That’s an actual photo of my PreSonus FirePod. I’ve had it for years, and it is the heart of my recording setup. I’m not even sure how long I’ve owned it. I wrote a review over at Harmony Central back in 2005, so it’s been at least 6 years. Presonus has renamed this unit the “FP10″. I’ve got one of those, too – I daisy-chain them together. It’s been discontinued, but can still be purchased on the used market for a steal.
Let’s get started with what it does…
Inputs/Outputs and Connectivity:
It’s firewire – 10 in and 10 out, but two of those channels are digital (spdif). It does 8 XLR or 1/4 inch ins (combo jacks), 8 1/4 inch outs. Here’s a look at the front and back:
Those inputs across the front are your combo XLR/TRS inputs. The first two work as XLR or instrument inputs. The two blue buttons on the far left are for the 48v phantom power. You can power them in blocks of 4 channels, so the first button powers ch1-4, and the 2nd does 5-8. The knobs on the right control the gain for each 8 channels. They each have a little LED light that will go red when you clip the channel. Then on the far right you’ve got a main volume knob, a headphone volume, and a monitoring blend knob (more on that later).
Moving on to the back, starting from the left. You get two firewire connections which allows you to daisy chain these units together. I’ve daisy-chaned two of them (a FirePod and an FP10), and it works without a hitch. Then you get your S/PDIF and MIDI connections. Finally, on the right are the outputs. Next to the MIDI connections are two sets of two outs. The first is “Cue Mix Line Out” and the second set is “Main CR Output. Honestly, I never use the Cue Mix Output, so I’m not quite sure what it does. Next you get the 8 individual channel outputs. To the right of those are the channel one and two line inputs (remember, the front channel 1 and 2 inputs are instrument), and finally the Preamp Output. I never use that, either.
Overall, I think this has pretty much all the connections you’d need. What it lacks is capability to hook up an ADAT unit and get 8 more channels via digital. Given that you can daisy-chain another Firepod (2 more, actually), you can get the same functionality.
If you’ve listened to anything I’ve recorded ever, you’ve heard this thing in action. It sounds great!
I’d say the preamps are transparent, quiet, and sound great. If I had one complaint, I’d say that the Firepod sounds a bit sterile. There’s a bit of warmth missing that you can hear on mixes done in a more professional studio. This could have a lot to do with the other gear I use – namely microphones. The preamps have plenty of gain – I’ve never had a problem picking up and recording any source – quiet or loud.
I could go on and on describing how I think this sounds, but I think it’s better just to let you listen to it. Here is a simple acoustic song:
Guitar: Martin D-35. You’re hearing two different flavors here – I recorded the take both with a mic and direct. I used a Studio Projects C1 for the mic, and the direct signal is going through an Ultrasound DI Plus preamp. My pickups are K&K Pure Western Minis (an awesome pickup system, and cheap).
Vocals: Studio Projects C1.
Here’s a more involved recording – if you listen to it in one of the higher quality settings, I think the sound is a bit better:
Acoustic Guitar: Takamine FD-360sc recorded direct and with a pair of MXL 603s mics.
Vocals: Studio Projects C1
Keys: M-Audio midi controller – controlling sounds in Logic
Bass: Yamaha (I think? – sold it a while back) bass plugged straight into the FirePod. I know I did some signal processing in Logic with it, but I can’t remember exactly what I did.
Electric Guitar: That was a Jimmie Vaughan Strat through a Vox AD60VT amp (I’ve since sold both). I mic’d it with an SM57.
Drums: Loops from Drums on Demand. Great loops!
So, as you can see (or, rather, hear), you can get a very good quality recording from the Firepod. In case you’re wondering – on that Bon Jovi cover – I recorded the audio first and then went back and did the video to it – sort of “music video” style.
I think the only thing here to talk about, really, is the monitoring “blend” knob. It allows you to monitor the dry signal (turned all the way to the left), or the signal you’ve got coming through your DAW (all the way to the right). Here’s an example of how it works…
Say you’ve got a whole song done and with a scratch vocal track. Now it’s time to come in and re-record the vocals. So, you’re hearing the song in your headphones, and you’re monitoring your vocal track. If you turn the knob all the way to the left, you just hear your dry vocal with no processing at all. This is also zero latency. Turn it to the right, and you’re hearing the vocal that the DAW is processing and sending back. So you can add some reverb, compression, delay, etc. You can choose to blend those two signals as well. It’s a pretty cool feature, but I typically monitor with it all the way to the right. That way I can hear a bit of EQ, reverb, and compression on my vocal track (or whatever else I’m monitoring).
One note – if you’re running a slow machine, you can monitor the dry signal and you won’t have any latency (delay) issues. If you don’t have a ton of processing going on in your DAW, you’ll probably be fine, as this unit is 6 or more years old now. I think it’s best to keep things simple while tracking anyway, and then play with different plugins and processing while you’re mixing.
I’ve been going on and on now about how I’ve had this gear for so long. That should speak to it’s reliability. I haul it all over the place. I should mention, though, that I bought a little rack for it when I got the 2nd unit (the FP10), so they’re pretty protected. I used to carry the Firepod around in a bag when I’d take it from place to place. Eventually, some of the knobs got a little noisy, so I figured it was better safe than sorry and I bought a rack for them.
I’ve had the Firepod about 4 or so more years than I’ve had the FP10, but both are still going strong.
I used to have one little issue with connectivity with an older laptop (2005 Macbook pro). I would have both the laptop and the firepod powered on, and when I plugged the firepod into the laptop, it would never connect. A restart on my laptop would fix the problem. I have a new Macbook Pro now, and I don’t have that issue.
Ease of Use:
Very straightforward. On a mac, you just plug it in and go. I use Logic, and the software recognized the Firepod without any other tinkering. I have also used it with Windows XP. I remember that I had to install it using the software and drivers from Presonus, but I never had an issue with it.
To daisy chain them, you have to create an aggregate device in the “audio/midi” settings on a mac. This took me a bit of time to figure out. Google it and you’ll get really clear instructions.
I’ll say this – I have used (and still use) gear that is MUCH harder to figure out how to work. I’m talking about you, Line 6 UX2!!
I called Presonus once with a question about the firewire connection (a loooong time ago) – seemed very friendly and I got the info I needed within a minute of picking up the phone. I’ve only heard good things about them.
There are lots and lots (and lots) of audio interfaces on the market right now. You can spend as little as $50 – maybe even less – or you could spend thousands and thousands.
I think the 8 channel type interface is a pretty good sweet spot. It’s enough channels that you could record a mic’d up drum set if you wanted. I also think that a 2 channel interface is limiting even for simple applications. When I do a basic acoustic guitar and vocal track, I’ll use 3 or even 4 channels. One for the vocal, one for the guitar direct, and maybe another for the guitar with another mic.
If you only have $100 for an interface, you can get a 2 or 4 channel device that will sound great, but if you ever want the option of being able to track more things at once, a used FP10 or Firepod is a super awesome deal. You can buy them used for $300 or less.
Overall, I highly recommend it. I think the one thing that speaks most highly of this piece of gear is that I’ve never wanted to replace it. If you get into audio gear, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Have questions? Ask away!
Presonus has stated that they aren’t officially supporting OSX Lion with the Firepods and FP10’s. I’ve done some reading and have found mixed experiences – some people say they work with Lion, some don’t.
These devices run natively with the audio drivers built into OSX, so you don’t need to run drivers from Presonus. I’ve upgraded to Lion, and just last night I recorded our band at rehearsal using both of my units daisy chained together. They worked just fine. I recorded with Apple Logic 9.