What is it that you want from an audio interface? Transparent sound quality, dynamic and detailed mic preamps, low noise, no latency, and ease of use. In many ways, you can sum it up by saying that the interface should pretty much disappear. It should work so invisibly that you don’t have to think about it — just hit record or play and make music. With the Clarett 8Pre Thunderbolt audio interfaces, Focusrite has achieved just that. These are great-sounding, easy-to-use interfaces with virtually no latency and no need for complex control apps. Just power it on, plug in your mic and monitors/headphones, launch your DAW, and get to work. Beautiful!
There are two models in the Clarett 8Pre family: the Clarett 8Pre and the Clarett 8Pre X. Both offer support for up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution, monitor control functions, dual headphone outs with independent level control, MIDI in/out, stereo S/PDIF digital in/out, 8-channel (8Pre) or 16-channel (8Pre X) optical in/out, dedicated stereo monitor outs, and eight line-outs.
So what’s the difference between the two? Aside from the extra optical I/O on the 8Pre X, which makes it a 26 x 28 interface (the 8Pre is 18 x 20), the primary differences come down to form factor and control. On the 8Pre, phantom is switchable in two banks of four channels. On the 8Pre X, each of the eight inputs has independent phantom switching, and a highpass filter and polarity invert are added on each channel. The 8Pre is a streamlined single-rackspace unit where the 8Pre X occupies two rack spaces. The 8Pre uses combi jacks for mic/line input, while the 8Pre X has separate XLRs for mic in and 1/4″ for line. The 8Pre has a word clock input for digital sync; the 8Pre X adds word clock out.
Both 8Pres feature Focusrite’s killer mic preamps with a new feature: Air. A switchable function that uses analog circuitry to re-create the tonality of Focusrite’s classic transformer-based ISA preamp, Air adds clarity, shimmer, sparkle, and detail to the sound. It really is a beautiful effect, and even though it’s switchable, I left it on virtually the entire time I was tracking! With Air disengaged, the 8Pre and 8Pre X preamps are transparent and neutral sounding, ideal for a wide range of sources.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the 8Pre and 8Pre X is the latency — or lack thereof! Though the interfaces come with an elegant new app for control and cue mixing, there’s no need for it in general use. Latency is so low that you can track straight into your DAW without noticeable delays. This makes for a very fast and natural workflow. But if you do need to create special headphone mixes, the control app can handle it for you.
Both the Clarett 8Pre and 8Pre X offer flawless ease of use. The sound quality is exemplary, the specs are outstanding, and the ear confirms those numbers hold up. There’s plenty of I/O for most rigs and all the features you want; in other words, the 8Pre and 8Pre X are pure winners. The only question is which one is right for you. But either way, you can’t lose. Both are killer interfaces.