Ok Ok ... so this review has been almost a month delayed in posting. At least it wasn't as long as this "almost mythical" product has been in the pipeline.
If memory serves me right ... this was announced sometime soon after the Griffin RadioShark - another long delayed product that Griffin finally made good on almost a year and a half after it's announcement. Griffin started taking pre-orders for the FireWave in January of 2005!
And if memory serves me correct ... Griffin actually prototyped this in 2002 at MacWorld New York.
The thing that most bums me about the long product delay is that Firewire has turned less Consumer and more Pro since FireWire support was dropped from the iPod line.
So ... why my delay? At first ... I planned to use it for a week, then post my review. Then, I decided I would just write the review when I had a small amount of free time two weeks ago. Then, I started having a few problems with the device and so I extended my review to a 30 day test.
The product is this:
A 5.1 Surround Sound solution for Mac. The FireWave channels audio through the firewire port to a compact breakout box/amp. The FireWave is "bus-powered" from the FireWire port. There are 3 (3.5mm) minijack (standard headphone connection) outputs which provide 6 channels for Left & Right, Center & Subwoofer, and Surround Left & Surround Right or rear speakers. The FireWave supports Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and additional audio configurations through Mac OS X's Audio MIDI Setup utility.
Well, I thought I knew what the FireWave was suppose to be when I first saw it pre-announced on the web. For what I thought it was ... I thought I wanted one.
I thought this would be able to replace my amp/processor. And it has ... but not without a lot to figure out.
Coming with no "laymen" usage guide or a diagram of an example setup ... it's hard to know what to actually do with the device. Also, not coming with any cables make additional purchases not only necessary but mandatory to use the device properly.
I would have thought that the FireWave would come with standard speaker connections ... like this:
I know of no quality speakers that have a 3.5mm jack connection. In fact, Radio Shack doesn't even sell such a conversion cable. You have to buy the cables as pictured above and splice them to get the right connection. All I wanted is a small portable solution to hook up multiple speakers quickly and easily. With the FireWave, you might as well just go from the sound out port to an AMP and be done with it ... skipping the FireWave entirely.
Now, if in a more permanent setup the FireWave is terrific! Sound is crisp and clear. Software setup and recognition, which unlike hardware setup, is very nicely explained in the manual that is part of the "software jacket".
I was able to acheive a very nice spatial sound with both a MacBook and a PowerBook G4.
A few times I experienced a small hissing sound ... but I found that it was interference coming from other cables. Replacing the thin FireWire cable Griffin provides seem to stop this from happening too often.
The FireWave is driverless but does require Mac OS X 10.4.6 (Tiger) or higher. There is an application called Audio MIDI setup provided within your standard system install (located in the Utilities folder) that IS REQUIRED to recognize the device. There is also a program provided on CD, by Griffin, called FireWave, but it's not required. It is useful for configuring Dolby related settings.
* Note that there is no passthrough digital output (optical) to use to connect to a receiver and the FireWave does not encode anything.
The only annoyance is (and it's not really Griffin's fault) is that EACH APPLICATION must be changed to ouput anything higher than 2 speaker output (Stereo). Meaning ... you must change the Preferences in applications such as DVD Player, iTunes, Games, etc etc to hear the FireWave output anything other than stereo. The default setup for Mac OS X is stereo.
I'm not much into star ratings or pros and cons lists because I think they are subjective. I really think Griffin needs to go back to the drawing board on this. It's a disappointment, but only from the aspect of its delay. I would recommend it for sure, but only if you are a gadget hound.
* A small conspiracy - while mentioned in just about every press release on every major Mac News site that this unit has 3 (3.5mm) jacks - no product picture on the Griffin website shows this. It's almost as if they are trying to hide the fact that it's not standard! I think it only adds to the confusion of what the device's true purpose is.
Firewave Support Page
XLR8yourMac reader submission: FireWave