Review:Focusrite Clarett 2Pre

A portable yet powerful Thunderbolt audio interface
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The Clarett line of Thunderbolt interfaces includes four models that support a variety of studio and mobile-recording needs. Designed for desktop and portable work, the Clarett 2Pre is the smallest of the bunch, yet it offers a total of 10 inputs, 4 outputs, and supports up to 24-bit, 192kHz resolution.

Focusrite’s utilization of Thunderbolt technology promises low-latency throughput and high track counts, even with low buffer settings. To test this, I used the Clarett 2Pre with my iMac Retina 5K (quadcore I7 processor and 40GB RAM) under Mac OS X 10.11.2 using MOTU Digital Performer 9.0.1 and Ableton Live Suite 9.5. The Clarett 2Pre is housed in a sturdy aluminum, half-rack case with a pair of front-panel combo jacks that accept XLR and 1/4" instrument-and line-level input. A master level control and a headphone jack with output knob complete the scene. Each channel has its own 48V phantom-power switch and analog Air effect. Air enhances the mic preamp’s frequency response to add subtle definition and presence. Auditioning my Gibson Master-tone five-string banjo using a Shure KSM-32 mic and the Air feature provided noticeable brilliance and sizzle to the deep, plunky overtones of the instrument. It even enhanced the Les Paul-like snap of my Epiphone Genesis Pro Deluxe, especially with the middle-pickup settings.

Fig. 1. Use the Focusrite Control app to route analog and optical inputs, engage Air, and select the sample rate, digital-clock sync, and analog line or instrument levels. The rear panel has four 1/4" TRS analog outputs, MIDI I/O, the Thunderbolt port, and an 8-channel ADAT optical input. The included Focusrite Control software is used for engaging the Air effect and configuring the I/O. The Clarett products support Mac OS X (Mavericks or later); support for Windows OS is on the way.

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Using software synths in standalone operation, I enjoyed fast response times with the interface, devoid of any perceivable latency—even at the highest sampling rate and with buffer settings down to 64 samples. The same was true using the Clarett 2Pre as a DI and running my guitar through Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5: In the past, it had been difficult to use this app as a standalone processor due to high latency issues, but no longer. Playing guitar through Guitar Rig in conjunction with MOTU’s Live Room G plug-in using the Clarett 2Pre, I was able to create real-time rhythm guitar tracks without the feeling of pushback that latency usually imposes. I cautiously started at buffer settings of 128 samples and got as low as 64 in these instances.

Consequently, the Clarett 2Pre is an excellent interface for singer/songwriters and personal studios that don’t need much analog I/O. The preamps—with and without the Air feature—sound marvelous, and the unit is simple to use and understand. In fact, it sounds better than almost anything else in its price range, and the bandwidth and speed of the Thunderbolt format will kick your projects into high gear. If you are looking for a great-sounding interface for your Thunderbolt-based personal studio, the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre is definitely worth your attention.

STRENGTHS

High-quality audio with very low latency. Air feature adds highs and presence.

LIMITATIONS

Registration required before accessing driver.

$499 street
focusrite.com

Frequent Electronic Musician contributor Marty Cutler is busy writing a new book, tentatively titled The New Electronic Guitarist.