Modern multi-I/O interfaces have changed the process of recording for most of us thanks to their incredible built-in conveniences. The Windows-and Mac-ready Scarlett USB interface range from Focusrite—reviewed here via its Generation 2 2i2 and 18i20 units—provide very attractive choices in this category and are notably affordable for their offerings.
Scarlett 2i2 channel input specs include a 20 Hz–20 kHz, ±0.1 dB frequency response, and its monitor, line and headphone output specs are 20 Hz-20 kHz, ±0.1 dB. Maximum output level for monitor and line outputs are +10 dBu (0dBFS); dual headphone TRS output specs are +10 dBu. The 18i20 specs are +16dBu (monitor and line) and +13dBu (headphone).
The 2i2 is a two-channel/stereo input USB device offering two Focusrite Scarlett preamplifiers accepting line, instrument and microphone sources via TRS/XLR combination inputs with switchable 48-volt phantom power. It is bus-powered, thus super portable, measuring under 6.5- by 4- by 1.75-inches in size. A quarter-inch headphone jack with rotary level adjustment, large monitor level knob, direct monitor switch and two handy/unique input gain “halo” knobs (glowing green with signal or red when clipping) are provided on the 2i2’s front panel. Around back, two balanced monitor outputs are provided via quarter-inch TRS jacks.
Further, the 2i2 is aesthetically striking, featuring a brushed aluminum blood-red (or scarlett) chassis. Kudos to Focusrite for the 2i2’s visual distinctiveness that’s notably tasteful for something priced at only $149.99 street.
Meanwhile, the 1U 18i20 USB interface ($499.99 street) provides comprehensive I/O options, giving its user eight preamplifiers accepting line, instrument or microphone sources with switchable 48-volt phantom power and 18 inputs and 20 outputs in total. Input channels include the aforementioned eight analog (via XLR/TRS combination inputs, two on the front panel) plus I/O including two up-to-96 kHz digital S/PDIF via RCA/phono, eight digital via ADAT Optical (or four at 96 kHz), and 16 MIDI channels. Outputs include two quarter-inch TRS balanced line outputs for dedicated studio monitors, eight additional quarter-inch TRS balanced line outputs, dual quarterinch headphone jacks with individual level adjustment, and word clock via BNC. The 18i20 also includes Ableton Live Lite, the intuitive Focusrite Control software mixer and Red 2 EQ and Red 3 Compressor plug-in packages.
I used the 2i2 as a laptop bag-based “run and gun” stereo recording and overdub USB I/O unit over the course of several months. It consistently worked well and its green/red glowing input knobs turned out to be quite informative for recording live performances while multitasking or letting vocalists and guitarist punch in their own overdubs.
In use, the 18i20 served as a superb location recording device, allowing me to multitrack pretty much any musical ensemble straight to Logic Pro X with only cables and microphones in tow. Using the 18i20 to record anywhere and everywhere reminded me why I (and many others) no longer prefer to travel with anything larger than one sole 1U I/O box.
Most importantly, both Focusrite units consistently interfaced with my MacBook Pro and DAW via USB without a hitch, and each unit’s respective latencies are clearly very, very low, never giving me any grief whatsoever. They simply work. And though eight mic channels aren’t always enough for every gig, the 18i20’s ADAT connectivity allows expansion to another eight channels of I/O—very useful, indeed.
Though the pro audio marketplace is plentiful with USB interfaces, few are as intuitive, confidence bolstering, good sounding and value-packed as Focusrite’s Scarlett Range. Depending on specific I/O and mobility requirements, I can wholeheartedly endorse the 2i2 or the 18i20 (or any Scarlett Generation 2 device, for that matter) for users looking for ultimate USB interface bang-for-the-buck.