Review - Griffin FireWave
by , 9:00 AM EST, December 28th, 2006
Even without Apple's soon to be released iTV home entertainment product, your Mac can serve as the center of your home theater system. And with Griffin's FireWave, you can add true Surround Sound so you can experience movies in all of their audio glory.
The FireWave is a Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic II breakout box that connects to your Mac via FireWire. It includes 3.5mm line out ports for left/right channels, center and subwoofer, and left/right surround channels, as well as two FireWire 400 ports. Since it uses actual Dolby Digital processors, you get true Surround Sound from your movies, and not some simulated surround audio knock-off.
It supports Apple's DVD Player, QuickTime, iTunes, and any other application that can produce Surround Sound. And thanks to that extra FireWire port, I can load my iPod or use my iSight camera without disconnecting my speakers.
The FireWave is really compact - small enough to set on top of a Mac mini. And it's bus powered, so you don't have to worry about losing another power port in your home theater outlet strip.
Before the FireWave can do its magic, you need to install Griffin's FireWave application. Although the unit works without the software installed, you'll need it when you want to simulate Surround Sound with two-channel stereo recordings.
I found that I used Apple's Audio MIDI Setup application that installs with Mac OS X more often than the Sound Preference Pane or the FireWave application to control the FireWave's settings. It gave me far more control over the device than anything else, and since it comes from Apple, I didn't have to worry about hacks that could potentially mess up my sound in other applications. The downside is that I ended up having to use Audio MIDI Setup and the FireWave application to fully configure the device since the surround simulation settings are in Griffin's application.
Using the FireWave was stunningly simple: It just plugs in and works. I did use Audio MIDI Setup to tell my Mac that I was using a 5.1 surround sound speaker setup, and I also had to change a setting in DVD Player's preferences so it knew to output surround audio to the FireWave. That was it.
The first time I tried to use the FireWave, I could output test signals to each speaker, but I lost audio every time I played a DVD movie disc. I emailed Griffin's tech support, and they suggested I try a different FireWire cable. Their advice was spot on. Turns out my test unit shipped with a bad cable.
Griffin's tech support turned out to be knowledgeable, responsive and friendly. I'll assume everyone else will get the same treatment, too, since I didn't let on that I was asking about a review product.
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