Presonus FireBox Review
I test quite a few audio interfaces and many seem to be all around the same level of quality with respect to price, latency performance, and sound quality of the converters themselves. There are a few types of interfaces available that really seem to separate themselves; one group is the incredible conversion quality and low latency performance of interfaces like the RME FireFace—but this is not the most inexpensive unit out there. The other group is high quality interfaces that sound good, perform really well, and have a great price. In my opinion, Presonus is the one leading the charge on this front and their new FireBox clearly demonstrates this.
Just to get my point across early, let me describe setting up the FireBox with my G5. Open box, plug Firewire cable from FireBox to computer, select FireBox in Audio MIDI Setup, DONE! The FireBox is bus powered and so there is no need to even turn it on –just connect your Firewire cable. The FireBox does come with a power supply though which you may need if your computer uses the 4-pin Firewire connector, as it is the 6-pin configuration that allows for powering up peripheral devices.
One of the reasons the FireBox is so dead simple in my setup is that it is a Class Compliant device. My Mac (running 10.3.7) automatically detects the FireBox and it is ready to go. Some may say that the lack of "true" dedicated drivers could cause latency problems with Class Compliant audio interfaces, but as you will read below that is not a problem in the case of the FireBox. That's not to say you don't get any software for the FireBox. Two applications, FireBox Control and FireBox Mixer are included, as well as a version of Cubase SE, more on those later.
|What Do I Get?|
The FireBox has two mic pre's with a phantom power select. These are Neutrik Combo Jacks allowing you to connect a Mic, Line, or Instrument input with two respective gain controls on the front panel. The mic pre's allow for 22 dBu of headroom. There are also two inputs on the back (labeled 3 and 4) adding up to four total inputs for AD conversion.
The front panel has knobs for Main Out volume and Headphone volume. In an ode to Spinal Tap, you can turn the Phones Level all the way up to 11, making it louder than any other headphone amp on the market (Umm, in case anyone disagrees, this was meant as a joke). In all seriousness, the headphone output is very loud and would be great for DJ's looking to Cue their mix or next breakbeat. Another great feature is that the phones can be set to monitor any of the outputs, which is great for setting up a private Cue mix in a program like Ableton Live.
The front panel also has a Clip Indicator light, this doesn't allow for accurate monitoring of your signal (you can do that from the software), but will tell you when you are clipping the inputs. While more signal level LED's would be great, the portable and compact size of the FireBox just doesn't allow for this. Lastly, the knobs on the front panel are the standard Presonus blue knobs like those found on the Eureka, FirePod, etc. They are a bit small for my taste, but they feel much better than most knobs.
You also get a surprising number of outputs for such a compact interface. You have two main outs (1 & 2) for connecting to your monitors, as well as 4 other outputs for sending submixes or specific tracks out to external signal processing gear, etc. All the outputs are via 1/4" jacks. On top of this you also have S/PDIF digital I/O and a 1x1 MIDI I/O via a breakout connector.
|Take It With You|
Like all Presonus gear the FireBox feels as sturdy as a brick. I only have two minor complaints. First, I wish the brushed aluminum look of the front and side panels continued on the top. As it is now you have about an inch of the brushed aluminum on top and the rest is a standard black metal. The reason behind this is probably two fold: one, it saves on costs, and two it allows you to easily stack other Presonus gear like their Tube Pre right on top. My second complaint is that the 1/4" jacks on the back are not recessed, or flush with the interface. They stick out a bit and have a plastic washer/nut that can be twisted off. I call both of these minor complaints because neither one actually hinders the reliability or ruggedness of the FireBox, and are more of my own "aesthetic" opinion.
Just like my experience with the Presonus FirePod, the FireBox did not disappoint when it came to latency. For example, I was able to get latency settings in Ableton Live of 2ms or 32 samples with no pops or clicks at a sample rate of 44.1kHz. If you like to monitor your live inputs with software plug-ins than the low-latency of the FireBox will serve you well.
|Software For Your Hardware|
Presonus has added two small applications to work with your FireBox. The first is FireBox Control—a small single window app that lets you boost the 4 inputs by 12dB. The second is FireBox Mixer, another single window app that lets you monitor your software playback and direct monitor your input signals coming into the FireBox for zero-latency monitoring. The mixer is clearly laid out, simple, and also lets you route different output pairs to your headphones, which is great for cueing up tracks and samples. FireBox Mixer allows you to save and load various mixer settings via presets. If you don't have any DAW software you'll be happy to hear that the FireBox also ships with Cubase LE.
The FireBox is a simple, compact, bus-powered FireWire interface with just the right amount of I/O for most location recording/performing needs. While it doesn't have a bunch of bells and whistles it does have flexible routing, low latency, quality construction, and a great sound, which is exactly what you need when traveling around and gigging. It would be equally useful in a home setup for anyone who is looking for great quality and price, but doesn't need the standard 8 In/8 Out rack interface. If you have been waiting for a great compact Firewire interface for your laptop, look no further.