Focusrite Second-Generation Scarlett Interfaces: Our Review

The New FOCUSRITE Scarlett 18i20 & Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interfaces deliver with excellent sound quality, affordable pricing and easy-to-use control software.

There are a lot of options when it comes to audio interfaces for your DAW, both in features and in price. Focusrite recently launched their next-gen Scarlett line, and we got our hands on the 2-in, 2-out Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 model as well as the more robust Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. In short, each brings a lot of bang for the buck, without overwhelming the user. We appreciated the simplicity with which one could get up and running, a hurdle that we’ve had to jump over in other similarly priced interfaces in the past.

The 18i20 is the top tier of the Scarlett range, with (8) TRS/XLR inputs. Phantom power is available, but can be switched on or off in groups; 1-4 and 5-8. Channels 1 & 2 are on the front panel, and have selections for line or instrument levels, as well as the ability to engage a 10dB pad for things like super-hot guitars. Speaking of which, the new instrument inputs handle hotter pickups much better than the previous generation (and FAR better than something like the Steinberg UR22 we tested earlier this year). The individual gain controls and Digital VU meter also reside on the front panel. Monitor and headphone control and outputs also reside here, handy when you can’t reach around back in a darkened control room.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 control software

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 control software

FOCUSRITE SCARLETT I/O

On the backside are the remaining (6) TRS/XLR inputs, SPDIF & MIDI connections, digital clock, and optical connections. There are TRS monitor outs, as well as additional analog outputs. A fantastic touch is the use of a IEC power connection, meaning no wall/cable warts or specialized power cables.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 front panel

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 front panel

All of these audio options, routing and connections are handled via Focusrite’s Control app. It also can control the monitoring and audio latency response. We were impressed with Focusrite’s interface software when we checked out the Clarett 8Pre (read our review here), and our feelings remain unchanged with the Scarlett line. Yes, the Scarlett interfaces will work perfectly with your DAW, but we love the Control program’s ability to let you delve into the hardware settings and routing options in an intuitive GUI.

The 2i2 is the entry-level unit of the Scarlett range, and one we wholly recommend for singer/songwriters or artists looking for a super-easy, cost-effective way to record scratch demos and acoustic tracks with ease. With (2) combo TRS/XLR jacks for inputs, as well as selectors for line or instrument level input, as well as phantom power, it brings a lot to the table in a rather handsome enclosure.

For personal monitoring there is a 1/4” headphone output and control. The large monitor knob controls the output of the (2) monitor outs on the rear. As with the 18i20 there is ultra-low latency that’s taken care by the interface, this time via a direct monitoring switch. Power is provided by the USB connection, meaning no external power supplies. So in essence, this can be the heart of a truly mobile rig, perfect for capturing ideas on the road. All the proper controls are on the front, meaning there’s no fiddling around the backside. On a desktop for podcasters, or a home recorder, it really delivers. Now while the preamps are quite as great as the ones in the Clarett range, at $149 it’s hard to argue with how good vocals and acoustic instruments come through when tracking with the Scarlett 2i2.

SOUND QUALITY AND INCLUDED SOFTWARE

As stated, the preamps and audio quality on both the 18i20 & 2i2 are quite impressive; Focusrite made their name doing high end audio preamps, and while these are priced reasonably, they easily outclass others in their price range. It’s also important to note that these were super easy to get up and running; opening the box will be the hardest task. The low latency interface really makes a difference, and it’s nice to see it’s available even in their entry level 2i2. Again, other 2-channel USB interfaces in this price range we’ve tested in the past lost points for small, yet noticeable, delays when tracking.

As with all audio interfaces, they throw in a ton of software; both units offer up Focusrite’s Red 2 & 3 plug-in suite, Softube reverb, delay, distortion and mastering plug-ins, a Focusrite Pro Tools | First creative pack,  2 GB of audio loops, and a copy of Ableton Live Lite. But, as mentioned, the entire range will work just as well with pretty much any other DAW you wish to install.

Focusrite Scarlett second-gen includes a great software bundle

Focusrite Scarlett second-gen includes a great software bundle

As the centerpiece of a new home recording rig, the 18i20 is worth every penny of its $499 street price. And the 2i2 is super portable, and with its $149 price tag, it brings the term “entry level” to a whole new level.

PROS:

excellent form factor, easy to use, affordable, worked seamlessly with every DAW we tried.

CONS:

none.

PRICES:

$149 (2i2) and $499 (18i20), respectively

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