Announcement
Collapse
No announcement yet.

4959213

Collapse
X
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • PRESONUS INSPIRE 1394 (audio interface)

    Yep, it's that time again: another Pro Review! Seems that interface ones are popular, and the Inspire is an unusual little box.

    I've decided on a couple changes this time around:

    * First, I'm going to test it with a PowerMac (PreSonus has announced availability of Macintel drivers, but I don't have a Macintel yet).

    * Second, I figured there would be some "So what's the difference between the FireBox and Inspire?" questions. Of course we'll address that in the thread, but I also decided to review the FireBox in the HC Confidential Newsletter that goes out next week. That way, I could get into the box with more depth than I would in a review about the Inspire. As it turns out they are quite different, but hey, that's what a Pro Review is about: Going beyond specs to uncover the "gestalt" of a piece of gear. However, this way there's a complementary review as well of an alternative product.

    So this is also a heads-up that if you don't subscribe to the newsletter yet, you should! You can sign up on the HC home page.

    Another thing is that I try to avoid doing a Pro Review if there's a chance of my travel schedule interfering. However, I have a very heavy travel schedule this summer and it's unavoidable. So, I'm hoping that when I can't post for a few days at a time, you'll find that an ideal time to ask questions, and of course, I've invited PreSonus to participate in this thread so you can get some answers directly from them along with my observations and those of other participants.
    The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

  • #2
    As usual, I don't like to take up a lot of space regurgitating specs, as the point of a Pro Review is to focus on the user experience. Besides, if you're reading this you're online, so you can find out all the specs from the PreSonus web site - click here for the Inspire 1394 "landing page." It gives details on the specs, a link to a short review that appeared in Tape Op magazine, some videos, and other info. Before we dive too deeply into the review itself, you might want to do a little homework here.

    Okay, next thing for me is to set up my mini-photo studio so I can take some pix of the insides, the packaging, that sort of thing. I'll check back when I have some shots.
    The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

    Comment


    • #3
      Click on the attachment to see everything that’s included with the Inspire 1394 package. Starting at the top is the packaging itself. Going clockwise around the picture, there’s a FireWire cable (4.5 foot, 6-pin to 6-pin), AC adapter and warranty card, four CD-ROMs, and the Inspire hardware interface itself. At the center is the printed manual.

      The four CDs are:

      * Inspire driver CD (surprisingly, it was up to date – the web site didn’t have anything more current)
      * “Pro Pak” add-on with plug-ins and samples
      * Steinberg Cubase LE
      * Sony Acid XMC

      My initial impression of the Inspire 1394 is that it’s targeted toward the same type of person who bought a Portastudio back in the 1970s. As a result, the software bundle takes on greater importance; between Cubase LE and Acid XMC, you can make some pretty cool music. Unfortunately Acid XMC doesn’t mean much to Mac owners, but given that Apple bundles GarageBand with their hardware, a GarageBand-like product is probably redundant anyway.

      The Pro Pak CD has quite a few plug-ins, with somewhat different sets for Mac and Windows. We’ll get into that later, as I don’t want to get too distracted from the hardware itself until later in the review.
      The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

      Comment


      • #4
        And speaking of hardware, let’s take a closer look. Click on the attachment to see the front panel.

        It’s pretty simple: There are two pairs of inputs (mic and instrument), and you can use one of either pair at a time (e.g., mic from one pair and guitar from the other pair, two mics, guitar and keyboard, etc.). The instrument input is balanced, so you can use it with balanced line devices, but also has a 500k input impedance so it’s “guitar-friendly.”

        The only other front panel attribute is an LED that glows blue if the FireWire connection is happy, and red if it isn’t. No phantom power? Well actually, there is…but not on the front panel. All parameter control is done through a computer applet, which we’ll cover in depth later.
        The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

        Comment


        • #5
          And of course, equal time for the rear panel. Click on the attachment to see the rear panel.

          From left to right, you have a connector for the AC adapter (which you won’t need if it’s powered from a 6-pin FireWire port, but will if your computer’s FireWire port is the 4-pin type), and two FireWire connectors. Is PreSonus just being generous? There’s more to this: The Inspire 1394 is designed to be used with other Inspire 1394s for a true multi-input/output interface. The thinking is that if a band is into using Inspire boxes, they can use their idividual box at home, but when they get together in the studio, they can all access the computer. Very cute, very modular, and given the price, affordable for the band.

          Next up is an 1/8” phone jack, 1/8” output for powered computer speakers paralleled with RCA unbalanced outs for feeding line levels, and an additional line input using RCA unbalanced ins. This gives another clue as to the intended audience; you won’t find the 1/4" unbalanced connections of the FireBox. For those who are turned off by 1/8” jacks and RCA connectors, well, there are always adapter cables…

          But one very intriguing feature is that the RCA inputs are there for a reason, as they can be switched to phono mode and accept a turntable output. Really! I see two main uses for this: DJs, or course, but I have a pretty decent collection of vinyl and having a preamp to record these directly into my computer for editing is kinda cool. I’m not sure if this would be a Big Feature to the average Inspire buyer, but it saves me from a bunch of hassles.
          The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

          Comment


          • #6
            Naturally, a Pro Review isn’t a Pro Review without taking the thing apart and checking for build quality. It’s relatively easy to take apart, but there’s no real value in doing so as there’s nothing inside you can adjust. There are two connectors, but I suspect they’re for testing during the assembly process. Click on the attachment to see the insides. Note the quarter to give you some idea of the scale.

            Concerning the outside construction, this is clearly designed to accept abuse from Neanderthals. The circuit board is in an all-metal enclosure, with ventilation slits on both the top and bottom. However, if you put this on a carpet you’d block the lower ventilation slots; I don’t think that would kill the unit, but I’d feel safer putting rubber feet on the bottom and placing the Inspire 1394 on a hard surface.

            As there are no protruding knobs, the Inspire 1394 is “drop-friendly.” To further cushion any side impacts, there are plastic wrap-around flanges. Presumably, if these cracked – which would take some serious effort, I might add – you could buy replacements from PreSonus.

            Now, don’t tell the guys from PreSonus, but I thought something that appeared this sturdy just begged for the “drop test.” So I dropped it from about six feet onto a concrete floor, with a thin towel placed on the floor so there wouldn’t be any scratches. After a suitably scary-sounding “thunk,” I picked it up and shook it; nothing had come loose, which was a good sign. I then plugged it into my Mac, and yup, it worked fine.

            Bottom line: thumbs up for reliability and resistance to abuse. Short of building in air bags, I’m not sure what PreSonus could have done to make this better-suited to equipment abusers.
            The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

            Comment


            • #7
              While the camera was out and the thing was apart, I thought I’d take some more pix. Click on the attachment to see the area behind the front panel. The jacks are the usual quality, with the fingers firmly attached to the plastic casing.

              By the way if you’re worried about the use of electrolytic capacitors, which do dry up after a couple decades, it appears they wouldn’t be hard to replace if you had to…then again, a couple decades from now, you’ll probably have moved on to a brainwave-to-audio converter or something.
              The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

              Comment


              • #8
                Okay, one last inside shot: Click on the attachment to see the bottom of the board. “There’s nothing to see here, move along…” Well actually, the reason why I included this is to show that the bottom of the board is quite a distance away from the bottom of the box (even further than it might seem, as the bottom case plate extends outward another 1/4" or so to allow for the ventilation slots). So, you’d pretty much have to hit the bottom of the case with a sledgehammer to get the bottom of the case to short out to the bottom of the board.

                Given the price, I just have to say they sure didn’t cut corners on sturdiness. This is one solid sucker.
                The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

                Comment


                • #9
                  That’s right, no MIDI. So if MIDI is important to you, you’ll need to get a separate MIDI interface, or choose a different audio interface that has MIDI built in. This is why I use the FireBox on stage instead of the Inspire, which would otherwise fit my needs.
                  The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Any comments so far or questions you want addressed? The next sections will involve installation and the applet controls.
                    The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Installation on the Mac consists of dragging over the Control Panel applet from the CD-ROM (or downloading it from the web if a more recent version comes out), plugging in the box, and opening up the applet. Or opening up the applet and plugging in the box. In other words, not only is the box constructed to withstand Neanderthal handling, but the installation process is friendly to Neanderthal brains. (That is, as long as you’re running Mac OS X 10.3.7 or later, as the drivers are included in the Mac’s Core Audio functionality.) If you have an earlier operating system, it’s time to upgrade.

                      Windows installation is only slightly more difficult, as you need to install a driver. The manual is clear about installation; of course, you have to do the usual “Continue Anyway” when the Windows logo testing screen appears. (You know, the one that says “Your computer may become weird, unstable, blow up, or even act like Tom Cruise if you persist in installing these drivers, which we haven’t personally tested and can’t vouch for. Are you really, really sure you want to continue installing something that might devastate the world as we know it?”) But I installed the Inspire 1394 on an Apple dual G5, Apple standard G4, Rain Recording Windows XP laptop, and ADK Windows XP desktop, and each time, the interface installed easily and painlessly.

                      I’m starting to form an opinion of the Inspire 1394’s personality: Simple, inexpensive, sturdy – your basic hard-working, no-nonsense interface. Let’s see what the applet brings.
                      The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Okay, I see how they got the price down: The box itself has I/O only; all control of levels, switching, etc. – and I mean all control – happens through the control panel applet. Click on the attachment to see the applet, or the following won’t make a whole lot of sense. As switches, pots, faders, and the like add greatly to a piece of hardware’s cost, it’s obvious that eliminating them is going to save some serious bucks.

                        First of all, the knobs default to using the “turn the knob with your mouse” protocol. I know all the arguments about that kind of motion giving you finer resolution, but I just find it more awkward. So I’m glad you can right-click (Windows) or ctrl-click (Mac) to choose a linear mode. This is one of the very few things that’s a little out of character with the Inspire 1394’s “what you see is exactly what you get” philosophy. It not only doesn’t have any hidden menus, it doesn’t have any menus, except for the knob motion one. (However the Windows applet, described later, does have some extra options.)

                        The Control Panel takes up a lot of screen real estate. I usually complain about programs that use gratuitous screen space (e.g., for huge logos, or artwork that simulates hardware but provides no controls or functions), but I’ll make an exception here because the use of screen space is not gratuitous. The controls are big, clear, easy-to-hit targets, which is a Good Thing if you’re in the heat of making music.

                        Let’s look at the controls, moving from top to bottom and left to right. Note the Phono button on the stereo input, and also, that this is a “virtual concentric” knob – you can offset the two channels’ gain. The headphone level determines the (I'm sure you can see this coming) the level in your headphones.

                        The middle section is your zero-latency mixer for all the inputs, along with the “playback” (return from your software) control. It’s nothing fancy: faders, mute, mixer bypass to take it out of the circuit entirely and feed only the output of your software to the Inspire 1394, and pan controls. Note that channels 1/2 and 3/4 have a stereo option, which gangs the faders together. However, you cannot gang them in an offset mode. If the faders are offset and you initiate Stereo, upon moving either fader the faders will snap to the same level.

                        The bottom section controls the preamps for inputs 1 and 2. Each has a gain control (there’s no spec given for the amount of gain – can someone from PreSonus provide this?), boost switch that adds 20dB of gain, +48V phantom power switch, and built-in limiter. There are no clip indicators to indicate you’ve run out of preamp headroom, so you have to use your ears (although if the mixer meter won’t go away higher when you push more signal into the mic, this indicates you’ve run out of headroom or have the limiter on). You can see clipping in the zero-latency mixer itself because the VU meters turn red, but I'd like to see preamp clip indicators added in a future rev of the conrtrol panel software.

                        The section on the right has a speaker output level control – obvious enough – and a “unit select” option in the lower right. You can chain up to four Inspire 1394s via FireWire, and rename them in this window. As PreSonus didn’t send me several Inspires, I couldn’t test this for myself. I don’t know if using more units causes a latency hit or other problems, and whether you can still use bus powering for, say, four units or whether you need to get the power supply into action. Hopefully someone from PreSonus is monitoring this and can comment.
                        The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          This is pretty much the same as the Mac one, except that there are separate settings for sample rate and latency. Note that the sample rate needs to be adjusted manually to match that of the system; it doesn’t automatically “sync up.” And yes, I was able to get latencies below 2ms as long as too much other stuff wasn’t going on. Click on the attachment to see the differences in the Windows applet.
                          The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            The Control Panel menu bar also provides two options beyond the usual minimize and close. One is a “pin” option so that the window is always on top. Clicking on the other minimizes the applet to take up less space; PreSonus calls this Win Shade. Click on the attachment to see the “Win Shade” version of the applet.

                            However, for some reason I couldn’t adjust the preamp gain controls in the Mac Win Shade, but could in the Windows version. I thought perhaps the gain was changing in the Mac applet even though the knobs weren’t moving, but that wasn’t the case. All the other controls in the Apple applet are functional, which leads me to believe this is a bug. For what it’s worth, I’m running Mac 10.4.6, so maybe it’s one of those Mac OS things that seems to trip up designers from time to time.
                            The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I think that PreSonus carries on the Mackie tradition of getting inexpensive mic pres to sound good. Their specs claim response to 50kHz, although they don’t specify how many dB down the response is at that frequency. I don’t know if these are the same preamp design as in the FireBox, but certainly, on playback I got back what I expected to hear. I also appreciate the high impedance for guitar, which really lets the guitar “speak” when going direct – any guitar I plugged into the Inspire sounded great. In fact, I’m pretty sure the instrument input impedance is higher than that of their high-end ADL 600 preamp.

                              I did encounter a problem, though, which I think might be the dreaded “FireWire whine” that was discussed to death in the Pro Review on the Mackie Onyx 400F, and in other forums as well with respect to other interfaces but which seems to affect only a minority of users. When turning up the channels 3 and 4 concentric knobs with nothing plugged into either input, everything was fine until I hit about 75% of the way up, at which point I started hearing artifacts and a sort of motorboating sound. I disconnected the FireWire cable and reconnected it, to no avail. However, I found that plugging anything into the channel 4 jack (even a Minidisc output with the Minidisc turned off) reduced the noise to about –60dB, even at full gain (of course, you don’t hear any noise if the volume is down for channels 3 and 4).

                              I also noticed the same issue with the mic inputs. With nothing plugged in (except headphones), listening to only Mic 1 through Sonar with the Mic 1 gain up all the way and Boost enabled, the noise was about –35dB – pretty obvious. With boost off, it hit about -50dB. Mic 2 did the same thing. With the gain down on these controls, there appears to be virtually no noise at all.

                              Interestingly, if I plugged a guitar into the instrument jack with the guitar volume control turned down, even with the gain and boost maxed out on the Inspire 1394, the noise barely hit about –54dB. I attribute this noise to garbage coming in over the guitar cable, so the "real" noise contributed by the Inspire is probably much less.

                              Bear in mind that these are absolute worst-case conditions, but still, I think there may be a hardware problem, so I’ve asked PreSonus to send me another one. (And yes, it had this problem before the “drop test.”) What makes me particularly suspicious that this is a problem is because using their FireBox with the same computers and cables is dead quiet, even with everything at full blast.

                              In any event there’s no need to put the review on hold, because with normal amounts of mic gain and monitoring levels, and having things plugged into the box, you have to really listen to hear any of these artifacts. Still, I’d like to find out if it is possible to have truly quiet operation with very high gain levels.
                              The first 3 books in "The Musician's Guide to Home Recording" series are available from Hal Leonard and http://www.reverb.com. Listen to my music on http://www.YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit http://www.craiganderton.com. Thanks!

                              Comment

                              Working...
                              X