The original Focusrite OctoPre is an absolute staple in many a project studio. When audio interfaces started to become ‘a thing’, many home studio users were scrambling for affordable ways to make use of that ADAT optical port included on so many devices. I still have my original OctoPre, and in my modest home studio it served me for many years as a way to eke out an extra couple of analog inputs for larger sessions. The OctoPre is a workhorse that was reliable day-in, day-out and I was anxious to see what Focusrite’s latest iteration would look, sound, and feel like.
Bold is apparently in these days, and the Clarett OctoPre is unapologetically obvious in your rack setup. The shiny metallic red that has become almost synonymous with Focusrite is present, and the Clarett blends cleanly into their product line. You would have a hard time discerning between the OctoPre and their much pricier Red line, and that’s pretty great. It definitely makes you feel that this was not a budget design in any way.
The level meters and other LED feedback features are all a welcome addition. The original OctoPre had only a single indicator light per channel that would glow green, yellow, or red depending on the gain. That paradigm has been replaced by a fully functioning 6-step dB meter for each channel that gives a lot more visual feedback about your gain staging.
The feel and physical build of the Clarett OctoPre impressed me immensely. Honestly, it just plain looks and feels like it should be significantly more expensive than it is. The device is far lighter and more compact than the original OctoPre, and yet at the same time, it feels far more robust. The brushed metal chassis feels like it will most definitely hold up over years of lengthy sessions, and the unit definitely has a remarkably lower operating temperature than the original.
Every single input and output point on this device is extremely well made and sturdy. Mic cables are not loose when plugged in, optical cables are firmly seated, and the insert points felt extremely solid. The knobs feel solid and have just the right amount of resistance, and some of the dual-functions of the buttons (more on that later) allow for an interface that is uncluttered and clean.
The Clarett OctoPre has exactly what it needs to function as a great extension to your audio interface. I’m conflicted about the removal of the ‘dynamic’ option. The last few iterations of OctoPre had a ‘dynamic’ version available that included a compressor on each channel. Now, this compressor wasn’t exactly a Fairchild that you’d write home about, but I’m going to be honest here and say that at the lowest setting the overload protection saved my bacon more than once with an overly ‘excited’ drummer.
The pragmatist in me realizes, however, that this allows for more of my money to be spent on each preamp. After all, whenever looking at a preamp, channel strip or audio interface it’s important to keep in mind that every dollar spent designing and implementing other features is a dollar that didn’t go into the individual preamp. I think that most folks likely didn’t utilize the dynamic features, and will be only too happy to simply have higher quality preamps.
The AIR function of the Clarett audio interface line is present. I liked the AIR function when I reviewed the audio interface, and I was pleased to see its inclusion here. As with most modeling technology, you won’t likely mistake it for actually owning and using an ISA preamp, but when used appropriately you will likely appreciate what it does to your sound.
The Clarett OctoPre provides 8 analog inputs on XLR / 1/4” combo jacks, and two of those are thankfully on the front of the unit for quick access. There is an INST mode available for inputs 1 and 2 that quickly allows for reconfiguration of those inputs for high impedance signals. This is great news for guitarists and bassists who want a quick way to record direct.
Clarett OctoPre can shuttle audio back and forth up to 24 bit and 192kHz via its ADAT optical connectors. There is a DSUB as well for 8 analog outs, and this is where it gets really fun and interesting. You can actually alter the behavior of the analog outs with a single button. If you’d like them to mirror the 8 analog ins, you can. If you want to utilize the ADAT inputs to grab 8 channels of digital audio from your computer and convert that into analog, it’s possible with the touch of a button. It’s convenient, and a nice touch.
Finally, the AIR buttons double as insert point switches. I love this, because you can leave external gear patched in and enable/disable the inserts with a quick button press. The insert point buttons double as the AIR buttons and the functionality can be quickly toggled with a master switch. This saves on extraneous buttons and keeps the front panel fairly simple.
Sound was the one area I was really hoping for high marks and the Clarett OctoPre didn’t disappoint. My main recording signal chain has always been a stable of fairly expensive preamps that I’ve collected over the years, and I usually relegated the OctoPre to ‘inputs I need in a pinch’. The Clarett OctoPre can absolutely take a front and center place in your home studio. The preamps were absolutely on par with Focusrite’s audio interface preamps, and they had plenty of dynamic headroom. The noise floor on the Clarett OctoPre was fantastic, even with my most gain-hungry microphones. I definitely see this 8-channel preamp finding a space in my rack and getting a lot of use.
I was really impressed with the Clarett OctoPre. I’ve always been a fan of the previous iterations, and I think there’s really no better way to expand your ADAT optical compatible device. The Clarett is designed extremely well, looks fantastic, sounds open and warm, and is built to last. I do wish they offered a ‘premium’ version with some of the dynamic features of old (or as found on the Scarlett series), but this model is certainly a really fantastic piece of gear.
Pros: Beautiful and rugged design. Lightweight. Excellent features. Bi-directional optical audio is a plus. Great sound
Cons: No ‘dynamic’ option with built in compressors available