Focusrite’s diminutive Scarlett 2i2 bucks the trend for complexity, offering a simple, solid, good sounding and very affordable audio interface
We’ve all been seduced by added extras at some point. It’s one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book: offer a little more than the competition, sit back and wait for the sales to rack up. It’s also a philosophy which has influenced the design of countless pro audio products in recent years.
Where once they’d have been happy to market a product that did one thing very well, manufacturers now try to add as many features as possible to every device in order to compete in such a crowded marketplace. As such, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing synths with built-in effects, mixers with control surface functions and audio interfaces with integrated DSP cards. Of course, these added extras don’t always work as intended; if a design isn’t carefully executed, it’s all too easy for a device to become a jack of all trades and master of none.
In developing the Scarlett range, British pro audio mainstays Focusrite have apparently rejected the added extra approach. With the Scarlett models, Focusrite aim to deliver high quality interfaces at a more affordable price point than their more feature-packed Saffire range. The 2i2 we’ve got on test here is the simplest of the lot, with just two inputs and one pair of stereo outs. Further up the range, you’ll find the 8-in, 6-out 8i6 and the highly versatile 16i8 (16-in, 8-out).
Thanks to the back-to-basics approach employed in the 2i2’s design process, there isn’t a great deal to get excited about on the surface of the unit. This is really a bare-bones feature set, with just two mic/line inputs, each with adjustable gain and switchable between line and instrument mode (i.e. low and high impedance).
The Scarlett range’s pre-amps are identical to those found in Focusrite’s more expensive interfaces
Both inputs come in the form of Neutrik combo sockets, which accept either XLR plugs or ¼” TRS jacks. A direct monitor switch allows the input channels to be routed directly to the output for latency-free monitoring. 48V phantom power is switchable for both channels simultaneously, while a large master volume knob, ¼” headphone socket and independent headphone volume control complete the front panel.
Round the back you’ll find nothing more than ¼” sockets for the balanced outputs, a USB 2.0 socket and a Kensington security slot. It’s about as basic as it gets, but the 2i2 offers everything required for a small home studio or a mobile recording setup.
Setting up the 2i2 via a USB connection proved painless. Some users have reported issues with the Scarlett range’s drivers, but in our tests with a MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard and a Lenovo ThinkPad running Windows 7 we didn’t experience any problems with dropped connections, audio dropouts or latency.
In use, the 2i2 lived up to expectations. Impressively, the Scarlett range’s preamps are identical to those found in Focusrite’s more expensive interfaces. You won’t find any of the Liquid Channel emulation features here, but the Scarlett pres are clean, accurate and uncoloured – pleasingly so at this price point.
Setting input levels is made easy by the halo LEDs surrounding the two gain knobs. The halos illuminate green to indicate the presence of a signal, then turn orange at high input levels and red as the signal begins to clip.
It’s also notable that the Scarlett’s build quality is exceptional. The red anodised aluminium enclosure is light but tough, while all the knobs and switches offer a reassuringly solid feel. The 2i2 feels as well built as interfaces ten times its price.
Of course, Focusrite couldn’t entirely resist throwing in a couple of extra features for good measure: bundled with the 2i2 you’ll find a copy of Ableton Live Lite 8 – still a highly usable DAW even with a slightly reduced feature set compared to the full version – and Focusrite’s own Scarlett plugin suite. The EQ, compression, gate and reverb plugins in the bundle may not be a major selling point, but they’re simple to use, sound good and offer a nice bonus which should come in handy for beginners without big software collections. Maybe the added extra approach isn’t dead just yet.
It makes our lives easy when manufacturers release products which work exactly as advertised. Focusrite have done just that with the 2i2. It’s a basic interface but that shouldn’t imply that Focusrite have sacrificed sound or build quality to achieve a lower price.
In fact, the 2i2 stands up against Apogee’s significantly more expensive Duet 2 as a simple, high quality interface. The Apogee is more portable and capable of recording at sampling rates up to 192 kHz, but if you’re willing to settle for 96 kHz and the slightly larger size, the 2i2 has to be considered one of the most attractive low cost, high quality recording options on the market.
The Final Word
One of the best budget interfaces on the market.
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