|Headquarters||Windsor House, Turnpike Rd, Cressex Business Park, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England|
|Key people||Phil Dudderidge|
Focusrite Audio Engineering Ltd. is a UK audio equipment manufacturer based in High Wycombe, England. Focusrite designs and markets audio interfaces, microphone preamps, consoles, analogue EQs and Channel strips, and digital audio processing hardware and software. Many, but not all, Focusrite products are manufactured for the company in China.
Founded in 1985 by Rupert Neve, Focusrite's first contracts included a commission from Sir George Martin to build extensions to Air studios' custom Neve consoles, initially the vintage recording console in Martin's Air Montserrat studio in the Caribbean – specifically a no-compromise microphone preamplifier and equaliser.
The resulting module, named the Input Signal Amplifier (ISA) 110, consisted of a transformer-coupled microphone preamplifier, 4-band equaliser and high- and low-pass filters. The initial modules were delivered to Air Montserrat in 1987 and were very well received – as a result, Air London ordered several the following year. The ISA 110 was subsequently sold as an outboard system. The ISA130 was added to the range in 1988, a single-channel Comp/Limiter, De-Esser and Expander/Gate developed by Rupert Neve and Trevor Stride.
Focusrite decided to use these designs as the basis of a complete recording console, and the Focusrite Forte console was developed as a result in 1988. The concept was simply to produce the highest-quality recording console available at the time, regardless of cost. The prohibitively expensive design limited the production to just two units, however, after which Focusrite fell into financial difficulties. One console was delivered to Master Rock studios in London and the other to Electric Lady in New York, remaining in use for many years. The original Focusrite logo with its musically-inspired italic “ff” is actually that of the console, standing for “Focusrite Forte” (as well as the musical term “fortissimo”, or "very loud").
Audio industry veteran and co-founder of Soundcraft Electronics Ltd, Phil Dudderidge purchased the company's assets in April 1989, establishing Focusrite Audio Engineering Ltd and reissuing the original modules along with some new designs. The company also designed a new console, the Focusrite Studio Console, released in 1990.
Focusrite saw a growing interest in the microphone preamplifier, EQ and dynamics capability of the console, and decided to spin those out into a new range of outboard modules so that the technology could be made available independently of the console itself. This became the Red Range, with distinctive red milled aluminium front panels, launched in 1993. Over subsequent years Focusrite introduced several ranges of outboard audio processors. The Blue range, aimed at mastering engineers, followed, then in 1996 the Green range, a series of lower-priced processors was launched, aimed at musicians and home and artist-owned recording facilities.
The Platinum range followed in 1998, with characteristic silver-fronted rack cases that combined more effective production design, lowering prices, with more advanced circuitry providing additional features, including not only mic pres and processing, but also a range of effects. The company also co-developed plugins and hardware for the popular Pro Tools range of digital audio workstation (DAW) systems.
At the same time, new derivatives of the original ISA range were developed, providing new features such as variable mic input impedances. The ISA range is still in production, now with the additional of digital conversion as well as analogue signal processing. The ISA design originally included both input and output transformers, the latter to allow driving long studio lines, but with the advent of on-board analogue to digital (A/D) conversion, this was dropped from the design.
Late 2003 saw the introduction of the Liquid Channel. This unit combines analogue and digital technologies to emulate virtually any combination of classic mic preamp and compressor. At the same time, Focusrite launched another plug-in for Pro Tools, the Forte. This emulated the sound of the two key modules from Focusrite's beginnings, the ISA 110 EQ and ISA130 compressor from the original Forte console.
A significant step for the company was the addition of the Saffire Firewire range of audio interfaces, the first being announced at NAMM in early 2005. This range has continued to expand, offering mic/line/instrument preamps and conversion in a number of configurations, and has more recently been joined by the Scarlett range of USB interfaces. Saffire is also available with real-time DSP-powered tracking and mixing capability designed for the home studio environment, providing compression and EQ for tracking, plus monitor reverb; it also includes VRM: Virtual Reference Monitoring technology. VRM allows a mix to be auditioned in a several different emulated environments – such as living room, bedroom studio and professional studio control room – with a selection of monitoring and other loudspeakers, by listening on headphones. The VRM Box is also available, a USB headphone amplifier with DSP software for monitor emulation.
Late 2010 saw Focusrite return to the plug-in arena with the release of the Midnight plug-in suite. This utilises powerful DSP technology to exactly model the classic Focusrite ISA110 equaliser and ISA130 compressor, even including high-resolution front-panel emulations reminiscent of the hardware units. The ISA110 and 130 modules were created for the Forté console in the 1980s.
Key product history
ISA 110 Mic Pre & Equaliser (1987/89) The original ISA 110 module was designed by Rupert Neve to be vertically mounted and fit into the existing rack format of the Neve console at George Martin’s Air Montserrat studio. It consisted of a transformer-coupled microphone preamplifier based around a transformer supplied by Lundahl of Sweden, 4-band equaliser and high- and low-pass filters and was named the Input Signal Amplifier (ISA) 110. The design was based on the 31106 EQ module designed for the A7971 console by Rupert Neve, incorporating suggestions from Sir George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick. The first modules were delivered in 1987. The ISA 110 was subsequently made publicly available as an outboard system consisting of rack, external power supply and ISA module, which sold for approximately $7,000 US.
ISA 130 VCA Comp/Limiter, De-Esser & Expander Gate (1987/89) The ISA 130 was introduced in 1988 for George Martin’s Air Montserrat console. It was again a vertical unit designed to fit into the original ISA rack or into a console. Developed by Rupert Neve and Trevor Stride, it comprised a single-channel, VCA-based Comp/Limiter, De-Esser and Expander/Gate.
Focusrite Forté Console (1988) The Focusrite Forté console was developed in 1988 as a result of interest in the ISA modules. The concept was simply to produce the highest-quality recording console available at the time, regardless of cost, based around the signal path of the existing modular units.
Focusrite Studio Console (1990–6) Following Phil Dudderidge’s acquisition of Focusrite in 1989 and the reissue of the original modules, the company re-examined the concept of a recording console, determined to maintain the original signal path of the Forté but employing a revised mechanical design and construction that made it easier to manufacture and install, reducing the cost. The result was the Focusrite Studio Console, released in 1990. Ten Studio Consoles were built, and several are still in use today.
ISA 215 Dual Mic Pre & Equaliser (1993) Launched in 1993, the ISA 215 Dual Mono mic pre and equaliser replaced the ISA115, and included two horizontal ISA 110 modules (with transformer-coupled microphone preamplifier, 4-band equaliser and high- and low-pass filters) mounted in a case with an internal power supply.
The Red Range (1993) The Red Range was based on the successful ISA 110 and ISA 130 products and retained the original Focusrite Ltd circuit designs. With two exceptions, the range consisted of combinations of these basic building blocks. The products featured transformer-balanced I/O, and aluminium cases to limit RFI sensitivity. In addition, the range featured solid, milled, red-anodised aluminium front panels that gave them a very distinctive appearance. Red 3 received a TEC Award in 1995 and Red 7 following it in 1996.
The Blue Range (1995) In 1995, Focusrite launched a special new range aimed exclusively at mastering facilities, with features such as switched-position, easily-resettable controls that could be annotated easily. The Blue range, as it was called, was developed in conjunction with leading mastering engineers.
d2 and d3 Plugins – Equaliser and Comp/Limiter (1995) In 1995, Focusrite moved into a new area for the company, in the form of a collaboration with Digidesign (now Avid Audio) on the development of two software plugins for the market-leading Pro Tools digital audio workstation environment. These were the first software plugins to not only emulate the processing capabilities of a piece of hardware, but also their look and feel: Focusrite d2 is a high-quality digital equaliser based on the Focusrite Red 2 Equaliser, whose design can be traced back to Rupert Neve; while d3 emulates the Red 3 Compressor/limiter. Both are still available at the time of writing (April 2013). These plugins included modelling of a suitably red front-panel with controls like those on the physical products, plus a large graph display showing how the plugin was configured – not something that would have been possible to do on the hardware.
The Green Range (1996) Introduced in 1996, the idea behind the range was to make high quality audio processors available to the project studio owner, with lower price-points than previous Focusrite products. It also employed distinctive sculpted green front panels. Cost reductions were achieved primarily by re-evaluating construction techniques, using a single circuit board and surface-mount components, the latter allowing automated production. Some less-used features were omitted; expensive display components such as analogue meters were replaced by LEDs, while in the mic pre area, Focusrite moved away from the transformer-based approach for these units to offer a transformerless, electronically-balanced design.
The Platinum Range (1998) The Platinum range, with its silver-fronted rack cases, managed to reduce price points still further as a result of extensive production engineering, and while it retained the Focusrite transparency and purity, it also provided functionality to allow a range of effects too – adding a radical new dimension to Focusrite products. Designer Rob Jenkins stated that while previous Focusrite products had been aimed at studio engineers, the Platinum range targeted the recording musician, describing them as “results-orientated”, with controls named after their effects rather than their engineering function.
ISA 430 (1999) The ISA 430 brought together the circuitry of the original ISA110, with its transformer-based mic and line inputs, HPF/LPF and parametric EQ section, with the ISA 130 compressor/limiter and expander/gate, designed by Trevor Stride and Rupert Neve, which later appeared in the Red 3. In addition to uniting these two units in the same 2U enclosure, ISA 430 introduced additional features such as an optional 24/96 A/D converter with synch to Pro Tools’ Superclock and other sources. A dedicated insert could be placed in three locations in the signal path (after the preamp, pre-EQ; between EQ and dynamics; and after EQ and dynamics but before the main output). EQ and dynamics sections could be swapped, and the unit could run as a single channel path nor be split into two independent processors with separate EQ and dynamics. An upgraded Class A VCA design was used in the compressor, though the sidechain was identical to that in the original ISA 130. Both a VU Meter and LED bar metering was included, the latter for use with the A/D. An improved de-esser design was included and a “frequency adaptive” optical limiter.
Control|4 (2000) The year 2000 saw the launch of a second joint project with Digidesign: the Control|24 hardware control surface for Pro Tools. This ergonomically-designed control surface aimed to include the vast majority of functionality of Digidesign's flagship ProControl, but at a significantly lower price. It also included 16 Focusrite mic pres, allowing it to be used for tracking with no additional hardware, a built-in stereo submixer and flexible surround-capable monitoring.
Platinum Penta (2001) March 2001 saw the release of the Platinum Penta. Designed specifically to complement a digital audio workstation, the Penta provided front-panel mic and instrument inputs, a Class A mic pre, and a stereo compressor featuring 16 presets accessed by buttons for different common applications, both for individual instruments and the entire mix. It also included a "Tube Sound" emulator and spatial enhancer. At the end of that year, another product in the high-end ISA range was introduced, the ISA220 "Session Pack". This 2U unit included many of the features of the ISA430, including mic pre, mic/line/instrument inputs, parametric EQ, dynamics and optical de-esser, plus an optional A/D. It also included a "Blend" control, which allowed the compressor's input signal to be mixed with the compressor output.
Mbox (2001) Launched in 2001 was another collaboration between Focusrite and Digidesign, in the form of the Mbox. Digidesign had approached Focusrite to develop a low-cost USB-based audio interface designed to complement the Pro Tools LE entry-level DAW. The dual-channel, USB-powered Mbox featured Focusrite mic pres with phantom capability, line/instrument ins and outs and headphone out, and 24-bit conversion. It featured zero-latency monitoring via a control to listen to a mix of input and playback.
Liquid Channel (2003) Unveiled at the 115th Audio Engineering Society Convention in November 2003 was the Liquid Channel. This unit combines analogue and digital technologies to emulate virtually any combination of classic mic preamp and compressor. At the front end is an extensive analogue microphone preamplifier, which allows the relationship between mic and preamp to be precisely defined: the first step in emulation. Then a DSP-based sampling/emulation system, licensed from Sintefex Audio, comes into play, which uses ‘Dynamic Convolution’ techniques based on actual measurements of classic compressors, to re-synthesise their behaviour. In addition there is a control to vary the amount of second harmonic distortion. The front panel is entirely digital, and as a result all the unit’s settings can be saved in the unit’s 99 memories. Additional emulations can be added to the 40 on-board sets, and existing sets archived, via USB. The output side includes a 192 kHz A/D.
Saffire Firewire Audio Interface (2005) The Saffire Firewire range of audio interfaces marked a major step forward for Focusrite, the first being announced at NAMM in early 2005. The original Saffire, designed as a compact, portable desktop unit with vertical form factor, included a Firewire 400 interface with on-board digital signal processing, and was based around a 24-bit, 192 kHz A/D-D/A. Four inputs were provided, two Focusrite mic preamps and S/PDIF I/O. Eight balanced outputs enabled the creation of separate headphone and monitor mixes or surround-sound monitoring. MIDI I/O was also included. Along with the hardware came SaffireControl, a suite of plug-ins delivering compression, EQ, amplifier modelling, and reverb for the monitor path, along with multiple stereo mix capability, also available on playback in VST or AU format for use with the host DAW system.
Saffire PRO 24 DSP Audio Interface (2009) In July 2009, a new member of the Saffire range of interfaces was released, with the addition of a completely new feature. The Focusrite Saffire PRO 24 DSP is a 16 in / 8 out FireWire audio interface, featuring real-time DSP-powered tracking and mixing capability designed for the home studio environment. The unit provides DSP-powered compression and EQ for ultra-low-latency tracking, plus monitor reverb; it also includes VRM: Virtual Reference Monitoring technology. This uses dynamic convolution technology, as included in the Liquid series of products, but this time it is used to emulate monitoring systems. As a result, VRM allows a mix to be auditioned in a several different environments – such as living room, bedroom studio and professional studio control room – with a wide selection of monitoring and other loudspeakers, all by listening on headphones.
Saffire 6 USB Audio Interface (2009) September 2009 saw the Saffire range extend from Firewire to USB, with the introduction of the Focusrite Saffire 6 USB, a two-in/four-out USB audio interface. It includes dual award-winning Focusrite mic preamps as in the rest of the Saffire range. The two-in, four-out configuration is also perfect for laptop DJs who need to be able to cue up material, or send two different signals to either side of a DJ mixer. It also includes MIDI I/O. Saffire 6 USB is supplied with a range of software, including Ableton Live Lite 8, Focusrite sister company Novation's Bass Station synthesizer and over a gigabyte of samples. In addition the package includes the Focusrite FX Suite, which includes a compressor, gate, reverb and EQ for AU/VST operation.
ISA One Single-channel microphone preamplifier with independent DI (2010) The ISA One included the traditional Focusrite ISA transformer-based preamp from the ISA 110, now with four switchable impedances, in a rugged and portable chassis. The preamp is complemented by a line input and an independent D.I. channel, complete with dedicated gain control, active or passive impedance switch, a TRS Jack output for routing to an amp and an independent XLR output on the rear. Its ideal for both vocal and instrument recording. An optional 24/192 A/D converter card can be added. The unit is also available with the card pre-installed, as the ISA One Digital.
Forte is a 2 in, 4 out portable USB audio interface for Mac and Windows, designed to deliver analogue sources to DAWs. It features two remote-controlled mic preamps with digital conversion at up to 24-bit/192 kHz resolution. Built into a solid aluminium case, Forte features a colour OLED display, touch controls and a single large control knob, with DAW control integration.
VRM Box is a small square box containing a USB-based bus-powered headphone monitoring amplifier allowing mixes to be monitored at high quality. In addition, software is provided that runs on the host computer to provide the ability to emulate a wide range of monitor loudspeakers in various room environments from studio monitoring to consumer listening. VRM is the same technology as available in the Saffire PRO 24 interface.
RedNet is Focusrite’s flagship range of modular Ethernet-networked audio interfaces that harnesses the power of Audinate's tried and tested Dante digital audio networking system to bring studio quality sound to any modern audio application. Fundamentally RedNet is an extremely scalable, near zero latency audio distribution system that can be used to expand I/O channel count, interface digital components, and/or bridge between Pro Tools|HD or MADI and the Dante audio network. The technology enables a single link on the network to handle up to 512 input and output channels at 48 kHz.
iTrack Solo is an interface for recording instruments and vocals using an Apple iPad. Featuring a Focusrite microphone pre-amplifier and an input to record directly from electric and bass guitars, iTrack Solo is compatible with iOS-based music-making app. It is also fully compatible with PC or Macintosh computers and is supplied with music making software including Ableton Live Lite and the Focusrite Scarlett Plug-in Suite.