Review: Focusrite Clarett 8pre Audio Interface

Focusrite are well known for their high-end, professional audio interfaces. The new Clarett range promises clarity, virtually no noise, and AIR preamp modeling settings. Matt Vanacoro tests the 8pre.  

Focusrite is one of my favorite audio companies. I’ve owned quite a bit of their gear over the years. From the Liquid Channel to the ISA Two, I’ve always been a fan of what their ‘higher end’ gear does to my mic closet. With the release of the 8pre series, I was very excited to see what level of preamp they would package with their new flagship interface. I tested it out for a few weeks and here’s what I found.

The Design

The Clarett series is bold in its design. The bright red metallic chassis is reminiscent of their Red product line, and it definitely looks boutique. The knobs are all metal, and incredibly sturdy. This may seem like a small thing, but when you are dealing with something as sensitive as microphone input headroom (of which the Clarett 8pre has plenty) I prefer to have knobs with plenty of resistance to allow for truly subtle adjustments. The 8pre did not disappoint in this regard. It truly feels like you have precise control over the entire 119 dB of dynamic range.

Focusrite control.

Focusrite Control.

 

The design of the companion software is simplistic. You don’t have to really even read the manual to understand it. Routing options are clearly laid out, and the ability to activate the AIR setting on the mic preamps is easy to get to. Setting up a custom monitor mix was easy to do and worked like a charm.

The Sound

The Clarett 8pre is incredibly quiet. You can really crank up the gain and saturate your audio signal without having to worry about noise. I immediately threw my most difficult microphone at it… the legendary (and massively gain hungry) Electro Voice RE20. This mic needs quite a lot of gain, and it can make audio interfaces that are a bit noisy sound downright terrible when you have to turn it up to eleven.

 I was absolutely blown away by the lack of any noise at all; even at the highest gain settings.

I’m happy to say the Clarett passed this test with flying colors. In fact, I was absolutely blown away by the lack of any noise at all; even at the highest gain settings. You can confidently turn the 8pre up to its loudest level without worrying about unwanted sonic artifacts. 

I was curious to hear the results of the AIR setting. Basically, the AIR setting allows you to emulate the sound of a much more expensive preamp inside of the Clarett. Enabling it uses modeling to make the preamp on the 8pre sound like a classic Focusrite ISA preamp. As luck would have it, I own an ISA Two, so I was able to make a direct comparison for you!

Here’s the Clarett with an EV RE-20 mic plugged directly into input 1 with no modeling enabled:

Now, here’s the Clarett with the same microphone setup with the AIR modeling enabled:

And finally, just for comparison, here is an actual ISA preamp with the same mic setup:

The AIR setting uses modeling to make the preamp on the 8pre sound like a classic Focusrite ISA preamp.

It’s not exact, and it can’t really be an exact science as the ISA pre has an incredibly complex gain stage. However, I can say that in this quick test I definitely liked what enabling AIR did to my voice over sound. There’s a clarity there that doesn’t come at a sacrifice to the low end. It sounds cleaner, more detailed, and yet still powerful. I could probably have come up with something similar by putting in some time with EQ, but as a working studio engineer I’m all about ANY tool that is there to save me time. 

clarett-8pre front

Without Delay

The low latency monitoring aspect of the Clarett 8pre is another flagship feature. I hooked it up to Logic and turned off the hardware monitoring. At a low enough buffer size, I was absolutely able to record and monitor through my DAW without noticeable delay. Of course, much of this is dependent on your computer and your own personal recording setup. At a buffer of 1024 and with a plugin which isn’t truly optimized you’re going to have latency and there’s no way around it. I tested it out at a buffer of 128 (which is reasonable for tracking) and with Bias from PositiveGrid (an awesome guitar amp simulator) and was able to track with no trouble at all. I didn’t notice any delay and it definitely felt like I was using a hardware unit to generate my effects.

This means you can leave software monitoring on and have your actual 3rd-party effect chain in the monitoring mix while you record. It can be terribly convenient and save you time while tracking, so this is a welcome feature of the Clarett and its super fast Thunderbolt interface.

Clarett 8pre rear

 

Assorted Other Features

There were quite a few more little things that I appreciated about the workflow of using the Clarett. Hardware dim and mute buttons that are easily accessible make using the Clarett that much easier. All of the inputs are XLR/1/4” combo which makes it easy to connect any piece of gear you might want to hook up. There is ADAT optical and S/PDIF available for digital expansion. Curiously, there is only a single word clock out. It seems Focusrite is very confident that you will want the Clarett to be your clock master as having it be a slave via incoming word clock isn’t an option. For 95% of the world, this isn’t really going to be an issue. It’s quite likely that the Clarett is going to have more accurate sample timing that nearly anything you plug into it and you will indeed want it to be the master device in your A/D chain.

The Focusrite Clarett 8pre totally won me over with its sonic clarity.

Conclusion

I am a big fan of this interface. I’ll be completely honest and admit that reviewing yet another thunderbolt audio interface sounded tedious to me at first, but the Focusrite Clarett 8pre totally won me over with its sonic clarity. The preamps are able to be precisely controlled, and the noise floor is just… nonexistent! At under $1000 USD, this interface is a great buy.

 

Price : $999

Pros : TONS of dynamic range, zero noise, quality build, sleek look, precise controls, simple software interface, super low latency

Cons : Word clock is out only

Website : http://us.focusrite.com/thunderbolt-audio-interfaces/clarett-8pre

 

Matt Vanacoro is one of New York’s premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More

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