Latency, Conversion, Mic Pres & Ease of Use

Give your recordings some ‘Air’

The key to getting an analogue signal into your DAW is the microphone preamplifier – with its associated line and instrument inputs. Mic pres were among the very first modules that the original Focusrite company ever produced, thirty years ago, when master console designer Rupert Neve was commissioned by Sir George Martin to create a new series of console modules for his AIR Studios: we have plenty of experience behind us. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Clarett mic pre, designed specially for the range, delivers very low noise indeed: an impressive –128dB EIN. That, combined with its low distortion, ultra-linear design and carefully chosen components, guarantees a clean, open and transparent sound that gives the most accurate representation of the original performance.

But there’s more to it than that. Mic preamps are very subjective things. There’s a complex interaction between the mic impedance and the input impedance of the preamp that can completely change the character of the sound you capture. Increase the input impedance and you enhance the clarity, transparency and accuracy of the sound. Reduce it, to a point, and you begin to bring out the innate character of the microphone. There is a time and a place for each. That’s why, with Clarett, we let you choose between the two, with a switchable “Air” effect emulating the sound of our classic transformer-based ISA preamps, and matching their input impedance. ‘Air’ harks back to our earlier designs, and in particular the ISA Range, acclaimed around the world for its signature sound – the sound behind thousands of hit records. The original Rupert Neve designs, and in particular their transformer-coupled mic preamps, were the inspiration for Focusrite’s acclaimed Red Range that formed the basis for today’s range of ISA ‘Heritage Sound’ products. ‘Air’ is the name our customers first coined as a simple description of the effect the ISA Preamp added to their sound recordings. There are three main elements that contribute to the classic ‘Air’ effect.

  • Coupling – the interaction between the microphone and the ISA’s mic pre input transformer.
  • Clarity – created by the low distortion and high linearity of the transformer and preamp design.
  • Frequency – a subtle enhancement created by the transformer resonance resulting in an emphasis in the higher frequency content of the sound.

The ‘Air’ setting on a Clarett interface emulates these factors in the analogue domain. Engaging the setting on the Clarett Mic Preamp switches the impedance of the preamp to that of the original ISA and enables the ‘transformer resonance effect’, giving your microphone recordings the air and clarity of an ISA transformer-based mic pre recording. ‘Air’ is useful with any microphone, but in particular listen to the benefits with vintage microphones for which this input impedance was originally intended. There are some extra little touches to the Clarett mic pre, too – such as a special gain curve for the input level controls so they work smoothly and intuitively rather offering the conventional “all or nothing” approach.

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Conversion as Art and Science

Focusrite has been in the converter business almost as long as the mic pre business – since the release of the Blue Range A/D and D/A converters in 1995. Like preamps, it’s an art we know inside out. Clarett’s 192kHz/24-bit converters deliver up to 118dB (A/D) / 119dB (D/A) real-world dynamic range, letting you capture every nuance and subtlety whether you’re recording or mixing. A couple of decades ago, digital conversion was a kind of ‘dark art’, where theories were still being developed, discoveries made, and a few individuals were able to get impressive results by breaking the rules. Today, we can argue that this is no longer the case. The rules are established and well-known; the vast majority of converter chips in the same class offer the same kind of performance; and the art of conversion today is about how you use them, and whether or not you are prepared to take the trouble to get the best out of them.

Careful circuit design, choice of components, and even board layout have a part to play. Multi-layer boards provide internal ground-planes to reduce noise. Keeping analogue and digital parts of the circuit separate can reduce the likelihood of spiky digital clocking and other noise getting into sensitive analogue components. And of course component quality and selection are important considerations too. It’s easy to play the numbers game with digital conversion, and believe a system is better because it looks good on paper, but in fact listening to it (or listening to someone who has) will tell you what you need to know: how clean the sound is, how low the noise, and how much like the original it sounds. Of course the numbers can help you evaluate an interface, as long as they’re real – and when we say that Clarett offers up to 119dB dynamic range via its D/A, we measured that in the real world, with a real interface: it’s not simply the number from the chip’s data sheet.

Revolutionise your workflow with Clarett

If you’re used to having to put together two mixes every time you record – a stripped-down minimum-latency mix for overdubbing; and a regular DAW mix for playback with all your favourite plug-ins – you’ll find Clarett a refreshing change. Thanks to its low-latency design and the inbuilt speed of the Thunderbolt interface, Clarett offers just 1.67ms round-trip latency*. That means you can bring up the best possible DAW mix and use it all the time, with all your favourite plugins in place, and monitor the input only on the track you’re recording – like the traditional overdub mode that studios have used since the beginnings of multitrack recording.

You’re also free to use your favourite plugins while you record – to add reverb to a vocal, for example, or play guitar through your preferred amplifier simulator. You can even use virtual instruments in real time in a live performance. Take advantage of the vast range of plugins available, including great-sounding freebies, to create the perfect recording path on every channel. And create custom monitor setups for both you and your artists with the new Focusrite Control software mixer. Clarett by Focusrite – the faster Thunderbolt interface by the world’s leading audio interface company.

(*Logic Pro X @ 96kHz, 32-sample buffer – see below for the full latency chart)

Roundtrip Latency Performance

Round Trip Latency* (ms) tested at 96kHz on OS 10.11 and Mac Pro

Buffer Size Logic Pro X Cubase Pro 8 Pro Tools 12 Pro Tools 11 Ableton Live Reaper 5
32 1.67 1.67 n/a n/a 2.09 1.68
64 2.34 2.34 3.03 3.00 2.42 2.34
128 3.67 3.68 5.03 5.00 3.75 3.68

Round Trip Latency (ms) tested at 48kHz on OS 10.11 and Mac Pro

Buffer Size Logic Pro X Cubase Pro 8 Pro Tools 12 Pro Tools 11 Ableton Live Reaper 5
32 2.58 2.59 3.25 3.27 3.42 2.61
64 3.91 3.93 5.26 5.26 4.08 3.94
128 6.58 6.60 7.92 7.93 6.75 6.60

Round Trip Latency (ms) tested at 96 kHz on Windows 10 and a Molten Music Technology X99 machine

Buffer Size Cubase Pro 8 Ableton Live 9 Pro Tools 12 Reaper 5
32 2.9 3.2 n/a 2.8
64 3.6 3.6 3.5 3.4
128 5.3 5.3 5.3 5.2

Round Trip Latency (ms) tested at 48 kHz on Windows 10 and a Molten Music Technology X99 machine

Buffer Size Cubase Pro 8 Ableton Live 9 Pro Tools 12 Reaper 5
32 4.1 4.8 4.1 4.0
64 5.8 5.8 5.8 5.6
128 9.8 10.5 9.8 9.6

Why Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt is a little different to interfaces like USB and FireWire. It brings the PCI Express interface – used for super fast graphics cards and other slots inside the computer – out to external devices. It’s not so much an interface as a bus that gives you direct access to the machine’s inner workings. And as a result, it’s ideal for audio, with exceptionally high speed and correspondingly low latency – making possible the astonishingly low round-trip latency figures that Clarett offers – and unparalleled flexibility. At Focusrite, we’re convinced that Thunderbolt is the interface of the future – especially in the creative professional environment – and the Clarett range demonstrates many of the significant benefits that Thunderbolt provides. With development continuing, promising enhanced performance and capabilities in the future, we believe that Thunderbolt is here to stay.

About the ADAT Interface

Originally developed for connecting 8-track ADAT recorders, the ADAT optical standard has been widely adopted as it provides a compact and simple-to-use digital interface that can carry up to eight channels of digital audio via common "TOSlink" digital audio lightpipes. The Clarett OctoPre includes twin ADAT input and output ports. One port is sufficient to carry eight channels at 44.1 or 48 kHz sampling, while two are used for eight channels at 88.2/96 kHz. Two ports can carry four channels at 176.4/192 kHz.