What: This is all about when you need more functionality in a mobile interface, are willing to pay more, and don’t mind a slightly bigger unit: there are 10 ins, S/PDIF I/O, MIDI, dual FireWire ports, and more.
Why: In today’s market, there’s a mobile interface for everyone. Want USB? FireWire? Smallest size? Particular functions? Something out there will match your needs. With the FireStudio Mobile, PreSonus is targeting the person whose requirements would not be served by a basic interface, and may want to expand a setup in the future.
Faraway Factor: Despite the added functionality, FireStudio Mobile is still remarkably compact—about 6" x 6" x 1-3/4". The unit can be bus-powered, but if your laptop has a 4-pin instead of 6-pin connector (or you’re daisy-chaining other units that draw power from the FireWire bus), there’s also a jack for an AC adapter (included).
The S/PDIF and MIDI I/O are on a breakout cable that connects to a DB-9 connector. On the minus side, this means you have to bring the breakout cable with you (don’t lose it!) to use these features. On the plus side, this is in part responsible for the compact size, and you don’t need the cable if you don’t need the extra I/O.
Strengths: Even budget mic preamps hit a pretty high baseline these days, but some are still clearly a cut above—and that definitely applies to the PreSonus Class A XMAX preamps, whose high-voltage rails greatly increase headroom, and also have true 48V phantom power. The six line ins and two 1/4" main outs are all TRS for balanced/unbalanced operation; two Amphenol 1/4"/XLR combi jack mic/instrument ins offer balanced mic and unbalanced instrument operation. Preamp gain ranges from –10 to 70dB, and –30 to +50 when used as instrument ins. Also, the Universal Control mixing/routing software applet is quite nice, with the option to do zero-latency monitoring using the unit’s onboard hardware DSP.
Unlike most USB mobile interfaces, FireStudio Mobile can do 88.2/96kHz as well as 44.1/48kHz—and it’s compatible with 64-bit Windows variants (it tested out rock solid with Vista 64- bit, which not all interfaces do) as well as Mac OS X. FireStudio Mobile can cascade with other FireStudio devices if you need more I/O, and I appreciate the build quality—jacks mount to the chassis (not just the circuit board), the knobs have no wobble, and the chassis is all-metal. The icing on the cake is the printed documentation, which is comprehensive (it’s upfront about which FireWire chipsets are tested and recommended, as well as mentioning known incompatible hardware), and the inclusion of Studio One Artist, a user-friendly and sophisticated DAW.
Limitations: You can’t initiate phantom power individually for each preamp, the mic/instrument ins don’t like line-level inputs, and while there are indeed six outs, two of those are for stereo headphones. That’s about it.
Conclusions: FireStudio Mobile is the mobile interface for those who want more, and are willing to pay a bit more to get it. If all you need is a simple 2 x 2 interface for stereo recording, this is probably overkill. But if you have more advanced needs, or want to future-proof yourself somewhat through the cascading option, this is a cost-effective, high-performance choice.
More from this Roundup....