I like when you take something out of the box and it just feels right. That’s the case with the new Focusrite Red4Pre 58-in/64 Out Thunderbolt and Pro Tools HD DAW interface. Well known in the industry, the Focusrite Red range has had a certain panache for many years. Their new Red4Pre has that same feel but is the first in this line to move into the digital domain.
The 1U unit not only feels solid it looks great with its brushed red aluminum front panel. It features four Focusrite “air enabled” mic preamps (63 dB of gain), a pair of quarter-inch front panel Hi-Z inputs, three displays (Input, Level Meter, Output) and dual Thunderbolt 2, Pro Tools HD and Dante network connectivity. Around back you can use the dual Thunderbolt ports, SPDIF I/O, two ADAT I/O, Dante Network RJ45 Ethernet connectors, Word Clock and Loops sync I/O, 25-way D-Sub Line I/Os or two Mini DigiLink Primary connectors for Pro Tools HD and HDX PCIe cards.
Once you’ve gone online and registered the unit, you can download their Focusrite Control software for easy bilateral communication from your computer. I then hooked it up via Thunderbolt to my MacBook and connected my mobile hard drive to the Red4’s other Thunderbolt out. The software let me know the Red4 Pre was connected and in the Device Settings page I set the sample rate and ran the unit on Internal clock source. Launching Pro Tools 12, I selected Focusrite Thunderbolt as the Playback Engine and that was it.
Monitoring is done via the dual quarter-inch outs on the rear panel or via the two independent headphone jacks on the front. The main controls, input configurations and preamp levels, etc., can all be accessed from the front panel of the unit. I liked using Focusrite Control software to set the levels, allowing me to sit in the sweet spot while dialing in the sound. I find this especially helpful for composer- and producer-types that record themselves quite a bit; it becomes an ergonomic issue.
My DPA 4006 sounded especially amazing with the Red4 preamp, and the air setting changes the mic impedance to 2.1 kohms, which gives a bit of a mid-high boost, something I hear on my variable impedance ISA preamps. Speaking of ISA, I hooked up my ISA 428 via optical output to the Red4 optical input and got a classic crunchy sound of bad sync. I forgot I needed to go into the Red4 and set the Sync to ADAT. Once I did that, I had four more channels of Focusrite preamp with this setup, which I ran a number of analog synths into.
In the course of using it, I also hooked the Red4 up to my Pro Tools HDX rig by simply connecting the DigiLink cable from my cards to the back of the unit. I then had instant access to my HDX system. From there, I worked as normal using the power of the cards.
What I like most about Red4Pre is its power and flexibility. In a single rack space, you’ve got a full DAW front end with great sounding preamps and the ability to hook up to most any system, including Pro Tools HDX rigs. The preamps are exactly what you would expect from the legendary Red series and the unit overall feels, looks and sounds great. Add in software control from your desktop and this becomes ones seriously cool rig.