The British company’s popular crimson-colored interfaces get significant upgrades
Review by Alex Hawley
The Focusrite Scarlett series has become one of the most recognizable families of interfaces on the market. High reliability and smooth workflow have made the Scarlett line a guaranteed win for beginners and professionals alike. Initially known for its large-format consoles, Focusrite has developed a reputation for building classic workhorse preamps with a very clean and transparent sound. Scarlett interfaces continue this tradition, with an emphasis on easy-to-use designs.
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The third Generation of Scarlett brings a range of upgrades. Most notably is the Air effect, which is inspired by the classic Focusrite ISA mic preamp. Previously available only in the Red and Clarett range of interfaces, Air is now included in the 3rd Gen Scarlett lineup. The Air feature emulates the sound of a transformer-based preamp and adds a high-end sheen to the signal. Depending on the model, this setting can be enabled in the input section of the Focusrite Control software, or by pressing a dedicated button on the front panel.
Other updates include improved dynamic range, more headroom, additional I/O configurations, a USB-C connection to minimize latency, a louder and cleaner headphone driver, and a cleaner front panel aesthetic.
Shapes and Sizes
The value factor explains in part why the Scarlett family has become so widely used. The Scarlett Solo is one of the most straightforward interfaces available and offers an approachable price point that makes it an attractive entry level or travel interface. The Solo provides one mic preamp and one instrument input, and the product line builds up from there to include the 2i2, 4i4, 8i6, 18i8, and 18i20 interfaces.
I tried out the 8i6 for this review, which features two combo jacks on the front panel and four 1/4” line level inputs on the back panel, which also sports four line outputs, MIDI in/out, and SPDIF in/out. The specs are impressive: record up to 24-bit/192 kHz sound with 111 dB dynamic range on the mic inputs (improved from 109 dB on previous models), THD+N of <0.0012% (down from 0.002%), and 104 dB of dynamic range on the headphone outputs.
The Focusrite Control software is fast and simple—a no frills design. You won’t find dynamic processing or digital effects of any kind, just a practical layout that controls routing, device settings, and headphone mixes. The absence of digital processing is a breath of fresh Air (pun intended) that redirects the focus toward pure analog sound, ease of use, and efficient workflow.
The software is deceivingly simple—the deeper I got, the more I realized how capable it is. There are plenty of advanced routing options available, such as the ability to create a unique headphone mix independent of the main monitor outputs, the flexibility to adjust individual headphone cues for multiple musicians, and options for virtual routing using the loopback feature, allowing you to route sound from any program on your computer straight back into your DAW. Focusrite Control is also available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
In addition to the Control software, Focusrite smothers you in other software freebies such as the Focusrite Red plugin suite, the Softube Time and Tone bundle, AVID Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, a limited subscription to Splice, and a choice of one keyboard instrument from the Addictive Keys line by XLN Audio. The included software is a nice mix of bread and butter plugins such as the Red 3 compressor from the Focusrite Red plugin suite, and a mixture of time-based effects and virtual instruments. I’ve always been a fan of the classic Red 3 compressor—it sounds great on any master bus. It can add a bit of sheen in the upper midrange, but for the most part, it’s a very fast, clean, and transparent compressor.
Getting my Scarlett up and running was one of the quickest interface setups I’ve ever had. The whole process took mere minutes, including software and driver updates. There was no need to dig too deep with the Control Software on my initial pass—it worked straight out of the box without any fuss or head scratching.
To test out the mic preamps, I started things off with a X/Y stereo pair of pencil condensers miking an acoustic guitar. The preamps are very clean and quiet. They sounded neutral and faithful to the source material. There’s an abundance of gain to be had—no problems gaining up lower-output mics. Once I kicked on the Air setting, it lifted a veil that I didn’t even realize was there. Air seemed to provide a bit more than just a high sheen; it added dimension, and a very forward-sitting presence that helped cut through the mix without being overly aggressive.
The Air setting pairs with a ribbon microphone quite nicely. On a clean guitar amp, it feels lively in all the right ways and provides a nice compliment to an otherwise warm microphone. Limits: with a guitar tone pushed into distortion or fuzz territory, the Air setting becomes a bit overbearing.
As a whole, the latency feels incredibly low. It was negligible when tracking guitar or voice into a clean session, even at higher sample rates. This responsiveness makes tracking a more engaging experience as the interface fades into an invisible role. The quick round trip latency time opens the door to monitoring with DAW-based reverb and other native processing. It’s also possible to monitor the direct feed via the Control software, in case latency ever becomes too much of an issue in a heavily processed session.
I’ve always been a fan of the great sound and simple design that the Scarlett line offers. The 3rd generation brings minor upgrades to its hardware specs, with the most exciting new feature being the addition of Air. If you are a 2nd Gen Scarlett owner looking to make the step up, you’ll hear a significant improvement if you work primarily with acoustic instruments or vocals. While this probably isn’t the flashiest update, the addition of Air coupled with improved hardware specs builds on this already impressive interface series. The mic preamps sound as clean as the new front panel design looks, and the USB-C connection makes it as fast as ever. This is a very well-rounded and robust update from Focusrite.
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
Back in September 2012, I had the pleasure of reporting the launch of the Scarlett series, with the original Scarlett 2i2 interface. In February 2017, reviewer Allen Goodman and then editor Mike Metlay test drove the 2nd Gen 18i20 and 2i4 interfaces. We were unanimous in declaring great design, sound, and build, easy DAW integration, and overall ease of use.
I’m a long-time Scarlett user at my other job as a church tech director. Our worship director uses Logic and a Scarlett Solo as his usual system for recording vocals, miked acoustic guitars, direct guitars, bass and keys. We use an Ableton Live/Scarlett 6i6 rig to handle softsynths, backing tracks, clicks, and other recording duties. Both Scarlett units are real workhorses—great sounding, reliable, and easy to use.
Already great gets even better.
For the same reasons that Alex already mentioned above, I am quite impressed by the new 3rd Gen Scarlett 4i4 I received for review. The latest Scarlett line is the beneficiary of technologies first found in the Clarett range as well as the Red 4Pre (reviewed November 2016), especially regarding the new ‘Air’ equipped high dynamic range preamps now onboard the 3rd Gen 4i4. Air does precisely what it says on the tin, adding a gentle airiness. Air is similar to many vintage analog circuit and tape emulation plugins, and can keep tracks from sounding too clean or sterile.
Start Recording, like right now!
Focusrite’s current tagline is ‘Start Recording Today’, and they mean it. Installing
the drivers, updating the firmware, and routing some signals took literally under two minutes, seriously.
I like the new build—with its compact, rounded enclosure and super-smooth knobs and controls, this Scarlett feels as classy as it sounds. Things to note specifically with regard to the 4i4: engaging the Air feature and the pad, and selecting instrument or line inputs, can be accomplished only in the Focusrite Control software (phantom power can be engaged from the front panel). I am a bit jealous of the dedicated controls found on the Solo and 2i2 models. This certainly isn’t a show stopper—just something to be aware of, and no different than previous Focusrite Gen-erations.
The ins and outs
For the typical home recordist or editing suite, the 4i4 offers just the right amount ins and outs, with two mic/line ins, two independent line inputs, four line outs, and a headphone output. The addition of a pair of old school five-pin MIDI DIN connectors puts things nicely over the top.
Thanks to its improved high gain preamps, I had zero issues with any mics, including low powered dynamic mics. To say that these preamps are loud and clear is a vast understatement—I often found myself reaching for the pad, thanks to the healthy native gain levels!
It’s hard to add to what Alex has already covered. I heartily recommend the new 3rd Gen Scarlett interfaces to anyone looking for a stellar sounding, well-built and highly affordable audio interface of the highest order.
Price: 8i6 3rd Gen Interface $299, 4i4 3rd Gen Interface $229
More from: www.focusrite.com