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Tomaz Sá 7th December 2021 04:09 PM

Hitmaking with Focusrite
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Sponsored by Focusrite

Long after the dawn of affordable home studio recording, “those Focusrite red boxes” are ever-present in our imaginations. Now in their 3rd generation of being a go-to tool for so many musicians and producers around the world, the company’s wide range of audio interfaces continues to support the 2-input bedroom artists as effectively as the most experienced industry pros. Last autumn, Focusrite offered their Clarett product range’s new customers the ‘Hitmaker Expansion’, a special limited-time software bundle that included hand-picked plugins to help their interface owners all the way through the signal chain from mic to master - and now this fantastic selection of premium tools is back, not only for Clarett but also now available to Scarlett and Red interface owners as well.

Before we jump to the Hitmaker Expansion’s eligible hardware, let’s take a look at what’s inside the box itself.

The Plug-ins

With a focus on ease-of-use, tonal accuracy and high overall sound quality, the Hitmaker Expansion features an exceptional set of curated plug-ins, from virtual instruments to mastering tools and renowned classic softwares including:

Antares Auto-Tune Access

Auto-Tune is the absolute benchmark for pitch correction and vocal effects plugins, introduced in 1997 and continually updated & refined over time. Auto-Tune Access is the simplest version to use, offering Auto-Tune’s primary parameters and a lighter CPU load.

Relab LX480 Essentials

Modeled after Lexicon’s world famous LX480L hardware reverb. The modeled unit in question was from the legendary Hit Factory Studios in New York City, no less. The studio was the source of seemingly endless hits with major artists like John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Beyoncé and many others making platinum records within its walls on an alarmingly regular basis. The LX480 Essentials plug-in’s interface is based on the original unit’s iconic white fader ‘sliders’ - aka the LARC (Lexicon Alphanumeric Remote Control) where you can choose between ‘Plate', ‘Ambience’, ‘Hall’ and ‘Room’ algorithms and move its control sliders, setting reverb time, low cut, high cut, pre-delay and wet/dry balance. Underneath them there are Undo/Redo buttons to help you A/B your settings. Add to this an excellent set of presets to choose from and you will easily achieve your desired reverb sound.

There are loads of comparison videos out there showing what this can do next to the real deal and needless to say, they are impressive and worth a watch if you have time - hit up your favourite video site to watch!

Softube Marshall Silver Jubilee 2555

The Silver Jubilee was modelled after a series of Marshall amps released during the late 80’s to celebrate Marshall’s 25th anniversary. The rare and limited edition nature of it quickly instated it as a collector’s piece, but rather than fight for one of questionable provenance on an auction site, you can now get the next best thing thanks to the boffins at Softube. Based on the 2203 and 2204 models of the JCM800, the SJ amps had improved features such as the ability to switch between ‘Clean’, ‘Rhythm Clip’ and ‘Lead’ gain modes.The Silver Jubilee is said to present a smoother, darker, silkier and less-aggressive tone in comparison to other Marshall amps of that era. For this plug-in, Softube invited one of AC/DC’s classic engineers (and Q&A guest) Tony Platt to capture the Silver Jubilee’s sound to offer users mix-ready tone. The plug-in comes with a ‘channel strip’ feature too where you can adjust mic and room options and blend them as you like which is very useful in order to get that room-filling guitar sound.

XLN Audio Addictive Drums 2

As a guitar and bass player, this writer was stunned when a friend presented me with the first version of this incredible plugin about fourteen years ago because using it was, quite simply, effortless - I could easily design my own drums to play along with, or just pick through its extensive beats library with time-matching controls. With ADDrums 2 you can either insert it on a track and make the most of its’ own engine & toolbox (where you have a internal mixer together with effects modules and editable MIDI) or you may want to make use of the multi-output feature and process each piece of the kit in its own track as you might with a real drum set. In the Hitmaker Expansion you get the Studio Rock Expansion ADpak that gives you a Japan made Tama Starclassic kit with two extra Pearl piece options (a 22x16” Masterworks kick and a 14x7” Ferrone Signature snare) as well as production-ready presets and MIDI beats.

XLN Audio Addictive Keys

Addictive Keys may be one of the most complete keyboard-based virtual instruments on the market, doing for keys what its older brother Addictive Drums did for, well, drums. Addictive Keys is fully-loaded with per-instrument tonal control, custom microphone perspectives, many effects modules, expandable library and extensive routing possibilities. During installation, Hitmaker Expansion gives you the choice of one of four ADKeys instruments - Modern Upright (based on a Yamaha U3 Upright Piano), Studio Grand (based on a Steinway Model D Grand Piano), Electric Grand (based on the Yamaha CP-80 Electric Piano) and the Mark One (based on the Rhodes Mk.1). Except for Studio Grand with six recording perspectives, all of them have seven different microphone recording perspectives and many superb presets for you to play through.

Brainworx bx_oberhausen

Another virtual instrument modelled after a stone-cold classic, bx_oberhausen was created to emulate Oberheim’s first analog synthesizer, the Oberheim SEM (Synthesizer Expander Module). Already known for its excellence in effects plugins development, Brainworx outdid themselves with this by using their proprietary TMT - Tolerance Modelling Technology - designed to “accurately replicate individual component variations specified by the manufacturer” - or in layman’s terms - to get your digital to sound more analogue, just hit that TMT switch to get some per-voice analogue mojo! Originally designed as a monophonic synth supplement the SEM returns in an expanded form in this brainworx recreation with up to 32-voice polyphony allowing users to create ‘impossible’ sounds in - ie, stuff you could not do on the original hardware!. Check out to hear some vintage synth vibe (in modern plug-in form) for yourself.

Brainworx bx_console Focusrite SC

Leaving the creation softwares aside for a sec, we move into the realm of mixing and mastering with this next tool - the stellar Focusrite Channel Strip, based on the (ultra-rare) Focusrite Studio Console. The bx_Console Focusrite SC is approved and endorsed by Focusrite and just as with the bx_oberhausen plug-in it also employs Brainworx component-by-component TMT modelling technology. The Focusrite SC plugin provides the most accurate emulations of the ISA-110 EQ and ISA-130 Dynamic Modules to date, offering Focusrite Studio Console’s EQ, comp/limiter, de-ess and expander/gate processing capabilities with additional mods as a THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) control and a Virtual Gain knob.

Brainworx bx_masterdesk

Mastering: quick and easy? Kinda sounds too good to be true right? In fact… Designed by brainworx owner Dirk Ulrich, MasterDesk provides super simple adjustment of all the essential parameters needed for mastering and loudness. According to Ulrich, mastering with bx_masterdesk can be done in just three simple steps: turning the volume up, setting the ‘foundation’ to your master - (a big knob on the right that adjusts the overall tonality of your mix by balancing the relation between low and high end) - adjusting the tone stack and boom! Beyond the basics, there are plenty more things you can do with this software like tweaking the ‘Stereo Enhancer’ to really widen that synth ping-pong or hitting the ‘Turbo Mode’ for hard-limiting a heavy-metal or club mix.

Focusrite Red 2 & 3 Plug-in Suite

Modelled after the Focusrite Red 2 (EQ) and Red 3 (Compressor) stereo hardware processors, those classic Red Range rack units were widely used pieces in studios all around the world (and still are!) - with most pretty much sought-after since their release in the early 90s. Although they use the same circuit topology as the ISA-110 and ISA-130 respectively, Red 2 and 3 have their own signature sound, giving yet another sweet mix tool in this already bursting set of neat audio tools.

The Hardware Options

Now that we’ve covered what Hitmaker’s tools can do for your project, let’s go through the hardware options starting with Focusrite’s best seller, the Scarlett range.
Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen Interfaces

Scarlett interfaces are divided into the Solo, 2i2, 4i4, 8i6, 18i8 and 18i20 models. Solo is the most compact, equipped with one mic pre and one instrument input in the front and a stereo line output in the back. Next up the chain we’ve got the 2i2 (2 ins / 2 outs), the 4i4 (4 ins / 4 outs) and so on until you hit the 18i20, the flagship of the Scarlett fleet. The connectability varies between them of course, with analogue D-Sub, MIDI, S/PDIF, ADAT, etc. - you can simply choose what fits your needs best based on I/O count and what you need to plug in!

All the Scarlett interfaces come with Easy Start, a plug & play software helper that guides you step-by-step through installation, configuration and software downloads, and you also have access to two flavours of DAW without having to spend another penny - ProTools First and/or Ableton Live Lite - and of course, the Hitmaker Expansion plug-ins top off the whole package.

Stepping up from Scarlett range comes the new Clarett+ range. Designed for the more experienced user, the Clarett+ lineup is divided into three models: the 2Pre, 4Pre and 8Pre. As their name suggests, they are equipped with 2, 4 and 8 combo connection preamp inputs respectively. Described as ‘premium-quality USB interfaces’ by the manufacturer, Clarett+ offers distinguished preamps with the Focusrite “big studio” heritage, which are both better sounding and have higher headroom than the predecessor range (the original Clarett without a ‘+’) - and as a bonus, optical inputs are included on all three models for future expansion.
Focusrite Red 16Line Interface front and back

Saving the best for the last, we have the top-tier Red range rounding out the lineup. Being part of the Focusrite PRO line the Red interfaces are designed to blend into bigger systems and directed towards audio professionals in larger and/or more complex studio rigs. The Red lineup currently consists of the RedNet R1, Red 4Pre, Red 8Pre, Red 8Line and Red 16Line models, and this premium pro-quality range offers wide connectivity including audio-over-IP (via Dante) and Thunderbolt technology to seamlessly integrate your analogue and digital studio gear.

Sound heritage in the push of a button

Focusrite was founded in 1985 by the legendary console designer Rupert Neve, with the flagship product being the pristine ISA 110 (ISA is short for ‘Input Signal Amplifier’) preamps, borne out of a request from acclaimed Beatles producer Sir George Martin. The ISA preamp modules were packed with Lundahl LL1538 transformers and included in the big blue Focusrite Studio Consoles (of which only ten units were ever made). In an effort to make the 110’s desirable colour and texture available to a wider range of users, Scarlett, Clarett+ and Red mic preamps all share the ‘AIR’ feature, which is an analogue circuit designed to emulate the ISA 110 preamp sound characteristics. With a simple push of a button (or a mouse click) you can add some of that epic Focusrite console flavour - the mojo used in some of the late 80s and 90s most famous recordings. In Focusrite’s own words, it can provide “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''. For that extra shot of colour and added versatility an internal mic preamp impedance switch is enabled, making it more suitable for vintage dynamic and ribbon microphones.

Whether you’re just starting your journey into home studio recording or you are already long in the game and looking for a new interface to make that next platinum-seller, the Hitmaker Expansion from Focusrite may lighten your workload (but not your wallet) with around $1,300 worth of super cool tools. Available to all Scarlett 3rd Gen, Clarett+, Clarett USB and Red interface owners that have purchased and registered their product on or after October 1st 2021. All plug-ins are dongle-free and with multiple formats for you to choose from.

Check out each product page below to see individual system requirements.

For more information please visit: Hitmaker Expansion product page