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.
I have used the Forte for just over 2 weeks now and am overall pleased with its performance. It has great build quality and great looks but all that aside its sound is very detailed. A lot of people say there is not much difference between the sub $1000 dollar interfaces but the Forte seems to bring some definition out of my mixes (background vocals, imaging). However it seemingly has a more pronounced high end compared to the Mbox Mini I was upgrading from. This has caused me to feel vocals being recorded more sibilant than they were with the mbox (my chain is a blueberry>gap73>forte>pc for reference). That is the only complaint I have about the sound quality.
My main issue has been with the drivers, on Windows 8 I have experience quite a bit of instability. I got the blue screen on one occasion and after that the forte control software crashed every time I plugged in the Forte. Only way to get it working was to install a new beta driver from their website as directed by their support team. This event repeated itself only a week later and I had to install an older beta to get it working again. This instability is the most worrisome part of the product and is making me have seconds thoughts. Also when plugged into certain usb ports is a power hog, you can't have anything else plugged in to that bus (external drive etc) or the interface will not work. These two issues could be very problematic for windows users and I hope focusrite gets their driver support together soon because it reliability is king in this community.
The Forte is an attractive gadget. First of all, you've got the Focusrite name. In the sub $500 world, Focusrite's preamps are often the go-to suggestion. Now, for the same price as their popular Saffire Pro 40, you can have an interface with one fourth the number of preamps. This is actually a very intriguing notion, as one can't help but hope that the quality will be four times better! The other main appeal, at least for me, is that the Forte looks to compete with the Duet 2, the acclaimed Apogee interface of comparable specification and aesthetic design. This includes 2in/2out with 75db gain on the preamps, high quality AD/DA, a big swanky iPod style wheel and a oddly named breakout cable. In fact, the preamps are the same ones found on Focusrite's RedNet equipment.
Design / Features:
In terms of design, I have to say that the Forte is the most beautiful interface I've ever seen. The LED screen is very nice and easy to use (when it is working, see below). The breakout cable has its pros and cons. It is nice to be able to disconnect it and just set the Forte on your desk with your computer and use it as a high quality digital to analog unit with headphone amplifier. That said, unless you use the wall-wart adapter, the headphone volume is capped at a moderate volume. I found the capped volume to be plenty through 80 ohm headphones.
It also comes with the Midnight Plug-in Suite. I very much liked the compressor that came in this suite. It's a nice little bonus if you decide to get the Forte!
If you're looking for an affordable interface with plenty of clean gain to run a Shure SM7B or comparable dynamic microphone, the Forte is a good bet. Even at 55db gain the noise level was acceptable. In terms of color and character, most people describe the Focusrite unit as neutral, clear, transparent, etc. I noticed a distinct emphasis around 500hz that was actually quite destructive to my recordings. I spent a lot of time compensating with an equalizer, whereas no such processing was required through the various M-Audio interfaces that I compared with. You may like the low end emphasis, however, and depending on the source, I could imagine it being a very pleasant boost. I could even imagine people describing this as a nice "full, warm" sound. It just didn't work that way for me.
That said, the sound was very detailed and clear. There was absolutely no noise coming from the preamps that I could detect.
This is where the Forte falls short. If you read more than a few reviews, even some of the ones here on GearSlutz, you will see that people have lots of trouble with the drivers. The unit will sometimes crash, and stop being recognized in your DAW. After that, I would generally get an error message saying the driver could not be found. The only resolution to that was a reboot of my entire system. (Restarting the DAW didn't do it.) The other issue that happened frequently was a sort of loop where the unit would switch back and forth from the Speaker screen (on the LED) to the headphone screen over and over and over. While the unit was doing this, you could not use any of the buttons or knobs on it effectively. It was annoying always having to use the software to control the unit, even to adjust headphone volume, since it was almost always doing this.
The Forte is very affordable. It has high quality preamps and converters that are a good bargain for the money. The bundled plug-ins are also nice. Some may find its sonic character more appealing than other interfaces. The 75db of gain can come in very handy. For me, the particular sound of the unit didn't suite me. But the potential deal breaker is the reliability / stability of the unit.
Well it's a while since this had a review and a lot of the other reviews had comments about driver stability.
Personally I'm using my Forte with three different machines (2xwin7 and one win 8) on latest drivers, no glitches or crashes here. I'm guessing stability has improved.
The sound for the price is very good.
The preamps are excellent, lots of gain, quiet and clean.
If you want character by an external preamp and connect it to a line in and you have the best of both worlds.
It doesn't have have a huge number of features but it does have great quality.
An added bonus is I can use it at my day job desk for high quality music while working and quickly unplug it to go elsewhere. (I make software for money and music for fun) I don't need the wall wart or the break out cable for use at the desk.
When it works it is brilliant, very usable preamps with lots of gain and low noise, the main out drives anything very well with the 5V psu.
Then the display blinks and usb connection is a goner, its a disappointment after that. You cant use it if it looses its connection.
It would seem this device works better on mac platforms than pc platforms, I use it on pc.
I am eager to try the SoundDevices usbpre2 (no installer package)
and see if it doesnt hang every time like my Focusrite.
edit- see below the Forte is finicky with USB cables
Been using this for a year or so now. Love it. Just seems to work. Stability was a bit shaky at first for the Mavericks update 10.9 on mac but then they fixed it eventually with a driver update. Been solid ever since.
I find its nice clear uncomplicated. It's like a toaster in a good way. It just bloody works.
I'm adding this review because I have discovered something important about the Forte.
It is finicky about USB cables. I went to do some location recording yesterday and had a terrible time. The device would lock up and errors were being thrown, usually just about when I turned on phantom power. I had to fall back on using my zoom H2.
When I got home I was really angry, wondering about repairs and refunds. Then I got logical and started trying differnet things, and I realised, I was using a different USB cable.
That's right, the USB cable, which seemed OK for playback, and works with other devices, was causing my Forte to lock up and act wierd in ways that in really didn't make sense. But that's all it was, the cable.
Focusrite should perhaps be better able to detect and correct this susceptibility, or maybe it' not possible, but I wanted to share what I found case it helpds out anyone else who is finding their Forte glitchy or unreliable.
apples to apples, Forte 14.199ms, Babyface 5.607 @ 44.1khz / 64 buffers
I like the OLED display, the monitoring big knob, and the fact you can control everything from the front panel (without a computer), and the overall sound of this device. I don't like the latency. It does have several routing options for voice tracking etc, but I'm playing VI's (percussion) live and the amount of latency is unacceptable for a premium interface in 2014.
The USB cable does make all the difference, as Randomguitarist noted. Some oem usb cables work and some dont. I'm using one that came with a printer and the Forte is solid under win 8.1. Some 'botique' USB cables dont work at all. Go figure.