An already stellar design…improved!
Review by John Czerwinski
Focusrite is well regarded as an interface company, with two lines of USB interfaces: the ubiquitous Scarlett range, and the premium Clarett+ line, which comes in three flavors: the 2Pre, 4Pre, and 8 Pre; ‘Clarett+’ branding signals upgrades on the previous Clarett models. We reviewed the Thunderbolt Clarett 8Pre upon its debut in our November 2015 issue.
Then and now
Over a 36-year history, Focusrite has provided innovative products that have served both professional and home recording studios alike. Its initial standalone preamp offering, the ISA 110, was born out of a request from Sir George Martin for a custom module for his console. In 1993, Focusrite integrated this ISA circuitry into the 2U rack-mounted Red Range, featuring a bold color and distinctive curved fronts designed to set them apart from other rack gear—and thus the crimson-colored die was cast.
As mentioned, the new red-tinged Clarett+ range consists of three models offering two, four, or eight channels of analog conversion over USB-C. The 2Pre, 4Pre and 8Pre are essentially the same tech. All three editions offer eight-channel ADAT expansion ports, allowing you to chain devices together and expand your channel count.
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I was struck by the simplicity of the design (which remains unchanged) and the obvious workmanship. The chassis is solidly built, the knobs and buttons offer a high-quality feel, and the pots have just the right amount of resistance for making fine adjustments.
The front panel is uncluttered and straightforward. Two combo XLR inputs reside on the left-hand side of the unit, followed by two 48v select switches for implementing phantom power on channels 1-4 and 5-8. Gain knobs for all eight channels follow, with dedicated LEDs to acknowledge whether AIR has been invoked on that particular input (more on AIR below). A generous six-segment LED bar graph allows you to monitor the input and output levels. Two independent headphone jacks with level controls round out the front panel.
The rear panel features six combo XLR jacks for inputs 3-8, two balanced outputs with ‘anti-thump’ technology for monitors, eight balanced line outputs, word clock, SPDIF, ADAT, and 5-pin MIDI I/O.
New and improved
The big Clarett+ improvements lie under the hood: a 3dB improvement over the THD+N (total harmonic distortion plus noise), and a 6dB greater dynamic range on the line outputs. Furthermore, the headphone output’s dynamic range gained a 3dB boost as well (see the table for a quick side-by-side overview of the improvements).
What does all this practically mean for the end user? Clearer mixes with better detailing, along with headphone outputs that deliver powerful and precise sound across the spectrum.
Scarlett and Clarett interfaces both feature Focusrite ‘AIR’ technology. In the high-end Clarett+ line, the AIR processing is assisted in the analog domain so as to more closely approach the feel of the classic Rupert Neve-designed ISA 110 preamp. According to Focusrite, this feat is achieved by changing the input impedance to present the same load as the original ISA 110. AIR also adds two cumulative high shelves for a 4dB boost in the extreme high frequencies. The effect is subtle but certainly noticeable, providing an openness and sparkle to the sound, perhaps summed up as ‘clarity’ (Claretty?). Breathiness is more readily perceived on vocals, the upper harmonics on acoustic guitars come alive, and there is generally more space to the sound.
Available for your desktop or as an iOS app, the Focusrite Control software handles the routing and functionality of the Clarett+. It’s exceptionally straightforward and easy to use. Software channels and outputs can be custom labeled for easy identification in your routing scheme. When selecting between line/instrument, phantom power, or AIR on the input channels, there is an audible ‘click’ from the unit to let you know the status has changed—a small but welcome feature! Upon registration you can download several substantial software plugins, including the bx_console Focusrite SC (reviewed last month), developed by the German DSP giants at Brainworx, which accurately models the complete signal path of the iconic Focusrite Forte console. You also get the Red 2 / Red 3 plugins, which are in-house models of the venerable Focusrite Red 2 EQ and Red 3 compressor introduced in 1994.
As you can guess from the above, the Clarett+ is a joy to use in the studio, where it marries high-quality sonics with extreme ease of use thanks to its well-implemented feature set. I set up for a small recording session consisting of two vocalists, acoustic guitar, and a stereo keyboard in a matter of minutes, complete with two custom headphone mixes, all with just my initial rudimentary knowledge of the Focusrite Control software. It’s great when the gear just works and stays out of the way so you can focus on the job.
Suppose you are considering a new interface or upgrading your recording rig to the next level. In that case, the Clarett+ 8Pre should rank high on the list because of its simple, straightforward design, clean and quiet converters, low latency, and great sounding preamps. Don’t need eight channels? Check out the two and four-channel options, and remember, you can easily add and integrate additional Clarett+ units as your needs grow. Is it too early to add it to your Christmas list? I think not!
Analogue Input Dynamic Range (min. gain): 118dB
Input THD+N (mid gain): -107dB
Line Output THD+N: -103dB
Headphone Output Dynamic Range: 115dB
Headphone Output THD+N: -101dB
Analogue Input Dynamic Range (min. gain): 118dB
Input THD+N (mid gain): -110dB
Line Output THD+N: -106dB
Headphone Output Dynamic Range: 118dB
Headphone Output THD+N: -104dB
Price: $499.99 Clarett+ 2Pre; $699.99 Clarett+ 4Pre; $999.99 Clarett+ 8Pre
More from: focusrite.com