In a continuous effort to make home and portable recordings sound as professional as possible, Focusrite released their newest 2 in, 4 out USB recording interface: the Focusrite Forte. With a bright, colorful, LED screen, large control knob, and $595 price point, the Forte enters the market as an obvious competitor for the Apogee Duet 2; a device that until now was uncontested in terms of quality and size. Forte takes functionality a step further than its competition by including all possible accessories, Forte Control software, and compatibility with both Mac and PC, with or without an external power supply.
Recording with the Forte
With two inputs, you certainly won’t be recording orchestras or entire bands at a time, but it does give you the flexibility to record a singer-songwriter’s acoustic track in one take. Two inputs also means you can capture multiple sounds from amplifier, get clean stereo microphone recordings, and even get a rough sounding drum kit recording if needed. Having separate TRS and XLR inputs means you can leave two microphones and two instrument/line sources connected at any given time, and switch between them instantly within the Forte Control software or through some touch screen navigation. Levels are also easy to adjust for recording using the Forte’s single, large knob. The knob by default functions as your main volume/gain control for all ins and outs, as well as a zoom tool for any supported DAW.
Utilizing the same new microphone preamplifiers as the RedNet series of Ethernet interfaces produced by Focusrite, the Forte is able to provide up to 75 dB of clean gain to microphones. Similar budget interfaces offer the same amount of gain, but I noticed the noise floor was less apparent when driven than some of the Forte’s competitors. This was especially useful for dynamic microphones that needed the extra push for a nominal-level recording. After the preamps, the signal hits the astounding A/D converters found within this little unit. The Forte’s converters were some of the most uncolored converters I’ve heard in recent interfaces, which is something I always look out for. A lesser coloration in the converters gives room for the preamps and microphone frequency responses to shine. The value of clean A/D conversions and powerful preamps pack a lot of value, worth well more than the actual cost.
While external power is available, it isn’t needed in every situation. I was able to get enough output volume to support my studio monitors calibrated to 85 dB, which is my average mix level. If you are working with a group looking to push up the levels to feel the music, then the power supply will fulfill that need. The USB power is also adequate for any dynamic microphone recordings if you’re looking to use the Forte in remote locations. To supply microphones with phantom power, you’ll need to connect the power supply, or find another phantom power solution. In the studio, it really isn’t an inconvenience to just plug it in and leave the power supply, but it’s great to know you have most of the functionality without anything more than your laptop’s USB hub.
Included Midnight Plug-Ins
The Forte comes packaged with one of Focusrite’s two plug-in bundles, an EQ and compressor modeled after the ISA 110 and 130 respectively. While the plug-ins each deserve their own review, they each operate as RTAS, AU, and VST to ensure maximum compatibility, regardless of your preferred DAW. The Midnight EQ is a fully parametric model, allowing for a full range of equalization, with some overlap options between bands as well. The compressor is just as functional, including a wet/dry blend option, which is relatively uncommon in the plug-in realm for dynamic processors. All of the Midnight plug-in features are controlled from a sleek, digital interface reminiscent of a hardware unit.
Home vs. Studio
This interface is a great solution for any artist looking to record their own demos in preparation for the studio. The intuitive and simple design means there’s really no learning curve with the hardware, leaving home recordists the closest thing possible to a plug-and-play experience. With the cleanest possible signal, there’s more time for artists to experiment with the sound once it’s in the computer. For a studio looking for similar quality conversion, the RedNet series seems to offer pretty similar quality on a larger scale, and at a slightly higher price range.