Focusrite Forte by drewwebsteraudio
I've been running Focusrite's new Forte interface for over a month now and I've been very happy with it.
This interface (PC and Mac compatible) has 2 inputs and 4 outputs that are all digitally controlled and can record up to 24bit/192k. The two inputs connect via a breakout cable and accept mic, instrument and line (bal/unbal) level inputs. There are two 1/4" balanced outputs on the back of the device and a headphone jack in the front. The speaker outputs and headphones jack are completely independent of one another, so separate mixes can be played through each. The inputs and outputs are controlled via the touch screen and knob on the top of the interface or the Forte Control software. The mixes are controlled only from the Forte Control software. This unit can be powered with the supplied AC power adapter or via the USB cable. There are a few limitations to USB powering the device, such as no phantom power and limited output volume. This device also has a few DAW control options that vary by DAW, such as a scrub tool or even a volume control for iTunes.
The overall design of the device is nothing new, but there are a few features that make it stand out against other one-knob interfaces. Firstly, I really like how the speaker outputs are built into the device and no break-out cable is needed. With others you have to connect the breakout cable, thus leaving 6 cables on your desktop instead of two.
The built in LED screen is beautiful. It gives you 6 meters for monitoring both inputs and all 4 outputs. Below the screen are 4 touch screen buttons: Inputs, Headphones, Speakers, and DAW Control. Tap any of the buttons and it brings you to the general menu of each, hold down any of them for a second and it opens up more controls for each, such as DIM, PAD, Mono Mix, etc... Adjust any of the settings using the large knob, which turns silky smooth and it also a push-in button.
Ins and Outs
Focusrite is known for their preamps, and the Forte does not disappoint! The preamps have amazing clarity and holy gain batman! I record a lot of metal music, so naturally my favorite vocal microphone is the SM7b. As most people know, the output of the SM7b is incredibly low. With cheaper preamps you have to settle for a low input signal with this mic or you'll end up cranking your preamp to the point of amplifying its self-noise. The Forte's preamps can take in a whisper from the SM7b at full volume without any added noise. These preamps also sound amazing on acoustic guitar and clean vocals. I haven't tried much of anything else yet, but I've been very please with what I've gotten thus far.
For what it's worth, the outputs on this device are also amazing. They are very clear and extra noise (if any) is negligible. I've been able to pick out things that are extremely subtle in a mix that I may have not been able to so easily with previous interfaces.
The Forte Control software is very easy to use. Setting up headphones mixes is very easy and fast. Setting up your inputs from the computer is actually much faster than doing it from the device itself.
The DAW control is a cool feature, but I rarely use it. I have both a MAC and a PC. DAW control works perfectly on my MAC, but I can rarely get it to work on my PC as it always gives me the error message "Unable to detect a DAW." Also, when it comes to PC the driver for it can be a little glitchy at times, even with the buffer size set as high as it will go. The driver problem doesn't occur very often, but it is worth mentioning.
Also, I thought it would be nice if they would have added a S/PDIF or ADAT input so you'd be able to expand on the number of inputs.
Anyway, I gave the features a 3 because of the DAW control and driver issue (which I assume will be fixed in a future update seeming as how we're only on software version 1.0 right now) and for not having S/PDIF or ADAT.
Overall this is a great unit that I highly recommend.