What is Air, and how does it help make better recordings?

What is Air?

Air is a feature found on the mic preamps of every new Focusrite recording interface. Air is designed to transform your recordings, give you options while tracking, and inspire you while making music. In this article, we’ll tell you all about Air and suggest ways you can use it to enhance your sound.

First and foremost, Air is easy to use. It’s a single button-push (or click) that makes vocals shine, adds presence to guitars and makes drum overheads shimmer. In addition, Air is an all-analogue circuit, so there are no latency or timing issues to worry about and the sound produced is clean and clear of artifacts. Air emulates the classic ISA 110 mic preamp found on the Focusrite Studio Console, which has been the sound behind millions of hit records.

Built into Focusrite’s Scarlett, Clarett⁺ and Red range of audio interfaces, the Air circuit brings a new dimension to the voice in particular and is excellent on spoken word where it helps to achieve the classic ‘radio announcer’ voice. However, Air’s use will bring benefits on all your audio sources. Try it on snare drums and acoustic guitar to emphasise transient response, brighten vocals and strings or use it on your room mics to bring additional clarity. An additional benefit is that Air is not genre-specific: it will add punch to rock, brighten pop and bring out the depth and warmth of acoustic music.

What is Air

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How can Air transform my recordings?

As already mentioned, Air is a winner on vocals. When you need to lift a vocal part or spoken word, Air is just a button push away making it very easy to A/B your audio to get the best sound possible. Air will help vocals jump out of a mix, making them more present – try engaging Air for the bass and tenor parts of a choir or backing vocals to obtain a ‘heavenly’ sound.

Recording drums can be a minefield. Adding Air can help cymbals sparkle and you can add sheen to your drum overheads by engaging Air during recording. Discover how Air Mode can enhance your drum recordings with the Clarett 8Pre USB and Clarett Octopre by watching this video:

Air mode on drums

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Air also works well with percussion. With the low-noise preamps on Focusrite interfaces you won’t need to have your microphones right up on the skin of bongos or congas. Try placing a stereo pair of mics about 9” above the drums on the outside edge to ensure a wide stereo image, then engage the Air circuit on both channels to catch the slap of the skin, while at the same time picking up some of the timbre of each instrument.

A commonly used trick for recording acoustic guitars is to record the same part twice, panning one recording hard left and the other hard right. With Air, you can take this technique even further. First, record your guitar part with Air switched off and then record a second pass using a capo and with Air turned on. Although you’ve essentially recorded the same part twice, the recording will sound like two guitars: the first warm, with lots of body and the second, Air-enabled version, open and bright.

Air on solo string instruments or ensembles can really help to brighten the sound. If you are in a good acoustic space, it’s worth trying out a pair of room mics to capture the reverb and add that extra depth to the recording.

What's the difference between Scarlett Air, Clarett+ Air and RED Air?

Scarlett, Clarett⁺ and Red audio interfaces all feature Air, but there are some differences to the Air circuit depending on which interface you choose to use. First, here's what you get with Air on all Focusrite interfaces:

  • A completely analogue circuit
    Air is analogue on all our interfaces; there's no DSP taking place or plug-ins running in the background. This means that Air adds no latency or timing issues to your recording path.

  • Single button press
    Perhaps the best things about Air — other than the sound — is that it's a simple press of a button to engage making it instantly there for you whenever you need it.

  • Low-noise operation
    It’s common for noise to creep in when you when increase the gain on high frequencies. Air is designed to minimise noise and keep your recording clean and pure.

  • Digital control
    Although Air is 100% analogue, you can use Focusrite Control to turn Air on and off using Mac, PC or iOS devices.

The main differences in Air are on Clarett⁺ and Red interfaces:

  • ISA 110 circuitry
    Air packs an additional punch by closely emulating not just the sound, but the circuitry of the original ISA 110 mic preamp from the Focusrite Studio Console.

  • Improved input impedance
    In addition to the 4dB boost at 24kHz provided by the all-analogue filters, Clarett⁺ and Red interfaces also switch the input impedance when Air is engaged, from 6.2kΩ to 2.2kΩ. This change in impedance alters the complex interaction between the microphone and the input circuitry of the preamp, which can completely change the character of the sound you capture, especially with older ribbon and dynamic microphones. For Line and Instrument inputs, the impedance remains the same and only the frequency response changes, with a 4dB boost at 24kHz.

Air brings the heritage of the original Focusrite preamps in an easily accessible way and offers another dimension to your audio. Whatever Focusrite interface you choose for your recording; you can benefit from Air. With the new Clarett⁺ range, though, Air offers even more punch. Learn more about Clarett⁺ here.