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March 2013

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review Focusrite's Forte USB audio interface By LUKE HARPER Owner Audio Altimeter Minneapolis Works on both Mac and Windows OS. The Focusrite Forte is, to quote the sales lit, a "2-in/4-out portable USB audio interface for Mac and Windows." I am 48 Post • March 2013 Post0313_048-Review FocusRAV3FINALREAD.indd 48 running it with both Nuendo and Pro Tools, and, after some initial effery, it's quite good. Aesthetically, the little guy is gorgeous. I VITAL STATS R ecently I've been travelling for work, and thanks to some powerful and cool tools, I have the ability to work wherever the hell I please. With Pro Tools and Nuendo on my MacBook Pro, and a hankerin' to slice up some VO for a recent job, I found myself wanting something a touch more comprehensive than just the headphone I/O on the Mac. I thought it would be good to have a couple more options. Maybe nicer converters, the possibility of some actual I/O if I wanted to plug into some monitors quick, the ability to plug in a mic or two, or this Akai MPC that lives on my desk… Frankly I got a little greedy. That's a lot to ask. Plus, it had to fit in my Crumpler bag for easy transport to and from the coffee shops, alternate offices, airports etc., etc., etc. Over the past couple of years there has been a real proliferation of devices that connect to your computer with the goal of providing a touch of I/O, headphone and monitor control, and a nice big knob or two to grab. RME, Focusrite, MOTU, Apogee and a few other companies have hurled themselves into the ring, and there are some great options out there depending on your needs and price preferences. While initially they had that weird prosumer cast to them, today's releases encompass some pretty damned high-quality devices. Based on that, I picked the one that best suited my specs. mean, by any standards. Sleek, silvery, smooth and minimal, it chills on my desk looking simultaneously small and powerful, professional yet stylish. There aren't enough protuberances to worry about hurling it into the laptop bag — there's nothing sticking out besides the volume knob, and that isn't going anywhere. So form-factor wise, it's ideal. DIGGING IN Being a desktop unit, it is basically a little slab. It is 6-inches long, 4-inches wide and 1.4-inches tall. The front of the box features a 1/4-inch headphone jack. The top has the knob and the touch OLED screen. The back gives you a proprietary port for the breakout cable, USB in, two balanced 1/4-inch outs and the power socket. The touchscreen offers a lot of information. You have selectors for inputs, speaker outs, headphone outs and a rudimentary form of DAW control. The output options include mute, dim and mono, as well a meter clear. You press and hold your selector, and then navigate using the volume-turned-data knob. Clicking the knob effectuates your selection. If you are just grabbing for a volume, you hit the source you want to select and dial. A word about the power socket: you don't need to have the little guy plugged in to use it, however if you require louder monitoring or phantom, you will need it. I went back and forth with Focusrite on the headphone volume issue. I think it's just a bit too quiet when you are really trying to listen for subtle clicks and pops at some monitoring levels (in this case, -10 peak, -24LUFS). I mean, you can up your limiter and blast the mix, but changing the master to better hear the extreme subtleties bugs me. Plugging the unit PRODUCT: Focusrite Forte USB audio interface WEBSITE: PRICE: $599.99 · 2-in/4-out portable USB audio interface · Sleek, silvery, smooth and minimal · Headphone output is clean and smooth in completely fixes this, and you are perfectly able to blow your ears off if you have the urge. The breakout cable gives you two 1/4-inch line/instrument ins, selectable on the front panel. You also get two XLR ins. You toggle your selection using the far left input button at the bottom of the touchscreen. You can assign the inputs however you'd like, and are given gain, phase, hi-pass, phantom and phase controls for both. It takes a second to get used to operating the minimal input methodologies that the Forte uses, but once you have the hang of it, the whole thing becomes a quick exercise in muscle memory. Focusrite includes a really nice little software interface for the machine as well, called Forte Control. From this, you have total control over the box, and the GUI is excellent. The Forte also has a neat little trick for negating the heartbreak of latency while monitoring. While in Forte Control, you can independently adjust the volumes both to and from the device. If latency is an issue, you can just turn down the material being monitored while still hearing the material you are sending. This worked perfectly for both voice and instrument recording. FINAL THOUGHTS The important thing in all of this, of course, is how it sounds, and the Forte sounds absolutely great. Seriously. The headphone output is clean, smooth and wonderful. I trust it completely. The preamps, part of Focusrite's new Red line, are likewise wonderful. I would use them on 90 percent of the material I record without hesitation. Preamps are like specific kinds of sushi though, so maybe have a listen before you get involved. That goes for any new piece of gear though. This one comes highly recommended. 2/27/13 8:13 PM

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