New Focusrite Scarlett USB Audio Interfaces

The smaller Focusrite Scarlett usb audio interfaces like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and more recently the Focusrite Scarlett Solo are long time bestsellers. Their ease of use, rugged (metal) casing, sleek design, portability and low price have been major selling points.

While not “the best” in one particular domain like sound quality (which is very nice), latency and features, the package was always appealing enough to warrant the purchase. 

All basic functionality is there and the units are very simpel and easy to operate. As one goes up in the range (more inputs) features like MIDI in and out appear.

Focusrite recently upgraded the line of Scarlett USB audio interfaces to a second generation. Unfortunately the price has gone up slightly also. It’s up to you to decide if the improvements (because there are improvements) warrant the slightly higher price tag.

The range of Focusrite USB Audio interfaces cover a lot of ground. From the Scarlett Solo , with one instrument and one microphone input (with Fantom Power), ideal for the traveling musician, up to the Scarlett 18i20 with eight microphone inputs for full band or concert recording.

There is a Focusrite Scarlett for almost any type of situation. This is the complete range of Focusrite Scarlett USB interfaces:

Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First 

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First

The improvements at a glance:

Redesigned instrument input:

The first batches of Scarlett 2i2 units suffered from too much sensitivity on the instrument input. Electric guitars could easily overload the input stage. This was reported to Focusrite (which caused quite a stir on the audio and guitar forums) and rectified in newer units. I had a chance to check this myself having 2 units side by side.  For the 2nd generation Scarlett interfaces the instrument input has been completely redesigned. The maximum input is now +13dBu , so input overload shouldn’t be a problem any more.

Lower Latency:

Focusrite claims lower latency figures for this 2nd generation of Scarlett interfaces. Latency is reported to be lower. With the latest drivers these lower latencies are reported to be usable too. No point in having very low latency and only being able to record one track with it.

Higher sampling rate:

The Focusrite Scarlett 2nd generation range adds 192khz/24 bit to the available sampling rates. If this is important to you is up to you to decide.

Cosmetic/ hardware changes:

No radical changes here. The Focusrite logo on top of the units is white now, where it was black in the past. Not very important, but it makes it easy to identify the generation of the interface.

A little more useful: Gain knobs now have red lines on them and the volume and headphones knobs have black lines. This makes it visually easier to see at what level they are. The knobs are reported to be of better quality.

Software:

Besides the drivers Focusrite Scarlett interfaces come with a comprehensive software bundle for free.

First of all you get 2 DAW packages. One DAW is Protools First. Note that the basic Protools First version is free for everyone anyway, so no added value here. The Focusrite version however comes with some extra plugins (the Creative Pack). Some of these plugins are guitar amp sims and pedals taken from the eleven rack amp sim. Neat, they should include these with every version of Protools First.

The biggest problem is that with Protools First you can only have any 3 projects saved at a time (in the cloud, not on your hard drive). Saving on your hard drive is not possible. To me this is a serious limitation!

Upgrading to the complete version is also very (too) expensive. For home studio needs there are equally potent offers from other DAW companies like Steinberg (Cubase), Presonus (Studio One), Ableton Live, Bitwig Studio etc…

Second DAW is Ableton Live Lite. With Ableton Live Lite you have only 8 tracks. Which can not that much, but you can do a lot with eight tracks. There is also an upgrade path to the full version of Ableton Live which comes at about 360$.

Focusrite also includes  loops and sounds from loopmasters, software from Softube and of their own plugin range, the Red plugin-suite.

If you need a more potent DAW (lot’s of tracks, effects, no saving restrictions etc…), in my opinion, Cubase is a good investment. You can purchase Cubase Elements 8 for under 100$. If you are eligible for an educational discount you can have it for about 65$!

If you need even more tracks, instruments and sounds you can purchase Cubase 8.5 Artist at about 300$. This version comes in an educational (discounted) version too.

Mac users: no need to buy a DAW right away. Garageband does the trick when you are juts starting out and is a great intro to Logic ProX. Both Garageband and Logic ProX cannot be beaten regarding the quality and number of included sounds and software synths. 

Conclusion:

It seems to me that the key improvements are lower latency figures and, especially important to guitarists and bassists, an instrument input that doesn’t overload. I had a chance to use 2 differentFocusrite Scarlett 212 interfaces for some time with a Macbook Pro. I was very pleased with the sound quality. The guitar/ bass guitar input had a very nice open clean sound. Richer and more open than the Line6 UX2 I own. The latency on my Macbook Pro was workable, but not stellar. Mind you that I used a 1st generation Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, the 2nd generation should have better latencies.

So if you are in the market for an audio interface, the 2nd generation of Focusrite Scarlett usb audio interfaces are a good option. They are a better option than the 1st generation. Are the Focusrite Scarlett usb audio interfaces the best interfaces? That remains to be seen. 

All audio interfaces have their weak and their strong points, especially in this price bracket. You will always find reviews from people with problems. What works well on one system (PC/MAC) is not guaranteed to do the job with another Pc or Mac. Mac’s are known to be more forgiving. The best thing to do (besides reading articles like this) is to read the reviews and then make up your own mind.

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