Hands-On Review:PreSonus INSPIRE 1394, FIREPOD, and FIREBOX

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The Unforgettable FireWire

By Park James


FireWire interfaces have been popping up like mushrooms in home and pro recording studios lately, and it's no wonder - FireWire has a lot of capabilities that make it perfect for musicians and others who to record professional sounding high-resolution audio using a computer. FireWire is wicked-fast, simple to use, and handles many independent audio signals without breaking a sweat. PreSonus Audio Electronics, out of Baton Rouge, LA, perhaps best known for their pro audio preamps and processors, has created several FireWire interfaces with tricks and features that open up a lot of creative possibilities for musicians, producers, and sound engineers.


The INSPIRE 1394 is only slightly larger than a pack of cards, but don't be fooled by its small size and price - this unimposing little box has four simultaneous inputs, a pristine 24-bit/96kHz audio conversion rate, and a versatile software interface. All the sound parameters - input gain, phantom power, limiter, boost, sample rate, headphone volume, main output volume, and zero latency mixing - are controlled via a software control panel rather than on the unit itself. Its small profile allows you to squeeze it in almost anywhere on your desktop and, without any external knobs on the unit, there's nothing that will get broken when you carry it across town in your backpack.

Its portability, along with the fact that you can daisy-chain up to four INSPIRE 1394s together, makes for some interesting possibilities for bands who write music together. Imagine all four members of your group armed with INSPIRE 1394-equipped computers. Any member could write a piece of music at home, bring a laptop to practice, plug in everyone's INSPIRE interfaces, and let the other musicians add their parts to the song. The preamps and converters on the INSPIRE 1394 give the sound a pristine clarity that lends the finished product a very professional sound.

SOS - Save Our Settings!

The software control panel allows you to adjust the sonic parameters of the INSPIRE 1394 and save all of your settings for future reference. This nifty feature is unique among FireWire interfaces and is a timesaver when it comes to recording sessions - no more fiddling around with levels and settings to match your previous work. Simply call up the correct preset and you're ready to record with confidence that the resulting sound will be consistent with your last recording.

Ins and outs


PreSonus has a reputation for building superior mic preamps. The INSPIRE 1394 features four inputs, including two XLR inputs with PreSonus custom-designed preamps with switchable analog limiter that captures vocals, drums, acoustic instruments, and miked cabs with great clarity, warmth, and detail. Switchable 48V phantom power is provided for use with condenser microphones.

The INSPIRE also includes two 1/4" Hi-Z line inputs for guitars, keyboards, drum machines, and other line-level signals. A software-switchable RIAA filter allows use with a turntable, making the INSPIRE a natural for DJs and electronic artists who want to create customized mixes and record beats and samples from vinyl. It also makes a great choice for record collectors who want to convert their vinyl into digital for burning CDs or listening with an iPod or similar device.

The outputs include RCA unbalanced and mini TRS jacks plus a headphone output. Two FireWire connectors allow daisy-chaining of up to four INSPIREs for up to 16 simultaneous inputs. MIDI keyboards and modules can be integrated via the USB port.

Software support

The INSPIRE works with both Windows XP and Macintosh computers, and integrates with all the major software players, including Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar, Cakewalk, Logic, and more. The INSPIRE 1394 ships with Cubase LE, recording and production software with 48 audio tracks, 96 MIDI tracks, VST plug-ins and VSTi support. Cubase LE may be upgraded to Cubase SX or Nuendo, Steinberg's premium audio software. The INSPIRE also ships with ACID XMC, Discrete Drums LE, Diskwelder Bronze, and an entire suite of plug-ins to enhance your production creativity.


The FIREPOD is a single rackspace unit with added features for power users, including eight XLR/TRS neutrik connectors fitted with top-flight mic preamps and two more mic/instrument inputs. Its brushed aluminum front panel also houses gain controls for all of the mic preamps. Additional knobs control the main volume, headphone volume, and a mix control that allows you to balance monitoring levels between the mixed input and main output.

PreSonus FirePod

The first and second channels feature balanced send and return TRS connectors on the rear panel for inserting external effects, EQs, and dynamics processors. Each of the eight input channels features a corresponding TRS output on the rear. MIDI I/O allows integration of MIDI-compatible gear, and S/PDIF digital I/O allows all-digital audio transfers for ultimate sound quality. This complete recording package also comes with Cubase LE recording software so you'll be ready to start laying down tracks right away. The FIREPOD is also expandable allowing you to daisy-chain up to three units for 24 inputs.


PreSonus FireBox

If you like the portability of the tiny INSPIRE 1394 but need digital I/O, MIDI, and a slightly higher grade of A/D/A converter, the FIREBOX is for you. The FIREBOX is the smallest FireWire interface that allows you to simultaneously record and output with six inputs and eight outputs. There are two ultra-low noise mic/instrument preamps with 48V phantom power and premium connectors on the front panel, with two additional balanced TRS inputs and six balanced TRS line outputs on the rear. Two channels of S/PDIF I/O and MIDI I/O are included on a breakout cable.

Features & Specs:



PreSonus INSPIRE 1394
  • 2 balanced XLR microphone inputs

  • 2-1/4" Hi-Z instrument inputs

  • 2 selectable line or phono inputs with RIAA filter

  • Stereo mix and headphone analog outputs

  • 48V phantom power

  • Fast-acting analog limiter

  • Software Mixer and Control Panel

  • 400mbps FireWire

  • Windows XP and Mac compatible

  • Includes Cubase LE, ACID XMC, Discrete Drums LE, and more


  • 2 mic/instrument preamps

  • 2 TRS balanced line inputs

  • 48V phantom power

  • Coaxial S/PDIF I/O

  • MIDI I/O

  • FireWire I/O

  • 400mbps FireWire

  • 24-bit/96kHz A/D/A conversion

  • Includes Cubase LE, ACID XMC, Discrete Drums LE, and more

  • 8 balanced 1/4"/XLR Neutrik combo

  • 2-1/4" Hi-Z instrument analog inputs

  • 8 balanced 1/4" Line Outputs

  • 2 balanced 1/4" inserts

  • Stereo cue mix, control room, and headphone analog outputs

  • 48V phantom power

  • Coaxial S/PDIF

  • MIDI I/O

  • 400mbps FireWire

  • Windows XP and Mac compatible

  • CoreAudio and ASIO drivers

  • 24-bit/96kHz A/D/A conversion

  • 10Hz-50kHz preamp bandwidth

  • Includes Cubase LE, ACID XMC, Discrete Drums LE, and more