The first generation Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio interface has turned out to be one of the bestselling USB audio interfaces at the budget end of the market ever. Focusrite have said that it's the best selling USB audio interface in the world, although I'm not sure where they get their sales figures from, so who knows, but the fact is it's been hugely popular.
And the great news is that now there is a 2nd generation model and it’s established enough for the price to start falling, which makes it a great option to consider. In this Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface review I'm going to cover how the 2nd generation Scarlett 2i2 has been improved.
There have been great strides made on the first generation versions issues with latency, and dealing with hot guitar pickups better by adding more headroom. So as a guitar player who was used the first-generation box, I was quite excited about getting my hands on one of these little boxes and putting it through its paces.
2i2 Review: First Impressions
On unboxing the Scarlett 2i2 I have to say I was generally highly impressed. Build quality is definitely better than the first-generation model and everything feels a little more solid and refined.
Jacks fit in and out pull out solidly and it doesn't feel like it's going to fall to bits at any moment. This thing is built to last and built to go on the move if you need to.
One limitation that is obvious from looking at it is that it doesn't have MIDI or S/PDIF inputs or outputs, which could be a problem for some people.
Not a physical thing, but something I want to mention right at the start here is that the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface does not have support for Apple iPads. For me this is a big missed opportunity, because especially with recording on the move and the younger generation picking up this kit and getting creative, I think that's a big gap that should have been addressed.
Bundled software is good, and I will cover that later in detail. But considering it's all free then you are really getting something for nothing, which is always a good thing!
But generally, first impressions of the audio interface itself in terms of its look, build quality and what you get bundled with it, are good.
Scarlett 2i2: Hardware
The Scarlett 2i2 does exactly as its name describes. It has two inputs and two outputs, of which the inputs are combo jacks and the outputs are balanced outputs that you can connect quarter inch TRS cables to external monitors.
The combo jacks inputs can take both XLR microphone cables and quarter inch instrument cables as well. So obviously this means you can record from two input sources simultaneously. Both of these inputs can switch between line and instrument.
One limitation of the 2nd generation 2i2 is that it doesn't have MIDI or SPDIFF inputs or outputs. But it does also have a quarter inch headphone jack on the front, which is controlled by its own volume dial.
Playing the guitar through the audio interface, it becomes obvious that one of the main upgrades in the 2i2 is how much better things are with the increased 8dB headroom added to the instrument input, which really helps with hot pickups. The first-generation version had clipping problems, but these have definitely been solved.
Generally, this second generation model is an upgrade in terms of the quality of the hardware as well. There are surge protection circuits to the inputs and outputs, plus some nice refinements such as making it easier to see indicator lines on the various levels.
So in summary, it's a general upgrade in terms of hardware capability, and it feels like a good quality piece of kit.
2nd Generation Scarlett Latency
The thing I was most excited about when I got my hands on the new Scarlett 2i2 was testing the latency improvements. Apparently latency has been lowered and sample rates have been increased.
Having lower latency helps with CPU usage, because buffer settings can be set higher. This is a big change of the first generation model.
On testing, I noticed a big improvement. With the first-generation audio interface I was using a setting of 48 kHz and 64 samples for guitar recording. That created a latency of about 12.4ms.
Using the same set-up on the new 2i2, latency was down to 7.8ms. That's a pretty dramatic improvement, and with the better support for higher sample rates, you can get that latency down to just 5.17ms at 48khz/32, which is pretty much half of the latency of the original 2i2.
So in conclusion, latency has been dramatically cut, making this audio interface a far better proposition and development than the first-generation interface.
How Does The Scarlett 2i2 Sound?
The Focusrite Scarlett 2nd Generation 2i2 audio interface claims to be an upgrade in sound quality. The company who make this interface claim they have award-winning microphone preamps, but when they were award-winning is anyone's guess.
Comparing my first-generation box to my second generation box, I have to say that I can't hear any difference when recording direct input guitar.
However, I do also own another budget audio interface, and I have to say that both of the Scarlett boxes sound better, especially with a DI guitar. So in terms of quality of sound, generally they are right up there and very competitive within the price bracket.
Scarlett 2i2 Drivers
Right at the start of this section I need to point out that if you have a Windows-based computer hooked up to your Scarlett USB audio interface then you will need to install some new drivers. And the point I need to make is that this new 2i2 uses different drivers to the first generation model.
Although fixes might be in the pipeline, there are a small number of bugs which I encountered quite quickly with these new drivers.
The first one is that when my laptop screen went to sleep, if music was playing it would freeze the computer and need a reboot. Obviously this is not ideal.
The second issue is that it can affect some other programs which were working well before. For example, if I try to get a screen capture using Ableton Live then the laptop starts to have issues. This wasn't happening before, so there could be issues with some programs on your PC.
So although the drivers have been updated and address some earlier issues, it's a real shame that there still seems to be an issue with incompatibility between the drivers and software bundled up in the software pack you get with it. You'd think they would have double checked that compatibility to avoid frustration.
What Software Is Bundled With the Scarlett 2i2?
The Scarlett range (2i2, 2i4, 6i6, 18i8, 18i20) arrive with a pretty good bundle of software. It's definitely one of the best software bundles I've found included with an audio interface.
The main things you get are Ableton Live 9 Lite, which is great for video tutorials, although as of just mentioned it has been a bit glitchy since the drivers were updated, and a Pro Tools software pack.
The Pro Tools software pack has some pretty good add-ons, including a few pretty good pedal effects and two decent amps. This is the free (Lite) version however, but you can upgrade.
Both of these can be used at the same time with ReWire as well, which means that you can take full advantage of both Live's drum racks, plus the other included tools and effects within Pro Tools.
Just for clarity, here is a list of what you get in the Focusrite Pro Tools Creative Pack:
- Eleven Lite (Amp sim)
- Black Op Distortion
- Gray Compressor
- 5-Band EQ
- Vibe Phaser
- Sci-Fi Ring Modulator
- Roto Speaker
- Vari-Fi Speed Shifter
- Studio Reverb
- Tape Echo Pedal
- InTune Digital Tuner
I suppose if there is a downside to all this bundled software then it is that you are getting the free version of Pro Tools. So you can only get it working with plugins from the Avid marketplace, and you can't very easily use the pedals with other amp plugins.
How Does the 2i2 Fit Into The 2nd Generation Range?
The Focusrite Scarlett audio interface range consists of six different models. First you have the Solo, Focusrites entry-level audio interface.
Then there is the main part of the audio interface range:
The Scarlett audio interfaces use USB connections. In addition they all have the same converters and preamps, so sound quality is pretty similar, if not identical in daily use, between all the different models. The main difference is really just about the number of inputs and outputs you require.
In terms of the jump up from the Solo to the 2i2, the main difference is that the Solo has RCA outputs, whereas the 2i2 has a balanced 1/4” TRS connectors. Neither does it have combo input jacks, so you can only connect one microphone and instrument at any time.
Another tiny difference between these two models is that on the 2i2 the headphones jack gets its own volume dial. Although not major, it's actually quite handy.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface Review: Conclusions
Trying to strike a balance in my conclusion is always going to be different with musical tech equipment. There are so many options and variations and comparisons that it's tough to reach a fair conclusion.
So I will start by just listing the pros and cons:
- Latency is significantly lower on this new 2nd generation Scarlett model. It can be as low as 3.06ms on Windows and slightly lower on Mac.
- The clipping issue on guitar hot pickups has been fixed.
- Overall sound is excellent.
- Build quality is very good, it just feels like a quality piece of kit.
- Bundled software, Pro Tools, is good.
- I encountered some bugs with the Windows drivers, causing issues with software, including the software actually bundled with the audio interface.
- There are no S/PDIF or MIDI inputs, or outputs.
- There is no iPad support which I think is a glaring omission.
- Headphones cannot be set up to monitor a separate output, as you can on the higher end versions of the Scarlett range, from the 2i4 and upwards.
So for an entry-level audio interface, the inexpensive second generation Scarlett 2i2 is a great option. I've used it for recording guitars and vocals, and at this price point, it delivers great quality for an individual like me in that situation.
Yes there are glitches with the Windows drivers, but I'm confident that these will be addressed eventually. It makes no sense to not address them when people are obviously going to be feeding back to the company that the bundled software doesn't work with their own drivers. There has been an update which claims to fix these errors, but I'm still intermittently getting them.
I think if I have to talk about the biggest downside with this generally good audio interface, it's the lack of inputs and outputs.
I can point to other audio interfaces in the same price bracket, like the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo, which has MIDI in and outs, and crucially for me in terms of recording on the move and encouraging younger generation, it also has iPad support.
All that falls into the category of minor issues when I am receiving the benefits of such a dramatically reduced latency. I use this interface for a couple of hours most days when I'm recording or playing, and it's become obvious from my experience now that you can push your computer CPU quite far without hitting audio issues.
So if you're in the market for a budget audio interface that delivers on build quality, bundle software, low latency and the flexibility you need for a single or duo recording option, then the 2nd generation Scarlett 2i2 is one audio interface you should be seriously considering.