.
If your computer has a 6-pin FireWire port, the Inspire will draw its power from the FireWire bus. If not, you'll need to get a 4- to 6-pin FireWire cable and power the unit with the included AC adapter.
The software control panel handles all of the Inspire 1394's functions, including engaging 48V phantom power for either or both of the mic preamps. The hardware itself has no knobs or switches. The control panel consists of a virtual mixer. You click on buttons and turn graphical pots to select inputs, set levels and panning, or engage a 12 dB boost or basic limiter. The control panel also lets you mute channels, adjust the headphone level, or bypass the software mixer completely. Snapshots of control panel settings can be saved for recall, and you can minimize the control panel and keep it on top of other applications.
The PC version of the control panel allows you to choose sampling-rate and latency values from drop-down menus. You can choose a sampling rate of 44.1, 48, 88.2, or 96 kHz. Latency values range from 1.5 to 24 ms. On a Mac, these menus are not available in the control panel. Instead, you select sampling rates in the Audio MIDI Setup application and adjust latency from your host application.
The Inspire CD includes the drivers and control panels for both Windows XP and Mac OS X (10.3.7 or later). Installation on either platform is easy: just follow the onscreen prompts. After the driver is installed, you can use any ASIO, WMD, or Core Audio recording application.
When multiple Inspire 1394s are linked, the Unit Select area at the bottom right of the control panel shows how many are connected. Just click on the unit you want to access. You can give individual names to each one.
To use multiple Inspire 1394s on a PC, you must install a driver for each one. You can then select and assign inputs for any of the linked units from your host application. On a Mac, in most cases, you'll need to have OS X Tiger installed, and you'll assign all the Inspire 1394s you're using to an Aggregate Device in the Audio MIDI Setup utility. If you haven't done this before, PreSonus provides a helpful document at www.presonus.com/pdf/multiFPhowtoOSX.pdf.
Because I was using MOTU Digital Performer 4.52, which directly supports multiple interfaces, I could make two Inspire 1394s active in DP simply by shift-clicking to both units' drivers in DP's Configure Hardware Driver dialog box. Input names like “Line In 1-2” were duplicated, so I had to double-check that I was accessing the correct unit.
I set up a 2-guitar, 2-mic session with a pair of Inspire 1394s. I used two large-diaphragm condensers for vocals, a small condenser on acoustic guitar, and a dynamic mic on a guitar amp. Later I overdubbed an electric guitar solo through one of the Inspire 1394's instrument inputs.
After the initial setup, the two units communicated without problem with both the control panel and my recording app. The mic preamps in my test units were quiet, and the converters sounded fine. The Inspire 1394 provided plenty of headroom for the various mics and plenty of output to my powered speakers.
The Inspire 1394 is an impressive product. Its combination of good sound quality, small size, and multiple-unit-linking ability makes it a great choice for recording on a laptop or assembling dance mixes. Throw in the sizable software bundle, and you've got a bargain that's inspired, indeed.
Value (1 through 5): 4