I have not tried to hide the fact that I love the way the audio interface market is going at this point in time. The fact that you can now buy just the one interface and be able to connect it to your audio system in a number of different ways nothing short of fantastic.
It was not that long ago that if you wanted an Avid DigiLink compatible interface to run with your Pro Tools HD, HDX, HD Native or HD Thunderbolt Native systems but, you also wanted to make recordings on the move and be connected via USB or Thunderbolt then you were forced to invest in a second or even third interface. Some companies created interfaces with a different host connecting options via swappable cards but changing connectivity format could be time-consuming and fiddly. Enter those forward thinking folks at Focusrite with the Red4 Pre.
The Focusrite Red 4Pre launched in March 2016 and I did 3 separate reviews about its connectivity options. Part 1 covered hooking the Red 4Pre up to my HDX card with two Mini-Digilink cables and tracking drums. Part 2 covered recording Bass and Guitar using the Thunderbolt connectivity and Part 3 looked at using the Red 4Pre at a DANTE interface with the DVS (DANTE Virtual Soundcard).
So What Is New In the Red 8Pre?
As you might expect it's all in the name. The 4 in the Red 4Pre refers to the 4 Red Evolution mic pres that are accessible via XLR connectors on the rear panel of the unit. The Red 8Pre has 8 of the stunning sounding Red Evolution mics pres on board but this time to save on back panel real-estate, connection is via a 25 pin D-Sub style connection. The Red 8 Pre also benefits from 16 line outs over 2 D-Subs rather than the 4Pre's 8 over 1 D-Sub. Other than that analogue audio connectivity one the Red 8 Pre is exactly the same as the Red 4Pre with 2 Mini DigiLink connectors, 2 pairs of ADAT optical I/O, 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports, SPDIF, Word Clock I/O, Avid Loop sync, 2 RJ45 connectors for DANTE and the "kettle" connector for power.
The only difference around the front of the Red 8Pre is that it has 8 input selection buttons as opposed to 4 on the 4Pre. Push and hold the input selection buttons to go into the control for that input to enable you to switch between the input types be that Mic, Line or front panel instrument input (channel 1 and 2 only) and control other input stage features like 48V Phantom power, high pass filter, Air band on/off and polarity switching. Sonically the two units sound exactly the same which is one of the reasons this is a written review rather than one of my video reviews. What you are gaining is 4 more great sounding mic pres in the 1U box.
There are also some slight variations when it comes to input and output routing. You can see in the chart to the right exactly how the Red 8 Pre appears in your DAW channel routing page. I have this printed out by the side of my console too so I can route and patch I/O quickly without too much brain power.
The chart is the I/O Routing for the Red 8Pre running at 44.1 or 48KHz. Remember however as the sample rate doubles the number of available channel travelling down an ADAT optical cables halves. Other I/O routing charts are available from the Focusrite web page
Working With The Red 8 Pre
Very often when reviewing equipment we as testers have to turn around reviews quite quickly. We don't get to live with a product. However, I have been lucky enough to have the Red 8 Pre on extended loan from Focusrite which has really allowed me to get to know it and build it into my workflow. So rather than just tell you how great it sounds, I thought I would let you know how I have been using the Red 8 Pre and how it fits into both my studio and my life recording rigs.
Working On The Windows Platform
Oh, and it was going so well. As of January 2017, I am a Windows user. My main studio machine is an HP Z840 running Windows 10. When I use the Red 8Pre in Pro Tools HDX mode this is not an issue. The Pro Tools software sees the Red 8Pre as 4 Avid HD IO units and all is well. As a user of this system for some time, I have correctly labelled the IO in Pro Tools with the I/O of the Red 8Pre. The story is different when using the Red 8 as a Thunderbolt interface as so far the Red 8Pre is not supported by Windows. Really? Come on Focusrite, you did a cracking job on your Thunderbolt Windows drivers for the Clarrett range which are the only Windows drivers I have seen where you don't need to restart Pro Tools if you change the Buffer Size. I'm sure they are on the case but come on, get it sorted. The Mac drivers are however excellent and the Focusrite Control software is very easy to use and allows the Red 8Pre to record with no noticeable latency at a buffer of 256 samples.
In The Studio
As I said before, we get to test, try and review a lot of great toys but the Red 8Pre has become part of my studio workflow. I have it hooked up to my HDX card which sits in my WorkStation Pros HP Z840 machine. The analogue audio connections are routed the first 16 channels of my Audient ASP 8024 console. In this configuration, I have the first 8 channels set to line Input with 0dB of gain thus giving me 16 channels to and from the console.
I also have a short D-Sub to XLR-F which allows me to record directly into the Red 8 Pre without the need for the console. This is very handy when I record interviews in the studio or the weekly Pro Tools Expert Podcast.
As you can probably guess I am not in the habit of taking my HP-840 PC and HDX rig on the road for a location recording gig. This is a job for the Red 8Pre in Thunderbolt mode hooked up to my 2016 MacBook Pro. Now, I have on the odd chance had the opportunity to hook a DANTE mic pre (like the Focusrite MP8R) to the Red 8 but for a couple of recent live recording gigs, I have used the new Focusrite Scarlett OctoPre and OctoPre Dynamic (review to follow). This gives me another 16 channels of mic pres on XLR input to add to the 8 channels build into the Red 8Pre, addressed via D-Sub.
As you can see in the images above there are some connectivity issues that you really must address then using an external ADAT optical connected mic pres. This is not specific to using the Red Pre but to any devices where there is a digital connection. You can see on the rear panel picture the 2 Toslink cables which carry 8 channels of audio each (8 from the Scarlett OctoPre Dynamic on top and 8 from the Scarlett OctoPre in the middle). I have also used BNC terminated 75 Ohm cables to link the units via Wordclock. In short, this is the sync clocking signal keeps all the devices digital clocks lined up to avoid any clicks or pops in the audio. Now I totally agree that there is a perfectly good clock signal embedded in the ADAT signal that can be used, however, ADAT sync is only point to point or master to slave, which is fine if I was only using 1 ADAT mic pre but using 2 makes it a lot more tricky.
I'm also a great believer that your master clock source should be one of your most expensive links in the chain, not the cheapest. I am quite sure the Red 8Pre has a more stable clock and clock generator than the Scarlett Octopre units. The price alone must dictate this so it makes sense to use the Red 8 Pre as the clock master and slave all other digitally connected devices from it.
As with the Red 4Pre, I really do believe that Focusrite hit a home run with the Red 4 and now the Red 8Pre units. They sound great which is always the most important thing. The connectivity and routing options are almost endless making these units the ideal for so many music and post facilities and with the number of DANTE add-ons that are now starting to come to market the Red 8Pre has to be a serious contender for any educational facility. I'm sure the Focusrite coding folks are working on their Windows drivers and routing software so with a bit of luck my main issue will be solved. However, would this stop me buying one? Not for all the coffee in Seattle.