Pure Performance: The Improved A-D/D-A Converters of Clarett⁺
Find out why audio interface converter specifications matter
At Focusrite, it’s our aim to make audio recording tools that keep you creative and help you sound your best, and the Clarett+ range is no different. Built around the principle of ‘Clarity Redefined’, Clarett+ interfaces are designed to take your recordings to new places, whether you’re an artist, engineer or a producer.
Key to the clarity improvements of Clarett+ interfaces are redesigned analogue-to-digital (A-D) and digital-to-analogue (D-A) converters, which deliver high dynamic range and ultra-low distortion that allow you to capture cleaner recordings, make clearer mixes and hear stunning detail at all levels. On this page, we’ll explore exactly what’s going on under the hood of Clarett+ interfaces, and explain why specifications matter to your music.
The basics (and importance) of A-D conversion
Before audio can be recorded on a computer, it has to be converted into a digital signal. Only once your guitar, piano, drum kit or vocal take is faithfully represented as a series of numbers can you get the opportunity to mix, effect and process your audio in your DAW.
With digital audio conversion, you only get one shot: there are no second chances with the A-D process. Once your recording’s unique sequence of data is captured, it’s captured. Everything hinges on the quality of the analogue-to-digital converter, the fundamental and most important process in music recording. But how do we know whether our interface of choice is achieving the quality we want? The answer can be found in the numbers — specifically, the figures given in the technical specifications of the interface.
There are several important specifications relating to conversion, each of which can make or break an interface. They are: frequency response, dynamic range and THD+N (Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise). Frequency response specs tell you whether you can trust the conversion to retain the tone of the source. Clarett+’s mic inputs offer an incredibly tight tolerance of ±0.03dB across the range of human hearing from 20Hz to 20kHz. It’s a cast-iron guarantee that the converted signal will, tonally speaking, be indistinguishable from the analogue original.
That’s great, but what if our converters change the sound in other ways? The last thing we want is unwanted noise and distortion creeping into our recordings. Even low levels of grit and grime can become problematic when we’re stacking tens or hundreds of tracks in a large project. This is where the THD+N measurement comes in. It measures the ratio in level between, on the one hand, the unwanted noise and distortion added in the conversion process, and the wanted signal on the other. Clarett+ achieves a stunningly good figure of -110dB on the microphone inputs. Expressed as a percentage, that’s a microscopic 0.0003%. In other words, recordings you make with Clarett+ reach state-of-the-art levels of purity. If you want distortion on your recordings, you’ll have to add it yourself.
The third and most important specification of a converter is dynamic range: the ratio between the highest signal level that a system can represent, and the noise floor of that system. An inadequate dynamic range forces you to set levels really carefully, because you’re constantly at risk either of overloading the inputs on the one hand, or ending up with a noisy recording on the other. With Clarett+, the second problem simply doesn’t exist. The 118dB dynamic range of the A-D converters means you can leave as much headroom as you like when tracking, safe in the knowledge that any noise in your recordings is coming from somewhere else.
Numbers aren’t only important on the input side. You’ll find similar measurements given for the outputs of your audio interface, too, and they can matter just as much in this context. When we’re mixing, we need to be certain that any colouration or distortion we’re hearing is in the track, not the system. And when we’re sending audio out to be processed by hardware compressors or EQs, we don’t want the quality to suffer just by making the trip.
Dynamic range can be even more vital. We need to know that we have the level available to play our mix out really loud, whether that’s to impress a client, check how it will sound in a club, or make it audible over a live drum kit. But we also need to know that if we turn the volume right down and work at a conversational level, we’re not going to be missing any details or hearing audible hiss. Again, Clarett+ offers exceptional performance, with a massive 124dB dynamic range, THD+N down at -106dB and ruler-flat frequency response.
Specifications vs real-world performance
Invest in Clarett+, then, and you won’t get left behind in the numbers game. You’ll be getting audio performance that is measurably and objectively excellent. But doesn’t every audio interface offer outstanding specifications these days? Yes — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it achieves them. Realising the potential of converter components in a real-world circuit is easier said than done. It requires expertise in analogue electronics, PCB layout, power-supply design and more. With 40 years in the audio industry, Focusrite has that expertise, and we continue to apply these decades of experience in all of our products. For Clarett+, as for all Focusrite products, the specifications you read describe the performance you are getting.
So hopefully this piece has given you a better understanding of A-D/D-A conversion, and the power of the Clarett+ range of interfaces. We take audio design seriously and build in excellent design to our products so you can focus on your creative process. As a result, your music sounds better, you make your most inspiring work, and you are empowered to become a more accomplished artist, engineer or producer. Good luck on your journey!
Words: Sam Pryor