Focusrite OctoPre LE
review
Focusrite OctoPre LE
Take a unit that helped to define a genre and then strip it back and make it cheaper — is that ‘Lite’ or a different box altogether?
JON THORNTON wrestles with another OctoPre.
I
’M NOT A GREAT FAN of the ‘LE’ tag, as
it implies that somehow you’re being shortchanged, or at very least compromised on
features and performance in favour of price. The
original OctoPre (UK£552 +VAT) is a smart little
unit, featuring 8 channels of mic preamp each with
a clever and simple to use dynamics processor to
aid the process of tracking to DAWs. The OctoPre
LE (UK£297 +VAT) is also, fundamentally, an 8channel mic preamp — so what has changed to earn
it that LE designation?
Starting with the front panel, the most noticeable
difference is the absence of any form of dynamics
processing — this is a preamp pure and simple. Each
of the eight channels has a rotary gain control, a
switchable high pass filter (12dB/octave at 120Hz)
and a single LED indicating signal clipping. The first
two channels have the ability to switch their input
impedance to a lower level of 150ohms rather than
the standard 2.5kohms, and the first input channel
alone has the addition of a phase reverse switch.
Phantom power is available but with a single switch
applying this globally to all channels rather than
individually per channel.
This lightening of the feature set on most of
the channels clears a lot of front panel real estate,
and this has been used for 8 line level inputs on
1/4-inch TRS jack sockets. Plugging anything into
these inputs automatically overrides the XLR mic
inputs on the rear panel and alters the gain range of
the amplifier accordingly. The first two channels are
also capable of accepting a high impedance source
from an electric instrument via these inputs, selected
via a switch on the channel in question, which
makes for quick and easy DIing.
The rear panel houses 8 XLR sockets for mic level
inputs, and balanced line level outputs on 1/4-inch
TRS Jacks. An external power supply feeds the unit
via a 3-pin connector. In the current day and age a
unit like this really can’t survive without some form
of digital interfacing, and this is offered as an option.
Currently the only option is a card providing ADAT
lightpipe interfacing at sample rates of 44.1kHz or
48kHz. Front panel controls allow the selection of
sample rates, or the selection of an external TTL
Word clock or 256x Superclock. Word clock output
30
is also available on the rear panel if the OctoPre LE
needs to be configured as the master clock source.
Interestingly, the digital card has a lightpipe
input as well as an output — in other words the
card has A-DC and D-AC capability, which is a
useful bonus. Not only does this allow the unit to
synchronise to an embedded ADAT clock, but the
analogue outputs on the back of the unit can be
switched to output the 8 channels of ADAT format
input, rather than the output of the preamps.
This means, for example, that the OctoPre LE can
be providing eight channels of input to a DAW
digitally, while simultaneously providing up to 7.1
monitoring from the DAW.
It’s obvious so far that the OctoPre LE has
undergone a significant feature cull when compared
to the original. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to have
extended to the quality of the preamps themselves,
which are based on the designs of Focusrite’s Green
range. There are no surprises here, as on a variety
of different microphones the unit proved capable
of resolving good levels of detail, with the kind of
transparency and openness that most people will
associate with the Focusrite brand. Not a device
that is gong to add a distinctive sonic character to
a sound, it nevertheless extracts a useful amount of
information from most sources with no fuss and little
in the way of unwanted noise.
A subject I haven’t touched on yet is metering, as
this is one aspect of the unit I found a little strange.
As mentioned earlier, each channel has a single LED
indicating clipping, set at +22dBu, which corresponds
to 0dBFS at the A-DC stage. The unit also has a
circular mechanical meter, calibrated in dBFS, with
an associated switch that allows it to toggle through
each of the eight channels to show peak signal level
for that channel. The clip LED on the channel being
metered illuminates to show which one is currently
selected. Although the ballistics of the meter seem
reasonably fast, and the meter undoubtedly shows
the ballpark that a signal is in, I can’t help thinking
that I would have been more comfortable with even
a relatively coarsely stepped LED bargraph in this
particular application.
Overall, the OctoPre LE is most definitely a
‘Lite’ version of the original — to the extent that
it’s almost a different beast entirely. Yes, corners
have been cut and features omitted, largely in the
interest of saving costs. This has been done with
obvious thought though, and I can see the target
market that Focusrite has for this box — the front
panel inputs, clever D-AC and A-DC capability, and
the implication that some functions are only ever
going to be used on one channel at a time — these
all point to a home in any small project studio. The
preamps themselves are certainly up to the job, and
you get a lot of them for your money. But in other
applications, for example live recording which the
original OctoPre excels in, you’ll need to decide
whether you can live with the limitations of global
phantom power, only one phase reverse switch,
and a 48kHz limit on the A-DC. ■
Contact
FOCUSRITE, UK:
Website: www.focusrite.com
PROS
Cheap; preamps faithful to Focusrite values; useful D-AC capability.
CONS
Metering; not all features available on every channel; 48kHz limit on A-DC option.
EXTRAS
The original OctoPre provides 8 channels of Focusrite Class A mic pre and compression routing directly
to a DAW via eight analogue outputs or a choice of optional convertors. Each channel’s compressor/
limiter circuit has a ‘warm-sounding’ compressor that ‘morphs’ into a brick wall limiter.
resolution
October 2005
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