Published 3 months ago on June 11, 2023

By Guitar Interactive Magazine

Focusrite Clarett+ 8PRE

MSRP (UK) £779  (US) $1249

Focusrite's Clarett+ 8Pre 18-in/20-out audio interface is a powerful foundation for your studio or mobile recording rig. It sports eight great-sounding Clarett+ microphone preamplifiers, an outstanding dynamic range, and ultra-fast, low-latency performance enabled by USB-C. The magic starts as soon as you plug your microphones in—the mic preamps feature Focusrite's switchable Air effect, which gives your microphones the air and clarity of an ISA transformer-based mic preamp. With comprehensive connectivity, including analog I/O, S/PDIF, and ADAT I/O, the Focusrite Clarett+ 8Pre is ready to integrate into virtually any recording rig. Nick Jennison reviews

With the well-deserved ubiquity of their ultra-affordable Scarlett audio interfaces, Focusrite has become synonymous with the “home studio”, enabling budding artists and enthusiastic hobbyists to take their first steps into recording without the usual barriers to entry - namely price, complexity and quality. For many people, a Scarlett will be as much interface as they’ll ever need, but for musicians looking to take the next step up in terms of quality and performance, the Clarett+ range may be the very thing.

Built on the same platform as the highly respected Clarett USB range of interfaces, the Clarett+ range is largely the same, but with one very significant upgrade - the converters. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s very much the case here, as the Japanese factory that produced the chips used in the previous range was sadly destroyed in a fire during the “Chip Shortage” of 2021, leading to Focusrite’s decision to upgrade the Clarett+ range with Cirrus Logic converters. While it’s hard to isolate the contribution of a singe component in a complex piece of equipment like this, there are some very clear performance improvements over the previous generation of Clarett interfaces - around 3db lower THD+N on all analogue I/O, greater line output dynamic range and significantly improved headphone performance.

The Clarett+ 8Pre we’re looking at here has the most I/O out of any model in the range, with 8 combined XLR/jack inputs and Focusrite’s excellent Clarett+ preamps. With 118dB of dynamic range and +57dB of gain on tap, these preamps will handle even the most gain-hungry dynamic mics without breaking a sweat (SM7b, I’m looking at you). The frequency response is impressively flat… unless you decide you want some character, in which case you can enable the “air” feature. Emulating the response of Focusrite’s legendary ISA 110 mic preamp. The input impedance is changed to 2.2kOhm, and two cumulative high shelf boosts are added for a total of +4db of extra high end. Unlike some DSP solutions though, this all happens entirely in the analogue domain. The result is a gorgeous “sheen” that sounds fantastic on vocals, acoustic guitars, drum mics, and can even add sparkle and realism to dull-sounding IRs! The two front-facing inputs can also be switched to high-impedance “instrument” inputs for connecting guitars and basses with passive pickups without the need for a separate DI box.

The output section is similarly full-featured, with no less than 10 analogue outputs and two separate headphone amps. I run a pretty complex setup with two sets of monitors, a permanent reamp feed and dedicated stereo mixes running to my main camera and my Blackmagic switcher, and I sill have an output to spare. Of course, if you need more you could always expand up to 18 in/20 out via ADAT…

Connecting over USB, you may find yourself wondering how the Clarett+ will perform in comparison to thunderbolt offerings. Well, let me tell you this - the Clarett+ is absolutely blazing fast. I’m hyper-sensitive to latency, but my buddy Jon Page is positively princess-and-the-pea-esque with his intolerance for even the slightest bit of “lag”, but neither of us could feel a thing when playing through virtual amps or monitoring through plugins.

I’ve long been skeptical about whether interfaces have a “sound”, but in a direct comparison between the Clarett+ and my previous interface, the difference in sound could not be clearer. Transients are snappier, the high end feels clearer and more “cohesive”, and there’s an overall feeling of being “truer” to the source material with the Clarett+.

You may be wondering if the Clarett+ is really worth the money when you can a very similar feature set from the equivalent Scarlett for significantly less outlay. Well, that depends on your application I suppose. For many, a Scarlett will be more than enough in terms of both quality and performance, but the Clarett+ is still a significant upgrade in sonics, performance and build quality - one that competes favourably against Thunderbolt interfaces that retail for more than three times as much.

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