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This article was originally published in issue #57
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The connection between a guitar’s output jack and the device you connect it to is a symbiotic relationship. The impedance of the device literally changes the way your guitar’s pickups behave.
Impressive spec in a class compliant USB format
Plays very well with software amp sims
Bus power only available on USB Type C ports
Ultra-low noise (-128dB EIN) Clarett mic preamps
USB and USB Type-C™ included
24-bit/192kHz A-D and D-A conversion
Focusrite Clarett 2Pre USB
MSRP £369 (UK) $599 (US)
Focusrite lays down the challenge to interfaces twice the price in the shape of the Clarett 2Pre USB. Featuring specially designed high performance, low-noise mic pres for open and transparent sound aimed at giving an accurate representation of the original performance. Nick Jennison finds out if the Clarett can really capture every detail.
Focusrite’s Clarett series of interfaces has been garnering acclaim for some time now. Making use of the then-emerging Thunderbolt transfer protocol, the first generation of Clarett preamps offered such remarkably low latency that Focusrite was able to do away with the internal DSP that many manufacturers were offering at the time. After all, if you can monitor through your favourite plugins without latency being an issue, why would you bother with internal DSP?
With the introduction of the Clarett USB series, the same features that made the Clarett Thunderbolt range of interfaces so popular are available as class-compliant USB devices. This includes an impressive 119db of dynamic range, super-low latency and the award-winning “air” preamps.
For us guitar players, this means a few things. Let’s start with latency. If you’ve ever tried to record (or even just jam out) using a software amp sim, you may have experienced the dreaded “cracks and pops”, where your processor can’t quite keep up. So you increase the buffer size, and now there’s an irritating “lag” that makes your playing feel like you’re dragging an anchor. Using a super low latency interface goes a long way towards remedying this, and in turn one of the biggest complaints guitar players have about amp sims - the feel.
Think about it like this. In terms of processing power, even a modest studio computer is a match for the current generation of modellers. Sonically, there should be no difference between a Line 6 Helix and the Helix Native plugin. But if the response isn’t as quick and dynamic as the hardware unit, the software will never “feel” as good as the real thing. For the solution, look to your interface.
It’s not just about speed though. The connection between a guitar’s output jack and the device you connect it to is a symbiotic relationship. The impedance of the device literally changes the way your guitar’s pickups behave. If the input impedance is too low, your pickups will be subject to “loading” and sound dull and lacking in dynamics. Likewise, if there isn’t sufficient dynamic range at said input and you can forget about using high output humbuckers. Conversely, if the noise floor is too high, turning the gain up to get a strong signal from low output single coils can mean a whole world of hiss.
If your head’s spinning from all this, just know that Focusrite have you covered with the Clarett series. But it’s good for much more than that. If you’re recording sources with a mic, the built-in preamps are clean, linear and exhibit extremely low distortion. If you’re looking for a little more preamp character, the “air” switch gives a subtle but significant high-end lift, starting at about 1khz and going all the way past 35k - far beyond the spectrum of human hearing. This isn’t DSP trickery either - it’s a physical process that changes the input response of the preamp to model Focusrite’s classic ISA preamps. For bringing out the sparkle in an acoustic guitar or a vocal, it works a treat. It’s pretty cool on overheads and snare drums, too, and if you connect an ADAT preamp it’ll give you enough channels to record a whole drum kit.
The Clarett 2pre USB is an interface that offers great features to the recording guitarist. It’s functional, stable and fast, and it’s portable enough for live use.