Focusrite recently unveiled the fourth generation of their very popular Scarlett USB audio interfaces by releasing 3 new models: the Solo, 2i2 and 4i4. We’ve been using the 2i2 4th Gen for a couple of weeks now, and we can say we are very impressed with the new features and enhancements.
These new models maintain the familiar red metal design that has become synonymous with Focusrite's interfaces, but with a sleeker and more modern look. In contrast to the 3rd Gen 2i2, which had combo input sockets for accommodating both XLR and 1/4" cables, the new 2i2 offers two 1/4" inputs on the front panel and two XLR inputs on the back (combo 1/4”/XLR inputs, are still available on the larger 4i4 Scarlett.)
There is no MIDI In/Out on the Solo or the 2i2, but this shouldn’t be a problem for most home-based studio since most synths usually have USB connectivity nowadays, but if you need to connect good ol’ 5-pin MIDI hardware to your Scarlett, you'll need to look at the bigger 4i4 interface.
On the front panel, you'll find the usual controls, including a 48v button to enable phantom power and an Inst button to switch between line level (for keyboards, synths, drum machines, etc.), and instrument level (for electric or electro-acoustic guitars and basses). You can’t miss the large Output dial for adjusting output volume, and there’s a dedicated headphone knob for controlling headphone levels. This headphone output knob is brand new on the Scarlett Solo interface, as this model previously had only one output knob. A welcome addition!
The 4th generation Scarlett offers three interesting options on the front panel: Auto, Safe, and Air. Auto Gain is super handy. When this option is activated, the Scarlett listens to the input for 10 seconds and then automatically adjusts the gain to its optimal level. Beginners, especially those unsure about setting up audio levels, will appreciate this feature a lot!
If you've ever recorded a perfect take only to find out the audio was clipped, you know the frustration. Focusrite found the solution to this problem with Safe mode, a feature that automatically ducks the gain when the audio signal gets too hot.
Air mode replicates the characteristics of the iconic Focusrite transformer-based ISA Preamp, adding"air" or a presence boost to your recordings. First introduced on the 3rd generation model, the new Scarlett takes it up a notch with an extra Drive mode that adds harmonics to the signal for enhanced depth and character. While the regular Air mode is entirely analog, the Drive mode uses DSP. Who knows, maybe Focusrite will implement additional Air options in future firmware updates?
Air mode bypassed:
Air mode with Drive:
In response to customer feedback, Focusrite has improved the headphone amp, addressing the previous issue of low output levels. For optimal levels, Focusrite recommends using headphones with an impedance of 300 ohms or less. There’s a Direct Monitoring button, but sadly no way to balance the direct signal and the computer output.
Another major improvement in the Scarlett is the converters, which are the same as their flagship RedNet interfaces. The Mic inputs now offer 116 dB of dynamic range, the instrument inputs 113 dB and the outputs 120 dB.
The 2i2 and 4i4 preamps now give you an impressive 69 dB of gain instead of 56 dB in the previous version. This means that you can now use low output microphones such as the Shure SM7B without having to use a Cloudlifter to boost the signal. Unfortunately, the Solo preamp is unchanged, still offering 56 dB of gain, something to think about if you’re hesitating between the solo and the 2i2/4i4. The gain can be digitally controlled using the Focusrite Control 2 Software, and the Gain Halo shows you the input and preamp gain levels on the interface.
Finally, there’s a Loopback feature that lets you easily record any audio coming out of your computer without having to use special software or complex routing setup. To use it, simply select inputs 3-4 on the solo and 2i2, or 5-6 on the 4i4. It’s that easy!
This new generation of Scarlett audio interfaces represents a significant step forward, introducing plenty of useful new features and providing outstanding sound quality. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced producer, the Scarlett 2i2 and its family are certainly worth considering for your studio setup. However, if you need more connectivity, you may want to wait for the upcoming 8i6, 18i8, and 18i20 4th generation models.
Price: Solo ($139.99), 2i2 ($199.99), 4i4 ($279.99)