Following up on its OctoPre MKII, an 8-channel mic pre and AD/DA converter, Focusrite has released the OctoPre MKII Dynamic ($699). The new unit one-ups its older sibling with the addition of VCA-based compressors on each channel and word clock I/O.
The 1RU box has eight XLR-¼-inch combo jacks in the back, allowing for mic- and line-level input. Channels 1 and 2 can also handle instrument-level signals as long as the corresponding Inst button on the front panel is activated.
The back panel also sports eight ¼-inch TRS line outputs and a pair of optical ADAT in and out ports. Each ADAT output is capable of sending eight channels at 44.1kHz or 48kHz, or four channels at 88.2kHz or 96kHz. BNC word clock I/O ports add clocking flexibility.Around to the front, each channel has its own cluster of three controls, comprising two rotary knobs and a switch. One knob controls gain, the other the compression threshold, and the switch lets you toggle between 2:1 and 4:1 compression ratios. The attack time is fixed at 1.2ms and the release time at 28ms.
Rounding out the front panel are an 8-channel LED-ladder input meter, the aforementioned instrument input switches, two 48V phantom power switches—one for channels 1 through 4 and the other for channels 5 through 8—sample-rate and clock-source buttons with status lights, and an AD/DA button that sends the signals coming in the ADAT inputs to the unit''s analog outputs. In addition to using the OctoPre MKII Dynamic as a multiple-mic pre, it can also be used as a D/A converter to extend the amount of analog outputs you have coming out of your audio interface.
MORE THAN ONE MARK
I have a MOTU 828 MKII interface, which has ADAT I/O, so integrating the Focusrite unit into my setup was a breeze. I connected the optical ADAT out of the OctoPre into the 828''s ADAT in, set the OctoPre''s Clock Source switch to word clock, and—boom—I had eight additional mic/line input channels available to my DAW. The informative printed manual offers setup diagrams for a variety of possible configuration scenarios.
The sound quality of the mic pres is quite impressive. They''re not completely transparent—they add a bit of sheen that is quite pleasing. I was happy with the results on acoustic instruments like guitar, dobro, mandolin, and violin. They also seem to have plenty of gain. I compared the OctoPre''s preamps with others in my studio, and they were able to hold their own sonically with units that, on a per-channel basis, were considerably more expensive.
Although control is limited, the compressors'' sound is quite good. According to Focusrite, the VCA-based compressors are modeled on the company''s pricey Red 3 compressor. I don''t own one of those so it''s hard for me to compare, but I was impressed with the compressors'' sound. On a direct electric guitar, the compression added a warm and almost amp-like tone (see Web Clip 1).
Typically, you only want to compress lightly on input, but if you do crank the Threshold knob and set the Ratio button to More (4:1), you can color the sound quite a bit. By doing so, I was able to significantly alter the sonic character of a snare drum (see Web Clip 2). On lower settings, on elements like vocals and sax, the compressors helped tame the dynamic range without much coloration. I do wish there were an adjustable attack time to allow for slower settings to preserve transients.
My only other quibble with the unit is one of ergonomics. Having all the I/O on the back wasn''t terribly convenient as I had to reach around the back of my rack to plug and unplug instruments and mics. I realize that in a 1RU unit, front-panel space is at a premium. Still, I wish Focusrite''s engineers could have figured out a way to situate one of the combo input jacks on the front.
EIGHT TIMES THE FUN
On the whole, I found the OctoPre MKII Dynamic to be a great addition to my studio. It expanded my recording capabilities without compromising on quality, and gave me the added flexibility of dynamic control on input. Especially if you have an interface with ADAT I/O, the OctoPre MKII Dynamic is an excellent value and a great way to expand the recording capabilities in your studio.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
Focusrite OctoPre MKII Dynamic Product Page