Focusrite Clarett 8Pre: Our Studio Test Review & Video

STUDIO TEST: Putting the Focusrite Clarett 8Pre Thunderbolt Interface Through Its Paces

focusrite clarett 8pre

Dan McCurry of Hearts & Plugs with the Focusrite Clarett 8Pre

[Editor’s note: recently we put out a call for entries to win a Focusrite Clarett 8Pre. We ultimately selected Dan McCurry of indie label Hearts & Plugs, who tested out the gear in his South Carolina studio and whose final review and testimonial video with the band Brave Baby appears below. Be sure to check out our own review of the Focusrite Clarett 8Pre as well.]

I’ve got to say, I’ve always heard good things about Focusrite but never personally had the chance to experience their products for myself until now. I’ve worked with interfaces by Digidesign, PreSonus, M-Audio, and Behringer so I’m coming from that camp. Had the pleasure of testing out the Focusrite Clarett 8Pre thunderbolt interface with my studio partner, producer Wolfgang Zimmerman, and his band Brave Baby. Here’s the deal…

FIRST IMPRESSIONS of the FOCUSRITE CLARETT 8PRE

I was really impressed the moment I pulled the Clarett out from the box. It’s got some real heft to it; it just feels like a professional studio tool. I also really love the whole look of this unit. I think a lot of gear out there looks kinda…goofy and unsexy. I know looks aren’t everything, but if you’re working with a client, you want them to walk into your studio and see that they are in good hands, recording with gear they can trust to bring results. The Clarett 8Pre thunderbolt interface will fit right in to the most professional of rigs. From turning the knobs and feeling the smooth yet ample resistance to just cutting the power switch on and watching the meters jump when they’re hit with signal, I knew I was in for a real treat.

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INSTALLATION AND COMMUNICATION

First we had to register an account with Focusrite to download the control software – easy stuff that’s to be expected with any new interface. I think it took all of 10 minutes to get the interface online and communicating with my iMac. I had never used Thunderbolt anything before, only Firewire and USB, so I was eager just to see how this new platform worked. I wasn’t sure what this whole “Focusrite Control” application was going to be all about – but I quickly found out it’s like having an interface for the interface, I mean, it’s totally clutch.

My experience getting previous interfaces to work with any DAW have generally been Hell on Earth – there’s always some feature not working, some weird latency issue to sort out, inputs are missing, outputs are jumbled, etc. Focusrite Control really just takes all of that digging around your DAW to find the missing link and puts the controls essentially outside of the DAW, in a brilliantly intuitive layout that any computer challenged person (myself included) can figure out in a matter of minutes. Thing about this that really blew my mind, though, was the whole mixer routing. Getting a different mix sent to headphones has always been an impossible task, involving a lot of confusing busses, external hardware, cabling and headaches. I’ve always just accepted this and tried to move on with my life. Well, the Focusrite Control solves this problem that I didn’t even realize I had, and it feels like a revelation.

CLARETT 8PRE IN USE

Brave Baby was working out some kinks on a new tune, so we figured it’d be a good time to test the waters with the Clarett. The session was initially demoed in Logic, so we decided to build things up from there. We started by replacing some sampled drums with real drums (performed by Wolfgang). Kicked the “AIR” feature on and noticed that everything sounded more “together,” like running through a vintage console; it just had some glue and excitement in the high-end that I associate with analog preamps. Usually interface preamps just sound kinda muddy, isolated, and bland. With the Clarett thunderbolt interface, I didn’t notice myself missing my outboard preamps so much. After the drums, we dropped a little bass direct in. Usually doing bass direct in on an interface sounds kinda wimpy and anemic, in my opinion. We cut a Fender Jazz Bass in on Channel 1 and junk was sounding perfectly fatty and snappy – didn’t even need to bust out the SansAmp plug-in to try to make the bass guitar sound like an actual bass guitar – that was refreshing. After bass, we did a slew of keyboards, some through a miked-up Univox amp, some direct in – all came out pretty juicy and clear, I thought. Keyboards can sometimes be a real pain in my experience, often turning out to sound just plain unnatural. I thought these keys fit right in a mix without a hitch. Finally, we cut a vocal through a standard SM-58 (which Keon Masters, lead singer of Brave Baby, generally prefers). The vocals sounded alive with every nuance coming through. I thought the AIR feature really shined here, as it brought out the energy and presence in the high-end on the front-end before ever touching any EQ.

Throughout our time recording with the Clarett, I thoroughly enjoyed the metering, as that made it much easier to know where any clipping was happening, on the front end or on the mix side. The dim button is something you don’t normally see that I personally LOVE for my monitors. Dual headphone outputs are always welcome. And latency?!? You can forget about that, running Thunderbolt here. That’s always been an issue in big sessions with lots of plug-ins going and then having to disable all the plug-ins just so you can record another track…well, it’s nice to not have to worry about when your session is going to crash next for a change, or whether you have enough skill to play in time when your monitoring is half a second behind due to latency. Yeah, that’s not an issue here.

OVERALL

Totally impressed with everything that’s packed into this single space rack here. The Focusrite Clarett 8Pre has everything you need and zero fluff. Focusrite Control brings a new level of functionality to the world of recording interfaces. Typically, my relationship with any interface is built around trying to avoid the built-in preamps at all costs. Using the pres on the Clarett is a patch bay-less joy that has me using half as many plug-ins as I normally would. For anyone who has been waiting to jump on the Thunderbolt recording interface gravy train, I would say that Focusrite Clarett 8Pre is workflow recording revolution, that is well worth the $1000 point of entry. #goodbyefirewire

PROS:

8 solid preamps packed into a low latency Thunderbolt 1 space rack unit with Focusrite Control and “Air”

CONS:

Zero.

PRICE:

$999

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan McCurry heads the Hearts & Plugs label out of Charleston, SC. For more, visit www.heartsandplugs.com.

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