Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Review: Portable USB Interface for Recording Studio

focusrite scarlett 2i2 review

When you are about to build your recording studio for the first time, you want everything to be perfect. Even though Amazon Prime lets you get everything in two days, and in some instances even choose one-day shipping, we still can’t help but want it all right now. And our worst fears emerge as we see the negative reviews on the products that we are about to purchase.

What if something goes wrong? Could it be defective? I would not be able to wait another 2 days and deal with all the returns. And the most natural response is to go and look for reviews on the Internet. That’s probably how you’ve stumbled upon this Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 review.

Why Did I Decide On Getting Focusrite Scarlett 2i2?

If you’ve read my guide on how to build a recording studio, you’d know that the first interface I’ve purchased was indeed Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. And let me tell you, my journey of finding the best audio interface among Behringer, Alesis, Focusrite, M-Audio and other USB audio interfaces wasn’t the easiest.

You see, when you are purchasing a cable, PC, or a MIDI keyboard, you know what you are looking for. A cable has to be a certain length, a PC or laptop has to have desirable specs. When purchasing a MIDI keyboard, you’ll want a distinct number of weighted or unweighted keys depending on the size of your studio and specific knobs, switches, and pads, which will simplify your workflow.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools First, Red, 2i2 - 2 Mic Pres
  • Two natural-sounding Scarlett mic preamps with plenty of even gain; two instrument inputs, 1/4-inch balanced jack outputs to connect professional studio monitors; one headphone output with gain control
  • Class-leading conversion and sample rates up to 192kHz / 24 bit; super-low roundtrip latency for using your plug-ins in real time without the need for DSP
  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: Free GROW plug-in from Mastering the Mix and free 6-month license to trouble shooting tool LEVELS until March 7, 2019.
  • Includes Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack and Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite's Red Plug-in Suite, 2GB of Loopmasters samples, Choice of one free XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument, all available via download upon purchase and registration
  • Compatible with Windows 7 and higher, and Mac OS X 10.10 and higher. Frequency response - 20 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.1dB. Supported Sample Rates: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz. 2-year limited warranty on manufacturing defects.
I wish it were just as hustle free when I was looking at various audio interfaces.

When it comes to portable USB audio interfaces, producers usually find it hard to understand the specs of every single one. If one needs need an interface for his or her microphone and electric guitar, they realize that they’ll need one with 2 XLR inputs. But how much further does one’s knowledge extend?

You don’t want to go for cheap audio interfaces, but you can’t afford the high-end ones. I’ve been there myself. And for some reason, I’ve decided to just go to Amazon and look at the first 20 on the list.

And that’s when things got complicated.

Instead of seeing the vast variance in prices and quality, all of them looked incredibly appealing and professional, with 4-5 stars reviews. And the worst part is reading the negative reviews. As opposed to the positive ones, the 1-2 star reviews give you chills as you imagine yourself going through the same struggle.

I knew what I needed – a USB (because my PC had tons of USB ports; if I had a laptop, maybe I’d go for Firewire) audio interface with a decent preamp and 2 XLR inputs to record vocals and my guitar. Luckily, so many of them fitted my needs perfectly. After looking at and reading about each one of them for hours, I’ve decided that I should pick one. And after weighing all the pros and cons of various portable audio interfaces, the choice was made.

Yes, I finally picked my own audio interface!

Guess which one? Considering the fact that you are reading a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 review, you’ve known the answer all along. Well, after days and days (actually it was only a two day delivery) of not so patiently waiting for the add-on to my recording studio I got the package delivered.

Unboxing Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 unboxing

First of all, the packaging itself looks good and well put together. Once opened, all the elements were intact and undamaged. That’s exactly what I expected from a reputable brand like Focusrite.

The box contains the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface itself, manual on how to set everything up, and a cable to connect the device to the computer. It comes with a power cord, so make sure you have enough inputs. Lastly, the interface comes with a serial number and a bundle code, so you can register your device and get access to your member’s area on their website.

Focusrite Website Walkthrough

Focusrite 2i2 interface website

Once you’ve purchased the device, you’ll need to use the code provided in the package to activate your Focusrite account and register your device. That’s quite straightforward.

Once you are in, you see all the products you’ve registered, manuals, drivers, and set-up instructions for them. So if you only register your Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, that’s the one you are going to see.

Focusrite “My Software” freebies

If you go to the “My Software” tab, you’ll see all the sweet freebies Focusrite is giving away to you for free. First of all, Ableton Live Lite. If you don’t have a digital audio workstation, it’s a good idea to try if you like Ableton, which is incredibly popular among EDM producers and DJs all over the world.

Besides the DAW, you are getting a ton of free plugins (drum and synth VSTs and more) and samples. I was suspicious because maybe they are listing the actual free plugins as “freebies,” which wouldn’t have been a smart move. On the contrary, all the plugins initially cost money, but with a promo code that you can find on the page you get all of them for free.

Not too bad so far. You are getting $100+ worth of various compressors, equalizers, sound generators, etc.

Firewire VS USB – What’s better for a portable audio interface?

As mentioned earlier in this Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 review, the interface is connected to the PC through the USB port. A lot of people argue whether USB is taking over the market of the home recording studios or not. And there is no distinct answer to that, but it’s a fact that it’s getting harder and harder to find a laptop and even a PC with Firewire ports.

If you ever visit a recording studio, you’ll see how much equipment they have and use every session. And if you want the signal response to be fast, you’ll have to upgrade your wiring and a ton of other stuff. Do you record 10+ instruments simultaneously as well? Most people don’t. Therefore, a USB audio interface is the best fit for every home recording studio.

How Many Inputs / Outputs Does Scarlett 2i2 have?

focusrite scarlett 2i2 how many inputs and outlets

As the name states, this Focusrite audio interface has 2 XLR inputs to connect your microphone / instrument to your digital audio workstation. Also, it has 2 balanced outputs to connect your studio monitors to your computer and a headphone jack. Therefore, it lets you monitor your tracks close up (headphones) and from a distance (studio monitors).

A lot of condenser microphones need a 48V power supply, and most newer USB audio interfaces have a switch or a button that will do that for you. That’s the reason why you almost always will need an interface to connect your condenser microphone to a computer. You can get an XLR-USB adapter, but in general, a computer can’t supply enough power.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 has a button that you can push to turn the power supply on or off. Therefore, there is nothing for you to worry about if you want to record vocals with a condenser or a dynamic mic.

Does Scarlett 2i2 Replace a Preamp?

Technically speaking, nothing replaces preamp, as it’s a separate piece of equipment that every music producer should invest in at some point of his or her journey. If you don’t have a preamp, there is a chance that you’ll end up recording a lot of noise that will show up unexpectedly once you turn up the gain.

Portable audio interfaces have a small preamp in them to reduce the noise that microphones tend to pick up. By the way, don’t get caught up on this when picking a microphone, condenser or dynamic. If your room is not soundproofed, even the best mic with the most configured cardioid pickup pattern will likely catch something.

Focusrite Scarlett devices have one of the best preamps among the lower end portable audio interfaces. They won’t be as good as separate preamp units anytime soon, but it’s all about getting the job done for the least amount of money. Unless you feel like investing hundreds of dollars into a high-quality preamp, you are better off sticking with the one built into the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Buying a $10-30 preamp will likely be a waste of money at the end of the day.

How Does Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface perform?

Focusrite 2i2 USB audio interface performance

The main pro of investing in an excellent portable interface is real-time monitoring with low latency. Focusrite developers state that the latency has to be 6 ms or lower. Therefore, it’s almost unnoticeable.

If you hear the latency and don’t like it, there is a switch to the direct monitoring. Then the audio input will go straight into your studio headphones and reference monitors. As a result, the latency disappears completely – from now on you are monitoring in real-time.

Lastly, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface monitors the volume levels. The light around the gain button will flash green when the sound coming in is at a reasonable volume level. If you notice it flashing red, you’ve probably added too much gain, so the soundtrack started clipping. Some people may thing loud is good, but clipping a track is one of the worst things you can do when recording.

You won’t be able to mix or master it properly if everything is recorded poorly, and your Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB interface makes sure you avoid messing up the recording. Don’t overthink it, but make sure you find the best gain setting for your microphone and don’t tweak it back and forth all the time.

Why Do You need Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface?

Most producers don’t buy an interface merely to have one. A lot of the time it’s the best way to record instruments and vocals. Even though there are USB microphones that can be plugged in directly into a port of your computer, it’s a good idea to avoid them at all costs. They might be useful for podcasts and YouTube but will ruin your track once in a while.

Therefore, most producers who want to record themselves or their acoustic instruments will have to purchase a portable audio interface to connect everything. The same thing goes for most electronic musical instruments. XLR input / output is the industry standard, so 99% of those instruments will have one.

You could technically buy an XLR / USB adapter, but those rarely work very well and destroy the sound quality. After spending hours and hours of working on your track and recording many takes without a proper audio interface, you’ll come to a realization that sometimes the cheapest solution is not a good bang for the buck.

Do You Need More Than 2 Inputs On Your Audio Interface?

If you are only recording a guitar and your vocals, you are more than fine with Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Most singers and producers don’t sing and record the guitar at the same time anyways. However, if you are thinking of recording drums, you’ll need a bigger interface. Even if you believe that two microphones will be enough, you’ll likely need a better preamp to increase the quality of the sound.

Moreover, a lot of drum sets need at least 4 microphones. If you go to a big music production studio, you may see a set with 7-10 microphones around it to capture every single frequency. And not only condenser mics but dynamic, shotgun, and more. Note that you can’t buy an extension for XLR inputs, and even if you find one, you’ll find the input signal either very quiet or distorted.

Is Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 The Best Audio Interface?

Is Scarlett 2i2 best portable audio interface

I wish I could finish this review saying that you won’t find a better interface than Scarlett 2i2. Don’t get me wrong; it’s one of the best bangs for the buck in the current market of portable USB interfaces. However, there is no “one-for-everyone” solution. After all, if there were such thing as “the best audio interface,” there would be no need to even think about it.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 has flaws like every other audio interface. First of all, the interface powers from your laptop or PC. If it’s a top-notch computer for music production with high-end stats, there is nothing for you to worry about. Most of us don’t own the 3000+ computers that can handle pretty much any load, so this can be a problem.

It doesn’t drain CPU as video editing would’ve, but if you have your digital audio workstation with plugins on each mixer track and sound generators running simultaneously, you may start getting hiccups and clicks all over your recording. The best way to fix it is to record right after you’ve finished the beat, so not many plugins are activated yet.

This won’t always fix the problem, but it’s a great preventative measure.

Some producers don’t like the fact that the audio interface doesn’t have a MIDI input / output. It’s nice when everything is in one place. If you have a MIDI keyboard, the best bet for you, in this case, is to plug the USB into your PC. I can only see it being a bigger deal with laptops such as Macbook, where every USB port is precious to you because you only have few (newer versions don’t have any, so you’ll have to buy an extension).

A friend of mine who records full-time at his home studio mentioned how the biggest drawback of Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface is that it’s only able to record 2 signals at a time. This means that if you have a microphone plugged in, you can only record a single instrument.

Technically, the interface description specifies how it only has 2 XLR inputs, which is enough for every music producer who has recently started. If he or she knew how many XLR inputs they needed in the first place, they would go for a bigger audio interface. Therefore, you can’t call this a drawback, at least in my opinion.

 

Conclusion

To summarize this Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Review, it’s a fantastic USB audio interface and one of the best bangs for the buck on the market for portable interfaces. With quality build, robust design, and a lot of features, it will be a valuable addition to any producer’s collection.

If you are a beatmaker, you don’t necessarily need one, as there are tons of samples and sounds online. However, Focusrite 2i2 interface can come in handy if you ever want to add a personal touch in the form of a unique sample or a guitar solo. If you record other artists, it’s also a must-have.

I was worried about purchasing one, but haven’t regretted ordering one for one second. I had a $500 or so budget to get an interface but didn’t know what to look for. Even though I had almost no clue about interfaces at that point, decided to go with this Focusrite interface because I had a good gut feeling. When I look back now, I realize that my gut made the right decision.

With the free Ableton Lite, quality plugins and samples, and excellent support from the developers, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface can become one of the best investments you’ll make at the beginning of your music production career.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools First, Red, 2i2 - 2 Mic Pres
  • Two natural-sounding Scarlett mic preamps with plenty of even gain; two instrument inputs, 1/4-inch balanced jack outputs to connect professional studio monitors; one headphone output with gain control
  • Class-leading conversion and sample rates up to 192kHz / 24 bit; super-low roundtrip latency for using your plug-ins in real time without the need for DSP
  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: Free GROW plug-in from Mastering the Mix and free 6-month license to trouble shooting tool LEVELS until March 7, 2019.
  • Includes Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack and Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite's Red Plug-in Suite, 2GB of Loopmasters samples, Choice of one free XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument, all available via download upon purchase and registration
  • Compatible with Windows 7 and higher, and Mac OS X 10.10 and higher. Frequency response - 20 Hz - 20 kHz ± 0.1dB. Supported Sample Rates: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz. 2-year limited warranty on manufacturing defects.

Last update on 2019-01-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API