FOCUSRITE OCTOPRE LE

($599.99, if you know where to look)
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As soon as I checked this unit out, I thought it was a great idea.

I mean I’d been looking for a converter to use the ADAT inputs on most major soundcards (like my friend’s MOTU 828) for a while. You see, I have a TASCAM MS-16 1" 16-track in my studio and I’ve been looking for a way to transfer the 16 analog tracks to digital while using only one soundcard.

Let me explain: I’ve been using my Soundcraft Series 600 for quite a while at Shapeshop, my studio in Chicago. It’s a great board and I love the way the beefy pre’s on it sound. HOWEVER, I’ve noticed recently that the preamps tend to accentuate low mids, peaking around 300Hz, which can make things real muddy, real fast, when applied over a bunch of tracks. Because of this I’ve been looking for any mic pre’s I can afford to diversify the character of the tracks.

And, well, I like the way the OctoPre’s preamps sound — they’re very different from my board, which is refreshing. They have a very modern and uncolored sound compared to the Series 600. They don’t have the “warmth” in the mids that I’m used to, nor do they have the smooth, but present high end, that my board has. They do have a tightness and neutrality to their sound that actually made the tracks that I recorded with them stand out in a mix of Soundcraft tracks. They were more efficient amongst the mud and so I guess this is what I mean by “modern”. Moreover, right when I plugged my KSM32 into the unit to do some vocals, the sound seemed tighter. I did a bunch of takes right away that I kept and liked. I also had a chance to use the OctoPre on a vocal session with Robert Iwanik from the band Rope. The mic pre complemented his sibilant and aggressively dynamic vocals and we ended up doing all his vocals with it.

The best thing about the unit? Being able to use it as a pre or a standalone converter.

And with the optional converter I/O installed, it becomes a full-on 8-in-8-out soundcard. All you need is ADAT Lightpipe inputs/outputs on your computer soundcard and you have eight more channels of ins and outs. The unit’s auto switching can feed either the mic pres or the line inputs into your DAW and then you can use the unit for eight line level outputs if you want to mix on an analog board. There are also multiple sync options that are clearly displayed on the front panel including the ability to sync to an external 256x clock.

What else?

Well, my Les Paul bass working through the instrument preamp function sounded aggressive and open compared to the dbx 163x I sometimes plug directly into (that dbx does kill though when you turn up the compression knob). The layout of the unit is straightforward enough. That’s always good. The blue light on the output VU meter is pleasing although the numbers for the levels are a bit hard to see from a ways away. The controls are easy to understand and you can cycle through the channels to see their levels on the nice blue VU.

There’s also an impedance selection switch that switches the impedance on the first two channels to a lower 150ohms. This is handy to match the impedance of ribbon mics and other low imp mics. There’s a phase reverse switch on the first channel only, which seemed odd. There are low cuts on every channel, which slope down at 120Hz. The phantom power is global.

And while I found it strange that the line inputs were located on the front panel (it seems like if it were in a rack you’d want everything but the instrument inputs on the rear panel), the OctoPre is a handy unit to have around the studio and it can pull off a bunch of important tasks. For the price it would be nice to get eight mic preamps alone, but the digital converters make it a great value.