Fender’s smart new PA range offers ease of use, plenty of power — and built-in Bluetooth music streaming.
The new Fortis range from one of the music industry’s best-known manufacturers currently consists of two full-range speakers, based on a two-way format with the option of 12- or 15-inch woofers, accordingly designated F-12BT and F-15BT, respectively. The 12 or 15 part is obvious enough, but the ‘BT’ suffix is there because these speakers are Bluetooth-equipped, which is both an interesting prospect and an obvious step to take in the world of portable live-sound gear.
I spent a while using a pair of the smaller of the two models, the FB-12BT, and I was able to give them a decent enough workout in the workshop. I also got to take them out on an event and use them at a couple of band rehearsals.
First impressions really do count, and the Fortis speakers arrived well packaged (not necessarily something you can take for granted, in my experience) and protected against transit damage in their original Fender-branded shipping boxes. I liked the look of the Fortis speakers; they are not the smallest 12-inch boxes out there, but they have a reasonably substantial look and feel about them, and in visual terms I’d be just as happy to use them for an upmarket AV event as for a pub gig.
The cabinet of the F-12BT is made of nine-ply 15mm thick “voidless plywood”, according to Fender’s specifications, and is finished in an attractive, non-reflective textured black coating, which appeared pretty tough and durable — an impression which was empirically reinforced after I accidentally bashed one against my workshop wall.
The front grille is full-face, powder-coated steel with an opaque black backing of some kind, which looks very good. I find most corporate clients prefer not to see the driver components anyway, and the extra layer of protection against the ingress of dust, dirt and unsolicited liquids is a most welcome feature. Sticking with the cabinet for the moment, the Fortis is well-endowed in the handle department, with three full-size cup-and-bar handles on both sides and the top. Consequently I found no difficulty in picking it up from any position and carrying it around — an important consideration for potential owner-operators or those (myself included) with increasingly limited roadie options.
The Fortis speakers are designed to be used as floor monitors, if required, and there are substantial rubber bars which act as good solid feet on two sides; as the cabinet shape isn’t symmetrical this means that you can operate the Fortis at two different monitor angles as the occasion demands.
Standard M10 flying points are installed, and on the bottom of the enclosure there is a dual-angle pole-mount socket. This is a useful feature (and one still not provided as standard on some makes of portable live-sound speaker) that is great in smaller venues, for example, where the high frequencies benefit from being directed 7.5 degrees downward at a nearfield audience, which can be especially effective for speech reinforcement. The 12-inch version of the Fortis weighs an easily manageable 19.5kg (that’s 43 of your classic avoirdupois pounds), and it’s pretty easy to lift on to a stand because the large recesses around the handles allow a good grip without hurting your knuckles. This may seem like a trivial point, but it tends to assume a greater significance after several rounds of setting up (and down) or if you’re intending to play guitar straight after!
Inside the cabinet is a 12-inch woofer, which has a pressed-steel basket and a large ferrite magnet structure, and a one-inch-exit compression driver mounted on a moulded horn assembly with a fairly thick layer of acoustic damping material around the enclosure. Should driver replacement ever become necessary (a most unlikely event, it has to be said, what with all the onboard active electronics managing and protecting your investment), you’ll be pleased to know that the drivers are wired up with good-quality spring-loaded connectors (no soldering), and the HF driver at least is a readily available item, according to its label. Call me sad, but this is something I like to consider when adding equipment to my own inventory!
The F-12BT control panel houses all the in/out connections and EQ controls (of which more later), and is large, neat and clearly designed. Anyone who has even the faintest idea of what a self-powered loudspeaker does should be able to connect this up and get it running within a minute or two, and there’s something reassuring about the amount of space between the controls and the almost modular appearance of the input control sections.
There are three inputs which can be mixed together, and which offer connectivity and source level options. The one at the top is labelled Line In and has only a ‘combi’ jack/XLR input connector, a rotary level control and a high/low button to accommodate different incoming line signals. In this case the ‘high’ setting reduces input sensitivity, so the choice of ‘high’ or ‘low’ refers to what you’re feeding into it, not the sensitivity of the input stage. The second input is exactly the same, except that on this channel the input button is for line or direct microphone input signals (the line setting is the same as ‘high’ on the first channel). Now at this point I would normally comment upon — nay, lament — the omission of a pair of unbalanced RCA phono inputs on the line channel, which would enable the solo performer to connect a media player for backing purposes and use a mic straight into the other input... However, the Fortis speakers do have a stereo mini-jack input on channel three for this purpose, and are also bang up-to-date in this department by including Bluetooth capability as well.
The issues I have experienced with any form of wireless connectivity between pieces of live sound gear have been numerous, but I was pleasantly surprised when the Fortis’s Bluetooth facility just, well, worked. I pressed the pairing button, which resulted in my iPad Air 2 finding the Fortis very quickly and automatically establishing a connection, and I was able to stream material from all areas within our warehouse — that’s over 15 metres away — with no interruptions at all. Dropouts began to occur only when I went outside the (metal-clad) building, shut the door, and stood on the other side of my van — and as soon as I was within range again the Fortis connection was re-established and streaming continued without me having to reinitialise anything or restart the iPad playback. The auxiliary input on channel three, be it via the mini-jack or Bluetooth, can be summed to mono or maintained as a stereo feed, in which case the connected speaker will amplify the left channel and route the right channel to another speaker via an ‘extension’ XLR output. It will also provide a local mix output in mono from the ‘loop’ connector, so just about every option is catered for. It’s a well thought-out system and should prove both popular and useful (but I’d still have prefered a pair of RCA inputs over the mini-jack).
Among other things, I like to wind up new speakers to see what happens when they are running flat-out, and I do this in three different acoustic spaces in addition to performing a road test. For obvious reasons it isn’t always possible, when doing a village hall event, to bang out pink noise at full power for very long before the caretaker or neighbours start to fret, so the studio is always a good place to start, followed by the somewhat more reverberant space in the warehouse loading bay and finally in the open fields out the back.
The Fortis 12-inch and 15-inch versions both have the same quoted maximum output level of 135dB SPL, so I did a quick (if unscientific) measurement at one metre on the HF axis in the studio, with a few extra absorbent panels clustered around, and then again in the open air. At this point I discovered that my ‘big’ sound level meter had succumbed to horrifying corrosion within the battery compartment and my backup unit only measures to 130dB... However, I can report that on the A-weighted setting (with pink noise both on crescendo and burst, indoors and out), I measured 130.9dB along with the word ‘over’, which supports my view that these modest-sized portable speakers do in fact play pretty loud.
As for the output quality, that’s always subjective and depends to some extent what you want to use them for, but I did a lot of playing around with the EQ settings and found that there’s enough variation across the different settings to achieve a noticeable degree of variation even at high output levels. The mid/high EQ has a ‘high’ setting, which really does boost the top end and might be useful for speech applications, although I couldn’t imagine needing that much brightness unless, say, I’d had to put a bin liner over the speaker on a rainy day. The ‘mid’ setting on the other hand acts on predominantly vocal frequencies, but also adds a distinct emphasis to the lower mids that, on appropriate material, adds a lot of punch and could easily be labelled ‘funk’... The LF EQ settings offer a boost curve (the Fortis has a good full bottom end anyway, so I’d imagine this wouldn’t be needed often), and two LF reduction settings — one LF shelving curve for floor monitor use and the other called ‘sub’, which is a high-pass filter for when the Fortis is used with an external subwoofer.
I found that the FB-12BT had a big, warm sound which belied its 12-inch format and overall cabinet size, although I felt that using the mid-boost EQ kept a better balance with various styles of music signal, particularly of the ‘punchy pop song’ type. For playing in larger spaces, the full potential of the FB-12BT can be unleashed when coupled to a suitable subwoofer, and the Fortis’s considerable output power capability can be focused on the material above say, 90-100 Hz.
By way of a road test, I used the speakers at a local dinner/dance event with recorded music and lots (and lots) of speeches, and everything was loud and clear above a boisterous audience of around 200 in a ‘typical’ village hall. At a band rehearsal I used them for vocals (male and female) and keyboards, and then tried one as a main speaker and the other as a floor monitor, all with pleasing results. They were easily loud enough to get over the band, and with a nice full vocal balance. Needless to say I kept well away from the HF EQ setting, as per my previous comments
After testing and using the Fortis speakers I am left with the impression that they are capable performers that are very easy to transport, rig and use effectively in a range of applications. The Bluetooth facility came in unexpectedly handy at the dinner/dance, as I was using a remote digital mixer (the sort where everything is contained within a digital stage box), and the one drawback of this system is that you have to connect playback tracks at the stage end rather than where you’re mixing from; as the distance was well within range I used my iPad again, and was able to cue and control the music from front of house using the Bluetooth connection. Neat!
The Fender Fortis F-12BT is a versatile powered speaker with added flexibility offered by its Bluetooth connectivity. It looks the part, has more than enough output power for small and medium-sized venues, and can maintain a smooth and well-balanced sound when pushed fairly hard. It is very easy to set up and operate, and is likely to be an interesting prospect for travelling bands, music venues and solo performers. The 12-inch version I tried sounded full and warm, and there was plenty of bass available for playback of recorded music. I like the ‘timeless’ styling, which would fit in well in almost any venue, and I can easily imagine these speakers on the shortlist for installations in pubs, schools, community halls and houses of worship.
There aren’t many active PA speakers with Bluetooth streaming on the market at the moment, but the Turbosound iP and iX series have it, as does the Alto TS212W.
- Easy to use.
- Bluetooth connectivity.
A capable and affordable unit that sounds good, is built to last, and has a useful wireless music-streaming facility built in.