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Clarett 8Pre – $999
PROS: Great preamps, expandable, plenty of audio routing options.
Focusrite made their mark with preamps and audio consoles in the 1980s. In the 21st Century the name is still paramount with quality sound, and the Clarett Preamps offer up their classic sound, in the digital recording realm.
It’s hard to believe that this single rack space houses 8 combo XLR/TRS inputs (2 on the front, 6 on the rear) that utilize Focusrite’s “Air” preamps, derived from their classic ISA (isolated signal amplifier) preamps. Phantom power is available for microphones that require it. The 8 input controls and the LED metering and monitoring display takes a lot of the real estate on the front panel but there are still 2 individual headphone outs and level controls. The two inputs on the front are a great ergonomic feature giving quick connections, without having to dig around the backside, when only two inputs might be needed for a quick dub session or simple guitar line.
The rear panel has the connections with aforementioned 6 combo XLR/TRS inputs, 10 TRS outputs, MIDI, S/PDIF, optical and coax clock connections. Connection to a computer is via Thunderbolt.
Installing their Focusrite control software gives plenty of options for sound routing, especially the outputs and it interfaces with pretty much every DAW platform out there. A great feature allows the headphone outputs to have custom mixes; for example, if the bass player wants more kick and snare in their headphones, while the guitar player wants more vocal in his, both can be satisfied individually, an excellent feature that can make session tracking go easier.
Sound wise, it’s fantastic; the AIR preamps can also be bypassed, but considering how amazing they sound, it’s hard to imagine a situation where they wouldn’t want to be used. If there’s a need for more channels, it can interface with other digital preamps, via optical and/or S/PDIF connections, so expandability is not an issue either. It does come with the plug-ins of Focusrite’s Red 2 EQ, which has 6 bands, and their Red 3 Compressor, which are great additions 9especially given our fondness for the Red 3 limiter). The EQ can act like a sonic scalpel, easily sculpting tones, without a lot of effort, and the flexibility of the compressor also reacts well musically to the signal path. Rupert Neve always instilled musical qualities to the gear he built, with low noise to signal ratios, and those qualities are present in the hardware and the software in this package.
The only bummer was one key piece of gear wasn’t included: a Thunderbolt cable, which would have been nice. With a street price of $999, it won’t break the bank if you’re putting together a killer home studio and want to beef up your pre’s, and considering that the plug-ins alone are $300, it’s a great value for the money.
Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt
Form Factor: Rackmount
Simultaneous I/O: 18 x 20
Analog Inputs: 8 x XLR/TRS Combo
Analog Outputs: 10 x 1/4″, 2 x 1/4″ (Headphones)
Digital Inputs: 1 x Coax, 1 x Optical
Digital Outputs: 1 x Coax, 1 x Optical
Number of Preamps: 8
MIDI I/O: In/Out
Clock I/O: 1 x Word Clock
Rack Spaces: 1U