Focusrite continues to expand its offerings aimed at those in the homestudio game, giving more musicians seeking the company’s excellent preamps an opportunity to own them in affordable, straightforward, and portable configurations. Songwriters simply must own an interface with such qualities, as capturing ideas quickly, easily, and with fine fidelity is paramount for developing tunes whenever and wherever inspiration strikes. The headline regarding Focusrite’s new Clarett is right there in black and white. It features ubiquitous USB connectivity and operates at USB 2.0 speed, whereas the previous incarnation used Thunderbolt connectivity exclusively. There are actually three interfaces in the Clarett USB series, ranging from the simple 2Pre USB to the advanced 8Pre USB, and including the middle unit on review here, the 4Pre USB ($599 street).
How many preamp inputs do you need to record simultaneously? While the typical electric guitar player looking to capture riffs might only require a couple of primary inputs, acoustic aficionados will want a combination of microphones and direct signals, and singer-songwriters require the ability to record a vocal simultaneously. The rackmountable Clarett 8Pre USB looked awesome, but perhaps a bit much for Frets purposes, so our natural selection was the Clarett 4Pre USB. It’s so portable that I was able to fit it in my carry-on bag when I flew to New Orleans during the course of this review.
The Clarett 4Pre USB is set up simply. There are four front-panel combo jacks (XLR and 1/4”), four Gain knobs, a pair of 48V phantom power switches (one for inputs 1 and 2, and another for inputs 3 and 4), a Monitor control, and two 1/4” headphone jacks with dedicated Volume knobs. Red LEDs indicate if channels 1 or 2 are set to high-impedance instrument levels. Yellow lights next to each channel’s Gain knob indicate if the Air feature is activated—stay tuned for more on that. Three green LEDs indicate if power is on, USB connection is active, and confirmation that the clock is synchronized. On the back panel you’ll find four additional 1/4” line inputs, and an optical jack for adding more input channels via a digital preamp. There’s also MIDI In/Out, S/PDIF In/Out, the USB-C out, and four 1/4” line outputs. The Clarett 4Pre USB includes downloadable Focusrite Control software that’s essentially a digital reflection of the hardware, facilitating configuration of the unit for monitoring and other routing. While on location I was able to use it to configure two different headphone mixes assigned to the headphone outputs. Back at home, I used it to configure a powered KRK speaker setup consisting of a pair of V4 desktop monitors and an S8 subwoofer.
I tested the Clarett 4Pre USB as singer-songwriter working out new tunes using a variety of acoustic guitars and signal chains. I ran a direct signal to channel 1 using the Control software to configure the input to instrument level, triggering the INST LED to light. I ran an Audix 5 dynamic mic pointed at the fretboard into channel 2. Channels 3 and 4 with 48V phantom engaged received signals from an AKG C 414 condenser mic placed near the bridge pointing towards the soundhole, and a large diaphragm Audio-Technica 4033a for vocals.
The Clarett’s sound was clear enough to reflect the pure character of each signal. Experimenting with a few Taylor acoustics, I was readily able to identify whether I’d used a magnetic pickup in the soundhole, or an onboard piezo pickup for the direct signal. Furthermore, the miked signals sounded true, making clear the distinction between a Sitka spruce top, and a mellower-sounding cedar top. Adding the Air feature via Control software to the miked signals was somewhat revelatory. It adds life to the high-middle range, and makes the top end truly pop. Percussive acoustic parts sounded particularly excellent via Air, and it made vocals sound wonderfully nuanced as well.
To test the connection speed, I threw down some rather tricky instrumental fingerpicking passages along with Apple Logic Pro X’s built-in Drummer program at ever-increasing tempos. Latency was not an issue. I was lucky to be using a new Mac-Book Pro with serious processing power, and the Clarett kept pace.
Advancements in personal studio technology such as the hi-fidelity analog-to-digital conversion, awesome Air feature, flexible routing, and practically non-existent latency evidenced in Focusrite’s Clarett 4Pre USB make right now an amazing time to be an acoustic songwriter. With the super-portability available via a laptop and a USB connection, this awesome home studio becomes an on-the-go studio, allowing an acoustic player the freedom to capture the inspiration almost anywhere.
Kudos Pristine sound, low latency, and super-portability.