USB Audio Interface Review # 1 : Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Welcome to our new series, in which we review some of the most popular portable USB Audio Interfaces on the market. We know that this is sometimes a confusing choice for first time buyers so we’ve tried to demystify some of the features you should be looking for. We’ve given this task to an impartial industry pro, Phil Haines, who has road tested a selection of cost effective audio interfaces and gives his honest opinion.
First up, Focusrite’s ever popular Scarlett 2i2…
The Focusrite 2i2 is a sleek and professional looking unit. The curved aluminium unibody chassis looks and feels great, especially considering most other interfaces in this price range are plastic. In the box you get the unit itself, a USB cable and a getting started guide with a CD containing Mac and Windows drivers, Ableton Live Lite and Pro Tools | First – Focusrite Creative Pack, which features 12 additional plug-ins including the Eleven Lite for real life guitar amp emulations and Black Op for iconic distortions and overdrives.
You also get Softube’s Time and Tone bundle, the Focusrite Red Plug-In Suite, Novation’s Bass Station virtual synthesiser and 2GB of Loopmasters samples.
The Focusrite 2i2 is a modest 2 in, 2 out USB 2.0 bus powered life saver (more on that later). Remarkably easy to use and set up, it is a must have for both the beginner and the seasoned professional recording musician. It is at home in both the studio and on the road, being bus powered is a real bonus.
The 2i2 has a simple front panel. 2 combi XLR/jack inputs, a line/instrument switch for both channels, 48v phantom power, a direct monitor switch, a main level dial and a headphone volume dial. The back panel is even simpler with a USB-B 2.0 socket and 2 balanced jack outputs and a Kensington lock.
The mic pres on this unit are the same as found in Focusrite’s other audio interfaces, all the way up to their flagship Saffire PRO 40 and Liquid Saffire 56 interfaces.
The 2i2 is capable of low-latency recording at up to 24-bit at 96KHz, meaning quiet instruments or voices can be captured in really good quality and detail, with very low noise and low hiss for its price range. This was useful for me in a recent session where I had used a much more expensive audio interface to record the initial tracks. It allowed me to to match the bit depth and sample rate of that project without having to convert sample rates and bit depths post-recording, preserving the quality of the performance that I had captured with the 2i2.
The time that this saved my life was on a voiceover recording session with a high profile actor. I was recording for a production of Dr Faustus and was invited to the actor’s front room to record a section of dialogue. I decided to bring along the 2i2 as a backup. As I was doing the soundcheck I noticed glitches on the waveforms and discovered it to be the audio interface that I was using! Quickly I swapped over to the 2i2, found a level with the super handy ‘halo’ meters and was ready to go with both the director and actor unaware of my seat of the pants moment.
The only feature that this interface doesn’t have is MIDI functionality, but in today’s home studios most keyboards are USB capable. Those wishing to have MIDI capability can do much worse than looking at the 2i2’s bigger brother, the 2i4, which has the same fantastic features as the 2i2 and more.
The 2i2 has a really great way of monitoring input levels. There are ‘halos’ around the gain dials on the input channels, showing input levels as green, amber and red, signifying levels from good to overload. As well as working great with microphones I found this particularly useful for quickly getting a useable level for bass guitar when I was putting a demo together.
Also included in the price are 2 ‘lite’ versions of very popular DAWs, Ableton Live and Pro Tools, along with loads of really great plug-ins, virtual instruments and loops – all you need to get started or some new toys to supplement your current DAW.
This interface is probably one of the best ways to spend £98 if you are a recording musician. Super-clean preamps, ease of setup and use, and a great bundle of plug-ins make this excellent value for money. Everyone professional should have one as a backup life saver, and if you haven’t got an interface already and are just starting out, this is a must-buy – it’s no wonder that it is “the best-selling USB audio interface in the World.”We have the entire Focusrite range available on our website. ESV offer next working day delivery* FREE over £99!
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