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This article was originally published in issue #24
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Over more than 20 years, Behringer has built a reputation for making highly featured products at unbelievably low prices, and whilst the brand has never brought the same bragging rights as a rack full of Neve or SSL, it’s amazing how many studios have a bit of Behringer in everyday use. One of the great tricks of selling beyond the beginner/hobby market is to produce affordable kit that offers a bit more than usual, and that’s exactly what the Firepower FCA1616 is about.
First off, it’s a very red, single-unit, rack-mount audio/MIDI interface, boasting 16 inputs and 16 outputs. Now the entire industry uses I/O figures in a way that confuses and annoys buyers in about equal numbers, so let’s explain...
16in/16out is the TOTAL of analogue and digital I/O. You get four microphone/instrument inputs, four balanced line inputs, eight balanced line outputs (and two headphone sockets) plus up to eight channels of digital audio I/O. If you need 16 analogue inputs you simply add an additional unit of your choice to handle pre-amplification and analogue/digital conversion).
Inside the box you get a set of stick-on rubber feet for desktop use, and a set of screw-on rack-mount ears for, well, rack-mounting; along with an external power supply and a pair of connecting leads. Why a pair? Because unusually (and very usefully), the unit has both USB2 and FW400 connectivity.
The front-panel is quite busy, with four microphone/instrument inputs on combi sockets followed by their dedicated controls. Each mic channel gets a gain control and dedicated push buttons (and LEDs) for instrument/mic selection, 75Hz low-cut filter, phantom power and 15dB pad.
Next up, the headphone section has a pair of sockets with individual level knobs for each, a selector switch (the second headset can hear the same as the first on channels 1&2, or an independent mix on channels 3&4) and a mono switch.
Nearly at the end now - with a set of basic input/output signal LEDs (multi-coloured - green for active, red for close to clipping) mix balance knob (input/DAW return) and main analogue out level control which you can switch between channels 1&2 only (for main monitors) or for all eight outputs. Finally, a set of LEDs indicate power, connectivity and I/O status.
That’s a total of six sockets, eight knobs, 20 push-buttons and 44 LEDs which could be a bit overwhelming, but somehow a few white dividing lines between sections keeps it all very easy to navigate.
Around the back we get power input (with a cable tether - nice touch), MIDI in/out, FW and USB sockets, optical and coax digital connection, eight balanced line-out sockets, four line in, and eight insert points which allow you to insert outboard effects (perhaps a compressor after the mic-pre and before the analogue-digital conversion).
So that’s what it’s got, but what’s it like to use? All those controls may take a while to describe but they make basic operations about as easy as it could be.
Once you’ve selected your connection type, plug in (no power switch) and you get a brief start-up light-show. Want a function? Just press the button and the LED comes-on (be a little careful here as I got a few pops through the monitors). Change a level? Turn the knob. All of the knobs are smooth, all of the buttons and sockets feel positive and all of the LEDs are clear. I used the USB connection and scratched my head over sample rates until I realised that if the S/MUX digital option is selected you get only the higher 88.2 and 96K options.
Behringer’s literature states that the pre-amps are “MIDAS designed” (Behringer bought the highly respected UK console manufacturer in 2009) and whilst these are not in the same class as actual MIDAS console pres, for most general studio work there really does come a point where it simply doesn’t matter, because what you’ve got is “plenty good enough”. They’re not leading edge nor particularly characterful, but I recorded guitars, harmonica and shouty vocals and there is nothing about their performance that would put me off using one as a studio go-to unless I was going to have to completely max-out the gain (there’s some hiss noticeable at the very top of the gain range).
Wish list? The mono switch on the headphone output sums only the input channels, not the DAW return, which means that you can’t use it to give a mono cue mix to a performer who wants to take the headphones off one ear, nor to check mono-compatibility of a mix. Also, if you turn-down the main monitor output, you turn-down the headphones on channels 1&2, which means that you can’t dim the monitors when performers are using headphone cues. In practice neither of these impacted me but they weren’t what I expected.
The budget interface market is flooded to the point of bursting its banks, but I really can’t think of anything else that is quite this well connected and this affordable. Digitally connect a Behringer ADA8200 for an additional eight mic pres and you’ve got enough inputs to record a full band for an incredible price. Oh, and there’s a standard three year warranty too and a software download including the full version of the Tracktion 4 DAW.
So long as the features match your needs the FCA1616 is a good and very easy to use workhorse interface with enough connectivity options to let you get a lot of recording done without spending a lot of money, and ADAT connectivity lets you add another eight analogue inputs if you need them.