Today Focusrite unveil “Forte”, their flagship portable audio interface.
Named in honour of their legendary console that virtually bankrupted the company in the 1980’s, this holds all the same quality values that they hold dear to thier hearts, but focuses on premium sound on the go. The interface’s key feature is that the Microphone preamps are taken from thier high end RedNet, ethernet based audio system, not the same ones used in the Saffire and Scarlett ranges.
I was really impressed by some of the design choices for this product, the large Aluminum volume and parameter control is just the ticket to pair up with some powered monitors. Some thought has also gone into the connections, with the outputs directly on the back panel, whilst the mic and instrument connections are on a detactchable extension lead.
I really am looking forward to running some tests on the A/D conversion, as the converters have 117dB and 118dB respectivel;y for the ADC and DAC.
These figures are actual real-world measurements, unlike many other manufacturers, so we should be able to expect Pro-tools HD quality as a minimum.
The only slight limitation is that the device cannot be powered from USB when using Phantom Power, it requires an external supply.
What this tells me is that the chips (converters, Preamps, op-amps and associated circuitry) take a lot more power, which totally goes in line with the premium nature of the product and has my faith in the no-expense spared concept.
I can almost hear the RME Babyface quivvering in it’s booties!
I’m looking forward to putting this through it’s paces as soon as i can.
Key Features of the Focusrite Forte
• Premium two-input, four-output USB 2.0 audio interface for Mac and PC.
• Best-in-class mic preamp performance with 75dB gain range (0-75dB).
• Class-leading real world ADC (117dB A-weighted) and DAC (118dB A-weighted).
• Colour OLED screen with motion graphics to show input and output signal levels.
• Multi-function touch icons and scroll wheel with DAW control functions.
• Bus-powered from USB cable (included PSU required for phantom power).
Ever imagined what would happen if you put a Fireface UFX, a Fireface 400, Fireface UC and a Babyface in a blender?
Well actually, that would make a hell of a lot of expensive unusable mess, however, if you combined the best features of all three units, then you’d come up with the RME Fireface UCX. Initally, it does look very similar to the Fireface 400, but as you look closer, the differences start to appear.
Dual USB / Firewire Interfaces
RME will not stray too far from the rather excellent job that they did getting both ports working on the UFX, so we could have expected a DAWBench LLP score of about 7.5 (out fo 10) on firewire (7.4 on usb), which has been the highest score for a non-pcie interface so far. I say could, because during the re-design of the converter circuits, they’ve managed to slash the latency of the stages to a quarter of that found on the UC and Fireface 400. I think i can go on record now and say that this, with the custom programmed USB and Firewire controller chip from the UFX and the amazingly low latency converter circuit, this DEFINATLY WILL outperform the UFX and take the title of Best External Low Latency Interface. I did hear a rumour that the two guys who write the driver software for RME are in fact two ultra-competitve German brothers, one of which does the Windows ones and one who does Mac. If this is true, then its probably the best ever application of sibling rivalry that i’ve ever heard.
RME Fireface UCX Features:
8 x Analog I/O
2 x Mic/ Line Preamps, digitally controlled
2 x Line / Instrument inputs, digitally controlled
1 x SPDIF I/O coaxial
1 x ADAT I/O (or 1 x SPDIF I/O optical)
1 x Word Clock I/O
2 x MIDI I/O (via breakout cable)
1 x FireWire 400
1 x USB 2.0 (USB 3 compatible)
2 Mic Preamps
The mic preamps have been upgraded to the ones from the Micstacy & UFX and there’s not a gain knob in sight, as they are now digitally controlled and monitored from the Totalmix FX software, which also controls the 48V phantom power for each channel. The Clip-Proof “Autoset” function automatically and intelligently (based on program material) turns down a hot recording without the use of a limiter and associated increase in noise floor that brings. The preamps also handle the two line level and two high impedence instrument inputs in the same way. Of course, this is RME, so you can actually turn the autoset fuction off if you desire.
So, the news is that the converter circuits have had a re-design and reveal that it looks like it’s had a tweak from the 113dBA Fireface 400, but just a smidgen off the 118dBA D to A’s of the UFX, coming in at a very respectable 114dBA. with a THD+N score of -98db. RME also has kept it’s excellent Steadyclock with jitter reduction circuitry. It has also made the driver asyncronus over USB, so the interface is able to use the internal clock as master. The Wordclock output can also be used to sync up your other digital devices too.The unit works up to 192k sample rate (cue arguments over whether you should record at anything over 96k), although it does (as with all units) reduce the number of channels on the ADAT input, from 8 at 48k to just 2 at 192k.
Remote Monitor Control
The RME Fireface UCX also comes bundled with a remote control that has more than a passing resemblence to a babyface (less money spent on mouldings = more money spent on circuit dev eh?). This provides volume control to the RME Fireface UCX as well as a couple of assignable buttons (talkback?)
You can also upgrade the remote to the Advanced remote control, that would add another six extra assignable buttons above the volume knob.
USB Class Compliancy
ok, move along, nothing to see here……. well, unless (like me) you’ve got an iPad.
Its been well known that for a while, iPad’s have been able to access class compliant USB audio devices by means of the Apple Camera Connector Kit.
This little converter dongle sticks into the charging port on the bottom of the pad and has a USB socket on the other side. We’ve had great fun sticking USB valve preamps, Microphones and Guitar leads into it, but what we’ve not yet seen is any multichannel options…. untill now.
The RME Fireface UCX can be quickly switched into CC mode with a quick turn of the front panel selection dial and then becomes a 8 channel interface for the iPad, (well, as long as you are running ios 5, which brought in the multichannel function)
Unfortunatly only a couple of programs can make use of the multiple inputs so far, notably “Multitrack DAW” and “Music Studio”, though you would think that a garageband update must be immenent. All programs that have a record audio function can make use of channels 1&2 on input and output.
The other nice little trick up their sleeves in the fact that you can set up a couple of totalmix FX presets on your computer beforehand that can be accessed in CC mode, such as putting compression and reverb on a vocal channel for recording and latency free monitoring.
Differences RME Fireface UCX to Fireface UC/400
RME Fireface UCX
RME Fireface UC/400
DSP hardware effects
Support for RME Remotes
New 2011 design
Low latency AD/DA Conversion
AutoSet for overload protection
Differences RME Fireface UCX to RME Fireface UFX
RME Fireface UCX
RME Fireface UFX
Advanced Parallel Conversion
1 coaxial + 1 optical
(opt. = ADAT I/O)
(2nd ADAT I/O)
Mic Preamps (digitally controlled)
Word Clock I/O (BNC)
Phones Outputs (dedicated)
High Resolution Color Display
Internal DSP hardware effects
AutoSet for Mic/Inst. Preamps
RME Remote Support
Direct USB Recording
1/2 19 inch
All TotalMix FX features at up to 192 kHz
SMUX (up to 192 kHz)
Complete Stand Alone Operation with Setup Recall
USB & FireWire support (X-Core)
Conclusion It seems like RME have got an absolute cracker of an interface here, the low latency performance will set the mark for external interfaces and the class compliant mode will open the door to a whole new hoard of RME fans.
Manufacturers please take note…. This is how to make an interface.
Please go over to RME and check out all the details as there’s far too much for me to cover here.
The first shipment of the RME Fireface UCX should be available from Scan in the next few weeks, Priced just under a grand.