REVIEW: Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 Interface [3rd Gen]

Most companies leave huge gaps in their product lines; yes – the entry level version will cover most needs, and be reasonably priced, but making a simple step up usually means a big leap in so many other ways; size, complexity, and of course cost. Focusrite found a way to make a step up that’s not a big stretch.

The new Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 [3rd Gen] is a USB-connected unit featuring a front-panel with 2 combo 1/4”/XLR inputs, with their associated level controls, a 48V phantom power switch, and a large knob for master monitor level. Two individual 1/4” headphone jacks each with their own level control reside here, as well. The backside sports SPDIF and MIDI ins and outs, along with four line outputs, and four line inputs – plenty of I/O for most small home setups. 

The two front connections feature Focusrite’s 3rd generation preamps and the “Air” feature we love so much, we pretty much keep it engaged full-time. We have a lot of previous experience with these, and they sound fantastic. Downloading Focusrite’s control application is needed to engage (or disengage) their AIR function, but it’s easy to use and allows you to really get into the unit without a lot of hassle. What is AIR? We’ve covered it in previous reviews, but Focusrite’s classic ISA preamp has a unique, and transparent design and sound that just sounds, well…better, it’s what the AIR mode brings to the table. The only time we can ever imagine of not engaging this mode, is if there was some extra special outboard preamp we were routing into the interface.

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Pulling it out of the box, we were up and running quickly, the only time expense was downloading all the free software, but was well worth it considering the bundle that’s included.

The Focusrite control app is kind of the brains of the operation, running under the hood so to speak; controlling the overall input and output functions. It can also be remotely run via an iOS device, which is great. Getting the software to run these functions eliminates the need for physical switches and such on the device itself.

Focusrite does include a pretty hefty suite of free software as well: Avid’s Pro Tools First, Focusrite Creative Pack, which has plenty of virtual instruments, effects, and 500Mb of loops, Ableton Live Lite, a choice of one of XLN Audio’s Addictive Keys virtual keyboards, Softube Time and Tone, with delay, reverb and distortion plug-ins, and mastering software. Focusrite’s Red Plug in-suite, with their Red 2 EQ and Red 3 compressor is also on tap (whew!). Their plug-in collective also offers free versions of various software for registered users. Ownership also has its privileges, with various discounts offered on a variety of plug-ins from various Focusrite partners on a pretty regular basis. 

Soundwise, the 3rd-Generation preamps deliver Focusrite’s reputation for great sounding mic inputs — they sound so good, it makes you wonder, what are the other manufacturer’s not understanding at this price point? There’s no reason you couldn’t record an entire, professional sounding album at home using just one of these Scarletts and a quality condenser mic. The ultra-low latency is also one of those things that just works, with no messing about. Kudos. 

For users that may need extra inputs, this is an easy way to go. Keyboard players, this is perfect to keep all those boards plugged in and ready to record when inspiration strikes. Podcasters, no need to share mics with multiple guests.

Overall, it’s a great blend of the simplicity of the Focusrite range we’ve seen in the past with their more expansive Clarett lines, all in a small format that’s at home on a desktop or portable for on-the-go applications – all with the Focusrite control app that brings their legendary preamps to life, and more advanced audio routing. For users who might be looking upgrade their first entry-level interface to add more inputs and step up their preamp game: this is your next purchase. Highly recommended. 

PROS:

Great sounding preamps, plenty of input and outputs, plethora of extra software, affordable

CONS:

None

STREET PRICE:

$299

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