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Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen review

Our Focusrite Scarlett Solo review will confirm why it’s one of the most popular audio interfaces on the market. This 3rd generation of Scarlett Solo comes with some notable upgrades, including Focusrite’s new Air technology.

Previous versions of the Scarlett Solo have often been called the best-selling audio interface in its class. Let’s take a closer look at if and why the 3rd generation deserves that same title.

Table of contents:

Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen overview

The Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen is a simple but effective 2-in 2-out USB-C audio interface. One of the most appealing things about the Scarlett Solo (all generations) has always been the USB connectivity. Because it’s powered entirely by USB, the compact Scarlett Solo is the ideal audio interface at home or on the road.

The two input channels consist of one XLR input and one TRS input. Channel one’s XLR input comes with a phantom power button and Air button, which we will detail more shortly. The TRS input on channel two can be used as a line-level input or a Hi-Z input at the push of a button.

Both channels together give the opportunity to record vocals and an instrument simultaneously, or two instruments/mics as part of a duet.

Some two-channel audio interfaces, more commonly older models, are limited to recording one track at a time. The Scarlett Solo is only limited by your DAW; as long as your DAW can record multiple tracks at once, the Solo is good to go.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen (front panel)
Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen (front panel) / Image credit: Focusrite

Taking up what’s left of the front panel is a large monitor volume dial and 1/4″ headphone out with a direct monitoring switch. Direct monitoring allows you to monitor your inputs with zero latency. The back panel is where you’ll find the USB-C connection and two balanced studio monitor outputs.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen (back panel)
Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen (back panel) / Image credit: Focusrite

Using the Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen is super-easy right from the very start. Each button/switch uses an LED illumination to show when they are engaged. More impressively, each channel has an illuminated LED gain dial. The Halo illumination shows when a signal is coming through and changes from green through amber/red when you are peaking.

Air mode

The Air function is exclusive to the XLR input and emulates the original Focusrite ISA preamps. Imagine how your vocal would sound if you wanted to make it airier, like the “airy” preset you get on numerous vocal plugins.

That’s precisely what it does; it creates more space for the vocal to breathe, allowing it to better cut through the mix.

It does that by boosting the high-mids and high frequencies, not by a considerable amount, but just enough to add some extra clarity and top-end shimmer.

As we mentioned, you could choose to use this function on an acoustic guitar, too. You might find a range of applications where it will be very useful. The thing that makes it a great addition is that it’s switchable, and you decide when it’s in use.

Some manufacturers develop new features and think they are so good that they make them compulsory. If Focusrite had said, the XLR input automatically had a high-mid, high-end boost, I’d be very disappointed. As it stands, the Air function is a very cool and very useable feature.

Recording quality 8/10

You’d struggle to find any Focusrite Scarlett Solo review that complains much about the sound quality. For the money, you definitely get more than you pay for.

The Solo’s A/D converter captures audio at a resolution of 24-bit/192 kHz. As such a small and low-budget audio interface, the Scarlett Solo provides a very respectable dynamic range. The dynamic range is 111 dB, 110.5 dB, and 110 for the XLR input, line input, and instrument input, respectively.

Another useful spec is that the max input level of each is also relatively impressive. So, while the XLR input is mainly used for vocals, it can also handle pretty aggressive acoustic instrument recordings very well. It gives you the option of using the new Air function with more than just vocals if you choose.

Overall, the Scarlett Solo provides a pretty flat frequency response.

Another thing that the Scarlett range has long been known for is its ultra-low noise mic preamps. According to Focusrite, this 3rd generation features their best Scarlett preamps to date.

Preamps that are built-in to an audio interface don’t tend to color the sound one way or another; they are commonly transparent. For that reason, many people still opt for an external microphone preamp to add some warmth or color.

While I wouldn’t say that the newest Scarlett Solo preamps stray too far from the expected, engaging Air mode feels a little more like an external preamp adding some color.

If any area lets the performance down slightly, it would be the headphone output. Much of this may depend on the headphones that you are using to monitor your recording. But, with low-impedance headphones and higher volumes, you may experience a little distortion.

To be clear, we aren’t talking about a huge problem here or even a problem that everyone will experience.

Build quality 9/10

Build quality is another area that you won’t find too many complaints about in any Scarlett audio interface review.

The Solo is considerably smaller and lighter than all other Scarlett models but made from the same aluminum housing. All of the controls feel nice and solid; nothing is too flimsy. All in all, it’s a super-portable unit that’s still as rugged as it needs to be.

Build quality is another area that you won’t find too many complaints about in any Scarlett review. The Solo is considerably smaller and lighter than all other Scarlett models but made from the same aluminum housing. All of the controls feel nice and solid; nothing is too flimsy. All in all, it’s a super-portable unit that’s still as rugged as it needs to be.

Software bundle 8/10

  • Ableton Live Lite.
  • Pro Tools First.
  • Focusrite Red 2 and Red 3 Plugin Suite.
  • Softube Time & Tone Bundle.
  • Choice of four XLN Audio Addictive Keys.

Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen vs. other interfaces

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen

The main difference is that both 2i2 channels feature combo-inputs for XLR, line, or instrument, and use of Air mode. If you work exclusively on your own as a singer-songwriter or solo-podcaster, the Solo is perfect; otherwise, pay a little extra for more versatility. See our Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 review

M-Audio AIR 192|4

The AIR 192|4 is another popular choice; recording quality and build quality are pretty even with the Scarlett Solo. Focusrite wins the versatile sound battle with Air mode, M-Audio wins on functionality with dedicated controls for USB/Direct sound blend and headphone volume; it’s whatever you value most. See our M-Audio AIR 192|4 review

Steinberg UR12

In pro audio, Steinberg is as trusted a name as most, and the UR12 is of excellent quality. But, it’s the Solo all day this time; it looks better, feels better, and has a far better software bundle. See our Steinberg UR12 review

Final verdict on the Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen

Focusrite has shown for long enough that they know what they are doing in this market. As a beginner audio interface or even a portable interface for a pro, the Scarlett Solo will always be near the top.

The only reasons not to choose the Solo will be if you want more inputs (or input types) or a different feature set. It would be difficult to pick against the Solo purely on recording quality.

We predict the Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen will continue to be a best-selling audio interface for a long time.

  • Professional sound.
  • Cheap, but well built.
  • Direct monitoring.
  • LED indicators.
  • Air mode.
  • Easy set-up.
  • Limited to one XLR and one Hi-Z/Line.
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