Review: Focusrite OctoPre-MkII Dynamic 8 Channel Microphone Preamplifier

The new OctoPre significantly builds on the qualities of the original, adding “More” to the mix.
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
The new OctoPre significantly builds on the qualities of the original, adding “More” to the mix.

I’ve been a fan of Focusrite’s OctoPre 8-channel mic preamps for some time now. More than 12 years ago, I used the original OctoPre as a front end to a modest recording rig (literally six good microphones, the OctoPre, and a blackface ADAT) to self-record three complete drum sessions at home, ultimately to be used alongside stiff competition: truly great-sounding drum sessions with a “real engineer” at what was then Masterfonics’ Studio Six on Music Row in Nashville.

Image placeholder title
Image placeholder title

Yet once mixed to the same standards to reside on the same CD, those two extremes in gear and environments became surprisingly immaterial. Thus, when Focusrite announced its latest incarnation of the OctoPre, the MkII Dynamic, my interest was piqued by what it may provide to our industry’s continuously growing pool of self-recordists and/or budget-minded audio pros.

Features

Size 1U, the MkII Dynamic offers all of the same features as the original, plus literally More: in my opinion, the most significant new tool of the MkII Dynamic is “More,” the simple on/off button per channel that takes each channel’s one-knob compressor (Compress, which adjusts threshold) and doubles its usefulness. In normal mode, the fixed compression ratio is 2:1; with More, it’s 4:1, allowing some creative, easy compression-based effects to be laid within selected tracks. Both modes’ attack times are 1.2ms; release times are 28ms. In a word, More is cool, and especially cool for creative drum tracking.

What else is cool about the MkII Dynamic? The same things that were cool in the original, plus added refinements and improvements in I/O. The front panel offers a preamp Gain rotary per channel alongside the aforementioned Compress knob and More button. Per channel, three helpful LEDs light red, yellow, and red to indicate overload (O/L), active compression, and More ratio doubling, respectively. Next, an 8 x 5 segment LED meter shows per-channel signal levels pre-A/D.

Also on the front panel are instrument input selector buttons for channels 1 and 2; two phantom power on/off buttons for channels 1-4 and 5-8; and digital I/O selection via sample rate (44.1 to 96k), clock source (internal, word clock or ADAT), and an AD/DA button to send digital ADAT input to the MkII Dynamic’s eight line outputs, the latter of which effectively makes the unit an 24-bit, 8-channel D/A converter.

Rear panel I/O includes eight Neutrik 1/4-inch/XLR combo jacks for channel inputs; eight 1/4-inch line outputs; two ADAT/Optical/Lightpipe inputs; two ADAT/Optical/Lightpipe outputs; and BNC word clock input and output connectors. Per 1/4-inch input, either TRS (balanced) or TS (unbalanced) can be used.

In Use

The MkII Dynamic was as clean and user-friendly as I remember the original to be, and I used the new one quite a bit over the past two months. From conservative compression levels on all inputs to wildly slammed/squished More settings on the majority of inputs, recordings with the MkII Dynamic were as pure, or as colored, as desired. For example, a group of musicians and I collectively flipped over a pair of room mics (AKG Perception 820 tubes), in omni and under the heavy hand of More, about 1/2 compressed from the maximum position —simply fun, classic,and rockin,’ agreed the group.

Meanwhile, crucial sound sources that called out for clean transduction and no tracking compression — such as a dynamic male vocal via Sontronics Orpheus large-diaphragm condenser in cardioid and a detailed ostinato on a 21-inch Sabian HH Series Vintage Ride cymbal via a Shure KSM141 condenser stereo pair in omni — were appropriately captured with the MkII Dynamic’s superb Saffire preamps.

Summary

The Focusrite OctoPre MkII Dynamic is quite possibly the best bargain in 8-channel preamps currently available, as it streets for $699. Eight preamps and eight channel compressors featuring the neat More comp ratio doubler, plus its comprehensive analog/digital I/O? It’s not only a bargain; it could be considered a steal. For that reason, I will enthusiastically recommend the MkII Dynamic to any of my self-recording brethren as well as to any budget-restricted engineer in need of eight solid preamp-plus-compression channels.

Price: $799 list
Contact: Focusrite | focusrite.com
U.S. distributor: American Music & Sound | 800-431-2609 | americanmusicandsound.com

Strother Bullins is Technology Editor for NewBay Media's AV/Pro Audio Group.