Following on from the Clarett 8Pre, the 8PreX and the little 2Pre, the imaginatively named 4Pre has now made it to the shops. These unexpectedly red-fronted audio interfaces are Focusrite’s entry into the small, but expanding world of Thunderbolt devices. What perhaps makes them unique is that they were the first major interface manufacturer to bring Thunderbolt devices to market for under a grand, and with the 4Pre being introduced at 499 GBP it’s good to see this sort of technology making it into the hands of the more budget conscious. The numbers in audio interface names seem to make less and less sense but here Focsurite are singling out the microphone preamps as the reason behind their nomenclature.
The Clarett 4Pre, then, has four of the specially designed Clarett mic pres along with four other line inputs, eight outputs and S/PDIF. They include a special feature called “Air” which switches in an analogue model of the classic transformer-based Focusrite ISA mic preamp – it makes you wonder why with such a classic sound it’s not a permanent feature rather than a switchable one. The first two preamps can also act as instrument inputs and phantom powering is available per pair. The specs on the 4Pre (and the whole Clarett range) are impressively high, citing 24bit/192KHz conversion with up to 99dB dynamic range which is the sort of performance you’d expect to find in the very high-end interfaces, making the 499 GBP price point even more attractive. The looks and layout, though, are very standard fair with the only highlight being the MIDI In/Out and an optical input that can expand on the eight analogue inputs and S/PDIF to give you 18 inputs in total.
One of the attractions of Thunderbolt is the data throughput which can put USB and Firewire to shame, however, regular USB2 has more than enough bandwidth to cope with this level of multi-channel In and Out, so Thunderbolt is less about data and more about latency. Focusrite have been criticised in the past for the less than stellar performance of their USB audio drivers – the Saffire range still find themselves on the bottom of the well regarded DawBench.com latency performance rating list – so it’s really good to see them making latency a focus of this interface. They are reportedly capable of 1.38ms round trip latency at 64 samples in Pro Tools which is indeed impressive; the Saffire’s driver would struggle to get under 10ms.
OS support is currently only on OSX although they are currently working on Windows drivers and would be a great boost to Thunderbolt on the PC once they’ve sorted that out. And don’t forget that you’ll need to buy a Thunderbolt cable separately because they don’t come in the box for no reason I can fathom.
More information: https://uk.focusrite.com/thunderbolt-audio-interfaces/clarett-4pre