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Review

Focus Scarlett OctoPre Dynamic Mic Pre-Amp

Issue #48

Overall, a good sounding and cost effective way to add 2nd Gen Focusrite pres and compressors to extend an existing studio setup.
Andi Picker

Pros:

Clean, high headroom pres
Very simple to set-up and use
Channel compression is surprisingly useful
Quality feels good
Nice software bundle

Cons:

Instrument inputs are exclusively on the rear panel
Front panel is a bit busy

Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre Dynamic Mic Pre

Focusrite keeps up the pace of introductions with its latest OctoPre. Andi Picker looks at the 'dynamic' version with onboard compression. Is it the ideal project studio extender?

Lots of users feel cheated when they unpack their brand-new '96' input audio interface and discover that 88 of those inputs are on digital connectors. It’s an understandable frustration, but for anyone who wants to record full bands, that digital connectivity is the key to being able to extend our studios without having to start over again. ADAT connectivity typically allows an additional eight channels of IO, and that’s just what the Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre Dynamic is designed to provide.

For the sake of clarity, there have been other OctoPres in other Focusrite product ranges – and there is another current Scarlett model without the dynamic processing - this is all about the Scarlett OctoPre Dynamic, but I’m just going  to call it the 'OctoPre' for convenience. It’s basically a rack mount unit with eight Scarlett second generation pre-amps coupled to eight channels of AD conversion, and up to eight channels of ADAT output. You also get balanced analogue line-out sockets for each channel just in case you happen to have a bunch of spare inputs on your interface or console, or if you want to patch any hardware processors into the signal path before converting to digital, and a front-panel switch allows the ADAT input (D/A) to be routed to the analogue outs as a convenient way to get audio back from a DAW.

 


Focusrite’s pre-amps and converters do a fine job; these are not designed to be the most characterful channels out there (Focusrite used to put more colourful class A pres in their Platinum range, and then switched back to cleaner models) but in the real-world, where we need good headroom, low noise, ample gain and low distortion, they work well on just about anything we’re going to find to record. In addition to the gain, each channel has a built-in compressor; a simple one knob approach allows a gentle (and rather good sounding) compression to be added to the input, and a “More” button doubles the ratio for a more assertive effect.

Mic/line inputs are all on combi sockets on the rear panel, and channels 1 and 2 also provide a pair of switchable hi-Z instrument inputs. I always feel that instrument sockets are best placed in easy reach on the front panel, as on the non-Dynamic OctoPre model, but the additional Compressor controls take all the spare room here so there’s simply nowhere else to put them, and with the unit fitted into a rack, it’s going to be a lot easier to use with a set of flying leads or a patch-bay. Phantom power is switched in banks of four channels, metering is a five LED bar for each channel plus an overload light, and there are Word Clock in/out sockets in case we need them. Twin optical ADAT IOs allow eight channels at sample rates up to 96k Hz and four at 192 kHz. Oh, and there’s a mains socket on the back (universal 100 – 240V) and a power switch on the front!

Considering what it does, the OctoPre is very simple to use – once it’s plugged in it’s just a matter of setting levels and keeping an eye on the meters.  The front panel is pretty busy, and I did find that the gain controls got in the way of the compression controls if I had the unit positioned low and flat enough that I had to reach down to it, but a few degrees of tilt sorted that out, and the knobs have a rubbery feel and are easy enough to turn with the tip of a finger. There’s no off switch for the channel compressors, you just turn the knob all the way to the left, and there’s no click which slightly surprised me; the set-up works fine, but I found that I kept “checking” that the controls were actually all the way off.

Throw into the box a download code for the Focusrite Red 2 and 3 plugin suits, and the Softube Time and Tone bundle (I’m a big Softube fan) and Focusrite has put together a very effective (sorry, noticed that after I typed it) package that will work well to extend any interface (from any manufacturer) that has suitable connectivity – and it’ll look great in a rack with a Scarlett 18i20 (issue 36!).

Overall, a good sounding and cost effective way to add 2nd Gen Focusrite pres and compressors to extend an existing studio setup.

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Issue #52

Yngwie Malmsteen

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