SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Focusrite used the 129th AES Convention to mark and celebrate the brand’s 25th year. “Rupert Neve established the Focusrite brand sometime in 1985, and while preparing for AES in San Francisco, it occurred to us that we should celebrate that fact!” explains Focusrite managing director and chairman, Phil Dudderidge. The Focusrite booth on the AES exhibition floor housed a mini-museum of Focusrite hardware.
Phil Wagner, president of the U.S. sales and marketing arm of Focusrite Novation, notes that the large-format Focusrite console at Ocean Way Studio A in Los Angeles “is still in use. Focusrite has always represented great sound quality in preamps and equalizers. We carry that tradition on to today. The quality goes in, and the products are ‘best in class’ performance-wise. The pedigree is maintained throughout.”
“We highly value and represent the Focusrite brand heritage, but we are not constrained by it,” states Dudderidge. “Rather, we have succeeded in a digital world where the barriers to entry for musicians and music producers have been torn down. All our products are built to a standard that can be used by professionals but are priced to be accessible to those who wish to aspire to produce work of a professional standard.”
That heritage is documented here by Dudderidge: “Rupert had been a consultant to the Neve company for a number of years following its sale to Energy Services (and subsequently Siemens) in about 1980, and was finally free to go back into business again.
“Focusrite Ltd. started with a rather special project, to build 16-channel sidecars for the consoles built for George Martin’s AIR Studios in London and Montserrat. A key element was a module designated the ISA 110 (ISA stood for Input Signal Amplifier), which contained the microphone preamplifier and an extensive equalizer. This subsequently formed the basis of the Focusrite Studio Rack, which could house up to four or eight such modules with an integral power supply. A Dynamics module, the ISA 130, was designed to accompany it.”
An ISA 110 signed by Sir George Martin was among the legacy Focusrite gear on display at the San Francisco AES Convention.Dudderidge continues, “Demand for the Focusrite Studio Rack system was created effectively by door-to-door salesmanship by Kim Templeman-Holmes and Dan Zimbelman taking racks to all the major studios on demo. This was followed by a word-of-mouth campaign based on the realization that tracking on Focusrite and mixing on SSL was the way to go.
“Once Focusrite had become established at AIR Studios and in most of the world’s leading studios, there was naturally a suggestion from many quarters that Focusrite should design a studio console. The concept of the Forte console was born. Six orders were received before the design was even half completed, and sadly the company ran out of money before the first two were fully completed, though they were completed after the company folded, in the studios that had purchased them, Electric Lady in New York and London’s MasterRock.
“At this point, March 1989, I acquired the rights to the trademark and I.P. of the company, which was in the hands of an insolvency practitioner. With Rupert’s assistance, I was able to hire some of his engineers to help the new company get a new team established, to become Focusrite Audio Engineering Ltd.
“Clearly, this must have been a traumatic period for Rupert; he chose not to become further involved with the new company and he instead became a consultant to Amek (which had apparently also bid for the assets of Focusrite Ltd.). I would like to thank him for having helped us get the new company started and wish him well with his current business.”
Dudderidge adds, “Since that time, we faithfully reproduced the original ISA products for a number of years and later incorporated the circuit blocks, using the same Lundahl transformers as the original ISA 110, in the Red Range and the various ISA mic pre and channel-strip products produced since. We also went into the console business but got out of it again in 1993 as the market was not good for such expensive beasts.
“Focusrite today is a very different company. While we still offer the classic ISA 430 Producer Pack and both 4- and 8-channel ISA mic pres, we also offer Liquid Channel, which emulates all the classic mic pres and compressors in recording history. But the largest part of the business is the Saffire audio interface range.
“Ten years ago, we started to design what was to become the Digidesign MBox, which we licensed to them. (This was the second product of a mutually fruitful relationship where we designed the Control 24 and Command 8 consoles for them and followed the success of the d2 and d3 plug-ins, which we licensed to them).
“Five years ago, we introduced our first ‘own brand’ FireWire interface, the Saffire. Three years ago, we introduced the first of our second-generation Saffires, and we now have a range of five FireWire and one USB interfaces in the range. We are about to launch a USB 2 range to meet the market for PC DAW users and move into studio networking for professional facilities.
“Six years ago, we purchased Novation, an English brand of synthesizers and MIDI controllers. We have completely renewed the product range and used our Automap software and Fatar keyboard mechanisms from Italy to distinguish our controllers from the rest. At AES, we launched the UltraNova, the first completely new synthesizer since we bought the brand, designed by the original Novation designer Chris Huggett, a legend in synth circles. The Novation Launchpad, a controller for Ableton Live software, has brought the brand into the electronic DJ world. There is so much crossover between recording, music creation and performance today that our business has evolved to embrace all these activities and will continue to do so.”
Dudderidge concludes, “We not only celebrate 25 years of Focusrite, the brand, but also 21 years of the ‘new’ Focusrite (including Novation). Thanks to all who have made this happen and to all those who have invested in our products.”