Hands-On Review:PreSonus FireStudio Tube
By Brad Zell
PreSonus Director of Marketing
When I bought my first computer recording system, I spent all of my money on the computer, interface, and software. I had a few microphones and knew I needed to get a kick drum mic and a couple of condensers for overheads in order to record drums. I quickly realized that I also needed to buy at least eight microphone preamplifiers because the interface had only two microphone preamplifiers on it. My options at the time were the PreSonus DigiMax to connect via ADAT lightpipe to my interface, a mixer with eight microphone preamplifiers on it, or a bunch of boutique preamps that I couldn’t afford. I opted for the DigiMax and it served me well although I had to spend some extra cheese that I wasn’t really planning on.
Enter the FireStudio Tube
When we designed the FireStudio Tube the question was, “What do you need on a recording interface to record a band without having to buy more preamps?” Let’s see. You need about ten microphone preamps, and it would be nice if two of them were vacuum tube-based. Also a couple of onboard analog limiters, and an additional six balanced line inputs for keyboards, synths, drum machines, and boutique microphone preamps. You need enough outputs for speakers and headphone amplifiers and the ability to send multiple mixes to the musicians. And this is exactly what we did. The FireStudio Tube has two high-headroom, Class A tube-based microphone/instrument preamplifiers with analog limiter that we call “SuperChannels.” Eight award-winning XMAX preamplifiers, six balanced line inputs, MIDI input/output, four balanced multipurpose outputs, balanced main outputs, and a headphone amplifier that goes to 11 give you all the connectivity you could want.
The SuperChannels on the FireStudio Tube are designed to be extremely flexible, delivering a wide range of sounds from smooth, clean, and clear, to warm tube saturation, great for use with all types of microphones and instruments. The tube preamplifiers in the FireStudio Tube use a high gain, military-grade 12AX7 tube for maximum gain, low noise, and high headroom. Neutrik combo connectors allow both XLR microphone and Hi-Z instrument input. Controls include preamp gain and tube drive. An 80Hz high-pass filter is also located on the front panel to remove room rumble and unwanted low frequencies.
The FireStudio Tube’s limiter features the VCA-based, ultrafast RMS and peak detection circuit used in the award-winning DigiMax 96K, delivering the most musical limiting available. It is able to catch the fastest transients eliminating the possibility of clipping during recording while maintaining musicality. Controls for the limiter include Threshold and Gain Make-up, as well as a Limiter In/Out button.
Eight XMAX Preamps
The PreSonus award-winning XMAX preamplifier is a custom-designed circuit utilizing high voltage and high-current Class A topology. PreSonus believes that the preamplifier is one of the key components in the sonic quality of a recording. The job of a microphone preamplifier is to boost microphone level signals to line level so that the signal can be converted from analog to digital. This mic-to-line boost generally requires a preamplification of over 400 times the voltage of the original mic level signal. This preamplification stage is one of the most important stages that the signal will go through before being converted to digital, and is the reason a high-performance preamplifier is critical in achieving great results. Therefore, all XMAX preamplifiers are built with the same three elements:
High Voltage: The XMAX preamplifier runs on power rails of 30V. Most off-the-shelf op amp-based designs run on power rails of 10V to 18V. Higher voltage power rails deliver more headroom, deeper lows, smoother highs, and an overall fuller sound.
Discrete: There are no op amps in our circuit; only transistors, resistors, and capacitors. Op amps add noise, coloration, and harshness to a signal. Discrete designs deliver ultralow noise and transparency.
Class A: When a circuit is running in Class A mode, the circuit is always in an “on” state operating at its optimal voltage requirements. Class A mode has zero crossover distortion and delivers purer, clearer, and more musical sonics than Class A/B designs which are found in most op-amp circuits.
The net result of the XMAX preamp design is high headroom, low noise, wide dynamic and frequency ranges, and most important, musicality and transparency—smooth highs, solid and deep lows, and everything in-between.
FireControl DSP Mixer/Router
The FireStudio Tube includes the FireControl mixer/router that delivers up to five zero-latency custom monitor mixes easily and quickly; perfect for sending multiple headphone mixes to various recording musicians.
Digital Converters and JetPLL Sync
As with all of our recording systems, the FireStudio Tube includes a complete suite of software featuring Steinberg’s Cubase LE 4 48-track recording and production software along with a number of third-party plug-ins, loops, samples, and virtual instruments delivering a complete music production solution.
We’re really proud of the FireStudio Tube. It’s the perfect combination of analog I/O for the recording band or project studio producer/engineer. You get eight great mic inputs, two extremely hip tube preamps with analog limiter, and eight balanced line inputs, all in one rackspace! If you need to record a drum kit, band, choir, orchestra, etc., the FireStudio Tube is ready, willing, and able.
Features & Specs
- 24-bit/96K FireWire (IEEE 1394)
- 16 inputs/6 outputs simultaneous record/playback channels
- 2 SuperChannels (tube mic/instrument preamplifiers with analog limiter)
- 8 XMAX microphone preamplifiers
- 6 balanced TRS line outputs
- MIDI Input/Output
- 16 x 8 FireControl DSP mixer/router
- JetPLL Sync for amazing imaging and clarity
- High performance A/D/A converters (114dB dynamic range)
- Windows and Macintosh compatible (Logic, Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar, Digital Performer, and many others)
- ProPak Software Suite including Cubase LE 4 audio production software