Focusrite, they have by and large taken ownership of the entry level interface market with their Scarlett range of interfaces, which provide incredible functionality at an unbeatable price. Then, a few years ago, they successfully incorporated Audinate’s Dante protocol to create ultra high end ethernet based interfaces, with pristine A/D-D/A conversion, which essentially reimagined connectivity in the modern recording studio. But this left an entire mid range price point occupied by the likes of the Apogee Duet, The RME Babyface and the UA Apollo Twin. Enter: The Focusrite Clarett series of interfaces. Yet again, Focusrite delivered top of the line form, function and quality at an incredible price.
In its early days, Focusrite, established by the legendary Rupert Neve, was commissioned by Sir George Martin to build channel strip extensions for the Neve consoles at AIR studios in London. The resultant preamp, flush with the Rupert Neve pedigree was the ISA 110 preamp. Over the years, this evolved into the ISA430 mkII input channel. In signature Rupert Neve style, these pre-amps included an “air” switch, that added some sheen to the high end and sweet, silky, open flavour, akin to the “silk” button available in RND preamps today.
This is the channel strip pedigree that has been emulated in the preamps of the Clarett series of interfaces, modelling the signature input impedance and clarity of the ISA preamp with an individual “air” button available for each preamp.
The quality of these preamps and converters belie their price point. Across the range they have a generous 118dB dynamic range for the microphone inputs, 116dB for the line inputs and 119dB for the line outputs, with very impressive figures for EIN and THD+ Noise, with a near 10 dB advantage over the Scarlett range of interfaces.
In what seems to be a challenge to competitors, the feature set in the range has to be seen to be believed. Even the most compact of the three interfaces, the Clarett 2Pre provides two mic/line/instrument inputs, four line outputs, MIDI I/O and an ADAT input. For a similar feature set and quality, the real competition is at least 1.5 times the price, if not more.
I personally own the Clarett OctoPre, the 8 channel rack mount preamp with ADAT connectivity, which has been a great addition to my portable recording rig. They sound incredibly clean, and the Air button gives a beautiful smooth high shelf EQ, that I have enjoyed especially on string instruments (acoustic guitar in particular) and Drum Overheads. The transient response is quite smooth. There’s even enough headroom for me to drive my high gain requiring ribbon microphones on quiet sources without worrying about noise. The individual insert points for each preamp, combo 1/4inch-XLR jacks and direct line outputs over D-Sub are a nice touch.
The only small drawback for me is that phantom power switch isn’t individually assignable per pre-amp but toggles for 4 pre-amps simultaneously. But with today’s microphones, this isn’t really an issue.
Initially introduced with only a thunderbolt option, the Clarett series now has a new range with combination USB2 – USB-C connectivity. This is the best connectivity decision I have seen come from Pro-Audio manufacturers in the recent past. The USB-C format has a much improved bandwidth capable of delivering much more power and this means that the new Clarett range can be bus powered. If however, your system is not equipped with USB-C, the USB-2 mode will work just as well, with the provided external power adapter.
Focusrite has really done this right, The Clarett series of interfaces is a great choice for everyone from amateur producers looking to step up from their entry level interfaces to proper recording studios that are looking for a new or interface or simply to expand their preamp count. The cherry on top – the Clarett range comes with the Red 2&3 plugin suite, which are extremely well designed, simply without the marketing push like other brands. And a nice little after touch, the entire range comes with 2 year warranty.