Today, I’ll be reviewing Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen audio interface. It is one of the most popular choices amongst entry-level interfaces, and with good reason. Let’s take a closer look.
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Final verdict on the Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
The Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is one of the best interfaces you can buy on a budget. It offers an excellent value for money, and delivers solid performance quality. The only downside is a lack of MIDI I/O. Otherwise, it’s damn near perfect for what it is.
What I like
- Great sound quality.
- Solid preamps and Air mode.
What I don’t like
- No MIDI I/O.
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I/O and controls
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is a 2-in/2-out USB audio interface with 24-bit depth and a max sample rate of 192 kHz.
On the front panel, the unit features two XLR/TRS combo inputs, as well as a 1/4-inch headphone jack. Each input is equipped with a line switch, Air mode (which I’ll discuss later), and 48 V phantom power.
To the right of the inputs is the master volume control, a direct monitoring switch, and a monitoring control for the headphones.
The back panel of the Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen audio interface is a no-frills mania, reserved solely for the TRS outputs and USB-C port.
The recording quality is good. Considering that the unit’s max sample rate is 192 kHz (well beyond the ranges of human hearing), there isn’t much left to be desired.
Its DAC and ADC both offer high-quality performances without any notable areas of weakness. Perhaps if the unit was worse there’d be something more interesting to say.
If you want better quality, you’ll have to spend at least $600 on a decent preamp before you start seeing any significant changes.
The preamps leave little to criticize. Even the second generation Scarletts had adequate preamps. At most you had to be wary of louder drummers and buy a FetHead or Cloudlifter for your quieter sources, but that was the height of its shortcomings.
The third generation has surely rectified the first issue with an extended gain range, although soft spoken podcasters will still benefit from an additional mic preamp.
Focusrite’s signature Air mode has proven to be quite successful from what I can tell, seeing that the company has equipped every model of the Clarett and Scarlett lines with this feature.
It’s based off of Rupert Neve’s ISA 110, a no-compromise mic preamp and equalizer which Neve was commissioned to create by George Martin. Having it engaged will essentially apply a high-end boost and slight saturation to whatever it is you’re recording.
For beginners, there really isn’t much more to ask for here. The interface doesn’t take up much space on your desk, and two inputs offer more than enough flexibility for the novice engineer.
The Scarlett 2i2 is small, lightweight, and easy enough to squeeze in a backpack. Recording engineers on the road will find it incredibly useful.
The Scarlett 2i2 is a well-built and compact little unit. It does feel fairly flimsy, but for an entry-level interface its design is more than adequate. It can handle a drop, a scuff, etc.
Upon purchasing the Scarlett 2i2, you’ll receive access to Ableton Live Lite, Plug-in Collective access, Hitmaker Expansion Bundle, as well as a three-month Avid Pro Tools subscription.
This bundle is extremely accommodating, and will quickly help you to get started on making great-sounding recordings.
Compared to other audio interfaces
The Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is probably the best budget audio interface and one of my favorites in any price range. But here are some alternative options to consider.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 vs Scarlett Solo
Just get the Scarlett 2i2. You may think you only need one input, but soon enough you’ll wish you had one more.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 vs Motu M2
The M2 has slightly better DAC, better preamps, and better drivers for PC and Mac. However, the differences will be incredibly subtle to the beginner, and doesn’t amount to all that much, especially since the output quality is more or less equal between the two.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 vs Universal Audio Volt 2
Again, it really just comes down to whether or not MIDI I/O is an important factor for you. These interfaces offer more or less the same performance quality, but the Scarlett 2i2 doesn’t have any MIDI I/O.
Scarlett 2i2 vs PreSonus Studio 24c
The Focusrite has better preamps with a slightly wider gain range, but the PreSonus offers MIDI I/O. Otherwise, their performances are fairly similar. If you want MIDI compatibility, the PreSonus is the obvious option.
Who is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen best suited for?
As an entry-level audio interface, the Scarlett 2i2 is best suited for beginners and novices looking to start recording for the first time. Professionals may also benefit from having one of these lying around for on-the-fly recording projects requiring minimal setup.