Focusrite has expanded their Pro series of audio interfaces with the new Red 8Line; because of its name, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Red 8Line was a simple 8-channel line level interface. Nothing could be further from the truth! Yes, there are 8 channels of analog line level inputs and outputs (individually selectable between reference levels of +18 dBu or +24 dBu) with AD/DA dynamic ranges of 119 dB and 122 dB respectively, but that’s only the beginning. On the front panel of the single rack space unit are also two instrument DI inputs that can replace line inputs 1 and 2. Furthermore, these first two channels can also be switched to mic inputs using the two XLR inputs on the back, and they feed a pair of Focusrite’s Red Evolution preamps found in their RedNet series of interfaces and 4Pre/8Pre interfaces [Tape Op #120]. The preamps have phantom power, polarity invert, an 80 Hz high-pass filter, and Focusrite’s Air mode, designed to mimic the harmonics generated by their transformer-based ISA preamps – this is an analog process that occurs before A/D conversion.
The Red 8Line is a Mac and PC compatible Thunderbolt 3 and Avid mini-DigiLink audio interface. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports also allow for daisy-chaining other peripherals. Primary and Secondary mini-DigiLink ports, coaxial SPDIF I/O, 16-channels of Lightpipe I/O (S/MUX capable for 8 channels at 2x sample rates), two Dante CAT6 ports, a pair of 1/4-inch TRS monitor outputs, Word Clock, Loop Sync I/O, and finally, two independent, assignable headphone jacks on the front panel all makes for an incredible amount of I/O (58-inputs/64-outputs) in a single space rack unit!
Routing and monitoring volume, as well as I/O metering, can be handled from the front panel with a pair of multi-function encoder knobs and three LCDs. For more involved routing – with the ability to save up to eight custom software mixes – the RedNet Control2 application is installed on your computer and talks via Thunderbolt directly to the hardware. These settings are saved to the Red 8Line, so they can be run independently of the computer in a remote situation. Focusrite also provides a free iOS control app that can command the routing and levels of the Red 8Line from an iPhone or iPad – I found this handy during testing to adjust the headphone volume of the unit while sitting behind my drum kit, 20-feet away.
When connecting to your computer via Thunderbolt, the Red 8Line uses Focusrite’s ultra-low latency Core Audio (Mac) or ASIO drivers (PC). I had zero issues running Pro Tools 2021.3 Ultimate and Logic Pro X at a buffer of 64 samples on my Mac Pro via Thunderbolt. When connected to my Avid HD Native card, the Red 8Line automatically appears to Pro Tools as a 32-channel HD I/O and reports correct hardware insert latencies – very slick!
Let’s talk about Dante for a second. Many of you may know that this is an Audio over IP (AoIP) system developed by Audinate that is scalable and networkable when using standard Ethernet switches. Hundreds of channels of 24- or 32-bit audio at sample rates up to 192 kHz can be run over hundreds of feet using a single Ethernet cable – this is incredibly powerful. Studios have been wired using Dante for not only thier main audio interfaces but also headphone boxes for the artists, monitor controllers, etc. Sadly, I didn’t have any additional Dante-enabled hardware to interface with the Red 8Line, but it would happily accept an additional 32-channels of input via a single Cat6 cable, making for an incredibly expandable system that has the future-proof, network-capable power of the Dante system.
Now for the really important part – how does the Red 8Line sound? Amazing! I tracked drums and bass through this interface, feeding it from my outboard preamps, while also using the built-in DI input on a bass track, and the converters are truly fantastic. The headphone amps are genuinely usable, with plenty of gain for even high-impedance cans. I patched the line outs straight to my Genelec SAM [Tape Op #133] 5.1 monitoring rig and mixed a bunch of tracks in both stereo and surround. I never once felt I was missing something in what the converters were providing, and if anything, they might be producing a cleaner lowest octave than my current converters.
During my testing period, I kept the Red 8Line perched in front of the left rack of my Argosy console desk [Tape Op #38], only a foot and a half from my main sitting position. There are two fans on that side of the Focusrite, and I never once heard them while working, so that’s a huge bonus to know that when racked properly they should also be completely inaudible.
I had zero issues with the Red 8Line during my testing period. Swapping out interfaces/converters can sometimes be a nail-biting experience with driver updates, OS incompatibilities, etc., but it plumbed straight into my system painlessly, and the ability to switch between Thunderbolt or DigiLink on my computer was an added bonus. I can’t recommend this unit highly enough, and as I write this I’m scheming how to swap over to a 24-channel analog I/O system based around the Red line while using Focusrite’s RedNet R1 monitor controller and AM2 headphone amps for a fully networked room.