Review: Focusrite Clarett 8Pre 18x20 Thunderbolt Interface

Focusrite has continued its notable audio legacy with the Clarett 8Pre ($999 street), one of the new products in the company’s Thunderbolt-based Clarett range of interfaces.
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Focusrite has continued its notable audio legacy with the Clarett 8Pre ($999 street), one of the new products in the company’s Thunderbolt-based Clarett range of interfaces. The Clarett 8Pre is a 1U, 18-in/20-out audio interface that incorporates eight mic preamps along with A/D and D/A conversion at sample rates up to 192 kHz and extremely low latency. The result is an affordable, easy-to-use Thunderbolt interface that sounds great and is the perfect foundation for a mid-level studio or mobile recording setup.

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The Clarett 8Pre is built into a sleek 1U rack-mount chassis. Input and output are via eight analog inputs, ten analog outputs, stereo S/PDIF I/O and eight channels of ADAT I/O. A pair of front-panel mic/line/instrument inputs provide immediate accessibility even if the device is racked. The device includes BNC word clock output to slave external digital devices to the interface; however, lack of word clock input makes it difficult to slave the Clarett to another device. Also included on the rear panel are MIDI in and out. Users who require additional ADAT I/O should consider the Clarett 8PreX, which offers 26 inputs and 28 outputs as well as 16 ADAT inputs and outputs. The 8PreX—$300 more than the 8Pre—also provides 48V phantom power switches on each individual channel in contrast to the 8Pre’s bank switching on channels 1-4 and channels 5-8.

Clarett’s stunningly quiet mic pres have a notable 118 dB dynamic range with a 20 Hz-20 kHz (± 0.1 dB) frequency response and 57 dB of gain. Each mic pre offers Focusrite’s AIR feature, which is independently activated on each channel via the Focusrite Control application. Activating AIR alters the preamp’s impedance and enables a “transformer resonance effect” that provides the air and clarity of a transformer mic pre (e.g., Focusrite’s ISA preamp).

The interface’s output stage is just as remarkable; it provides stunning conversion with 119 dB dynamic range. Perhaps most impressive is the Clarett’s latency measurements, or better said, lack of latency. For example, a 96 kHz Pro Tools session (with a 64 sample buffer) results in an impressive latency measurement of 1.38 ms. In comparison, the same session with the same buffer size on an HD Native system results in a latency measurement of 1.7 ms; an HDX system’s latency is 0.7 ms.

In contrast to the applications included with some of Focusrite’s previous interfaces, Focusrite Control—built ground-up for the Clarett interfaces—is extremely intuitive and easy to use. Better yet, since the latency in the Clarett 8Pre is so low, users really won’t even need the app; they can effectively monitor through the DAW. That said, I was a bit disappointed to discover that the Clarett only has a single Thunderbolt port—making it a bit tricky to use a Thunderbolt hard drive along with the Clarett, for one example.

In addition to the Focusrite Control software, the Clarett includes a 1 GB Loopmasters sample/loop library and a license for the Focusrite Red 2 & Red 3 AAX, AU, and VST Plug-in Suite. I’m a long-time user of the Red 2 and Red 3 plug-ins and they do a wonderful job emulating the performance of the classic hardware.

Clarett 8Pre: A best-in-class product with the lowest round-trip latency available in a multichannel preamp today.

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Installing the Focusrite Control software and getting the Clarett 8Pre up and running was quick and easy. I used the interface to track an eight-input song demo with Pro Tools and it worked flawlessly. During my review period, I also used the Clarett along with PreSonus’ Studio One 3, Harrison’s Mixbus 3 and Steinberg’s Nuendo DAWs; it worked perfectly. In each instance, I monitored through the DAW and never had a problem with latency—amazing! The ability to have two independent cue mixes was a bonus; it greatly simplifies recording with multiple musicians.

In most instances, I made routing and headphone adjustments inside the DAW. In a couple of instances, I utilized Focusrite Control to incorporate multiple hardware devices into the headphone configuration; I was happy to discover that mixer configurations within Focusrite Control can be saved and then later recalled.

The mic preamps on the Clarett sound wonderful. During my review period, I recorded drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards and vocals, and in each instance, they did a fantastic job capturing the sound source. I typically meter directly through my DAW, but while using the Clarett 8Pre, I’ve found that having a 6-segment LED meter for each input on the front of the panel has been extremely helpful.

Anyone in the market for a new audio interface should give the Clarett 8Pre top consideration. It offers the lowest latency and, I believe, the best sounding performance in its price range. It’s true: You’d be hard pressed to top the Clarett’s performance without spending twice as much.

Focusrite
us.focusrite.com

Russ Long lives and works in Nashville, engineering and producing a wide variety of music and film projects.
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