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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen review

Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is amongst a handful of interfaces that we consider to be the best you can buy on a budget. In fact, you could say the same about the entire Scarlett range. It’s excellent value for money and looks awesome in red, as we’ve come to expect from any Scarlett interface. We will take a look at what it has to offer and what’s changed since the 2nd Gen model.

Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen overview

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is a 2×2 budget audio interface. On the front panel, there are two XLR/TRS combo inputs as well as gain knobs for each.

The gain knobs have halo LED indicators that work as a rough audio level meter. When the signal is good, the LED is green; if it’s close to clipping, it’s orange, and when it’s clipping, the LED is red.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen audio interface (front panel)
Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen (front panel) / Image credit: Focusrite

There are two buttons beneath each gain knob; one to switch between line level and Hi-Z, another to enable Air mode. When enabled, Air mode emulates the original Focusrite Isa Preamps.

Next, on the front panel, you’ll find a single button to turn on phantom power for both XLR inputs and a direct monitoring button. Direct monitoring has been upgraded for the 2i2 3rd Gen; now, you can switch between a mix of both inputs and a stereo signal.

When stereo signal is selected, you’ll hear input one in your left ear and input two in your right. It’s a neat feature and welcome addition, but a knob to blend the direct signal and DAW mix would have been better.

On the far right of the front panel is a 1/4″ headphone output with a dedicated volume knob. Lastly, a larger knob controls the monitor output level.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen audio interface (back panel)
Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen (back panel) / Image credit: Focusrite

The back panel doesn’t have much to see; there are two balanced TRS monitor outputs, a high-security Kensington locking point, and a USB Type-C connection.

As we mentioned, the 2i2 3rd Gen continues with the familiar slick red look, which is nothing new, but it still looks as good as ever.

Audio/recording quality 8/10

The Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen offers 24-bit depth with a max sample rate of 196 kHz. While it’s not the only budget audio interface to deliver 192 kHz, there are many that don’t.

You could argue that you don’t need such a high sample rate in this kind of interface as it goes beyond the audible spectrum. However, it’s useful if you want to slow something down post-recording, which would bring the higher frequencies back into an audible range. The frequency response in the audible range is exceptionally flat.

The 2i2 3rd Gen’s 24-bit analog to digital converter allows it to record a very wide dynamic range. Interestingly, both the 2i2 2nd Gen and 3rd Gen models use exactly the same A/D converter. However, they do not deliver the same performance. The 3rd Gen delivers a dynamic range of around 110.6 dB (A) compared to the 2nd Gen’s 106.1 dB (A).

The upgraded performance comes from the 3rd Gen’s optimized signal chain. Compared to other similar interfaces, the frequency response and dynamic range of the 2i2 3rd Gen are pretty impressive.

The preamps have been upgraded from the 2nd Gen 2i2, but they already had a pretty low equivalent input noise, anyway. With preamps as transparent as most in a similar price range, Focusrite looks to Air mode to be the difference-maker.

When Air mode is active, you will hear increased amplitude in the higher frequencies. The increased high-end detail creates a much more airy feel, which is particularly good for vocals. Although, it’s nice for the right acoustic guitar performance, too.

Air mode works by changing the frequency response of the Scarlett 2i2. At around 1 kHz, the response is elevated somewhat, and at the much higher frequencies, there is a more dramatic boost. Air mode also adds a slight amount of harmonic distortion. Air mode’s downside is that there is a small increase in equivalent input noise, although it’s still very low.

Overall, the audio quality of the Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is very impressive.

Build quality 8/10

The most noticeable difference is that the 2i2 3rd Gen is significantly smaller than the previous model. There are some pros and cons to take from the new, more compact size. Being more compact makes it even better for traveling. On the other hand, some people may prefer a bigger unit to make getting around the controls easier. Despite the smaller size, the 3rd Gen is still fairly easy to maneuver around.

Thankfully, Focusrite hasn’t sacrificed build quality for the smaller footprint. The newest Scarlett 2i2 is as strong as ever, and in some areas, it might even be better.

The previous 2nd Gen model was great, but it had a slight issue with the knobs; they weren’t as smooth as they could be. This issue wasn’t consistent across every single unit, but it was quite common with the larger monitor knob. The 3rd Gen version doesn’t have the same problem; every knob is robust with a silky-smooth action.

Software bundle 8/10

The Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen comes with a pretty substantial software bundle. It all starts with Ableton Live Lite and Pro Tools First Focusrite Creative Pack. So, you have a choice of two DAWs, and depending on the style of music you make, you might prefer one over the other or use both.

You also get the Focusrite Red 2 and Red 3 plugin suite, which emulates Focusrite’s classic Red 2 (EQ) and Red 3 (Compressor) hardware units. These days, there are so many options for virtual analog emulations, but these two are a great place to start.

The bundle also comes with an XLN Audio Addictive Keys virtual instrument, and you get to choose it yourself from a selection of four. Softube Time & Tone bundle with delay, reverb, distortion, and mastering compression plugins might be the star of the bundle.

On top of all that, you get a three-month subscription to Splice and access to the Focusrite Plug-in Collective. More than enough to record, produce and mix your music.

Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen vs. other interfaces

It’s always good to look at a few options in and around the same price range. Sometimes it isn’t easy to choose a clear winner, and it will come down to your individual needs.

M-Audio AIR 192|4

I’m a big fan of these M-Audio interfaces, and on any given day, I could easily choose this one over the Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen. But, with most things pretty equal, it comes down to this: I prefer the direct monitoring and size of the 192|4, but I love the convenience of the 2i2’s Air mode. See our M-Audio AIR 192|4 review

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen

The choice between the Scarlett Solo and 2i2 is purely about money, in my opinion. If you want to save a little and only need one input, the Solo is fantastic. However, even if you only think you need one input, I’d always go for the 2i2 if you have the budget. See our Scarlett Solo review

PreSonus AudioBox USB 96

I prefer the Scarlett 2i2 over the AudioBox USB 96, easily. However, the PreSonus interface is cheaper and offers a different software bundle that might suit you better. See our AudioBox USB 96 review

Final verdict on Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

The fact that you can pick up this little interface for well under $200 is crazy and makes it hard to find any faults. If I were to be really fussy, I’d say that a mix control for direct monitoring would have been nice. But, it’s just so good for the money. High-quality audio, well built, looks great, and comes with an awesome software bundle; no wonder it’s one of the best-selling audio interfaces around.

  • Upgraded Scarlett preamps.
  • Looks awesome.
  • Switchable Air mode.
  • Extremely well built.
  • Wired analog circuitry protection.
  • Great software bundle.

No real complaints at under $200.

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