PreSonus Firepod

I used to view tracking on a computer with some serious stink-eye suspicion. Not because of the age old analog vs. digital sonic debate, but rather the learning curve and general scariness of leaving the cozy realm of 4-tracking to dive into the cold, dark waters of onscreen menus and mouse clicks.
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But as the years have ticked on by, I’ve witnessed the once daunting waters turn warm as a slew of new recording products have made it simpler and more cost effective to take the headlong plunge into recording on your computer. One such product is the PreSonus Firepod ($799 retail/ $599 street; includes Cubase LE), an 8-channel, rack-mountable mic preamp that connects to your computer via the magic of FireWire.

Sporting a sleek, brushed-aluminum faceplate, each of the Firepod’s class-A, input-buffered mic preamps flaunts a smooth and substantial-feeling Input Gain control offering up to 22dB of headroom, as well as a bright red LED to alert you when signal clipping occurs. The sturdy, professional feel of the Firepod’s controls was key for me, as I work the controls on recording gear way more than I twiddle controls on a guitar amp.

Getting the Firepod up and running on my eMac was a breeze, and I was tracking in no time. I simply plugged the Firepod’s supplied 6-pin FireWire cable into my computer’s FireWire port, switched the Firepod on, and a blue LED on the unit’s front panel lit up to tell me everything was rocking. Tracking into Apple’s GarageBand recording software, my first test was miking up my Fender tweed Deluxe with a Shure SM57. The Firepod’s preamps did a stellar job of capturing every nuance and growl my amp had to offer. I also achieved stellar results tracking acoustic guitar tones with various condenser mics through the Firepod. The tones were always tight and punchy with a finely detailed, and, most importantly, smooth and natural-sounding treble response. The Firepod is also very, very quiet. The only complaint I have, and it’s a small one, is that the Firepod’s headphone output is a tad underpowered if you’re a masochist like me who likes headphone mix to be loud when tracking.

But whether you’re recording alone, or recording a band, the Firepod has all of the bases covered. A second FireWire port on the back of the unit allows you to chain two Firepods together for a total of 16 mic preamps. And just think of the, uh, firepower, you could unleash with the Firepod mounted in a rack and a laptop computer. You’d be turned into a veritable mobile tracking machine. The Firepod’s ease-of-use and rugged aesthetics, as well as its sweet sonics have made this dude a gleeful convert to digital recording.