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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Generation 3 Review

By Damien Gula on August 13, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Generation 3 Review

Here at MMORPG.com, we get to cover the games we love and the gear that helps us enjoy them. For some of us, that enjoyment comes in the form of content creation. While we have reviewed countless pieces of PC hardware and peripherals as well as professional-grade microphones and headphones, there has been a category of pieces that has been largely missing.

With the rise of content creation (whether live streaming, voice-over to video, or podcasting), there are competing schools of thought on what gear is needed to do these things well. Does one need a studio-grade mixer or will a run-of-the-mill USB mic get the job done well enough? Add to this confusion the growing catalogue of “gamer” products with flashy aesthetics and it’s easy for the waters to get muddy. The answer, I believe, lies in the in-between: USB audio interfaces.

Thanks to our friends over at Focusrite, we have one of the industry leading interfaces on the market today: the Scarlett 2i2 Generation 3. Let’s take a closer look at it.

Specifications:

  • MSRP: $159.99
  • Inputs: 2x XLR/Instrument jacks
  • Supported Sample Rate: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz [Edit] at 24-bit
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0, Type-C (cable included)
  • Mic Input: Dynamic Range: 111dB - A-weighted, Gain Range: 56dB, 
  • Impedance: 3kΩ, 
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20kHz
  • Outputs: 2x Analogue, 1x Headphone
  • AES17 Standard Compliant

In case you are not familiar with the full function of a USB Audio Interface, let me break it down:

As the name suggests, this USB interface captures analogue signal from an XLR microphone or instrument line and converts that signal into digital form. These devices function like a sound card, providing enhanced audio playback features while enabling higher quality recording. These devices typically have features like phantom power (48V), headphone jacks, and lines out for studio monitors. However, the level of quality you may get in each device is dependent on the components within them. This is where the Scarlett has a leading edge.

For over 30 years, Focusrite has been making microphone preamps for recording and it shows. These inputs allow you to toggle between mic lines and instrument lines to give you the best possible signal strength for your recording or streaming needs - especially if you are running and audio line from another device.

The third-generation Scarlett has upgraded microphone preamps from the previous generation as well as the inclusion of stereo direct monitoring. It also includes a new feature called AIR mode on each channel. This more  According to the product description page, Focusrite says that this feature adds “unique high-end detail” and, I have to hand it to them - it does just that. It’s very subtle, but you have to hear it for yourself:

 

I have used a fair share of audio inputs over the years and I was blown away by the quality of capture - especially using the Stealth from Aston Microphones. It is crisp and clear with plenty of headroom on each channel with extremely low line level noise. My channel volume was set to about 35% - which was perfect for the combination of the microphone I was using as well as the way I was using the mic itself.

This “perfection” was in no small part to the active signal monitoring on the channel volume knobs. There is a run LED surrounding the knob which glows green as your volume stays within the appropriate levels, turns yellow when you start leaning toward clipping (approaching the volume threshold before distortion) and red when you are fully clipping. If you are paying attention to what you are doing it is a practically foolproof system.

And it within that statement that the Scarlett 2i2 really shines. Whether you are a seasoned content creator or new to using USB audio interfaces, Focusrite provides an excellent entry point any level of skill. The Scarlett 2i2 is also bundled with software and plug-ins to ensure you have everything that you need to get started.

The one design decision that just feels off to me is that the Scarlett uses a USB Type-C connection, but it appears to be USB 2.0 instead of a more modern protocol. I could not find any documentation on the connection type, but I stumbled upon USB 2.0-level transfer speeds while testing. It did not seem to have an impact on quality or latency while I was testing it. Perhaps, this was a cost savings move.

Speaking of cost saving, if you looking to begin your foray into the world of content creation and do not have any equipment, Focusrite has two “Studio” bundles within their line-up of Scarlett series devices that both include a pair of studio headphones, a 3-meter XLR cable, and a condenser microphone. The Scarlett 2i2 Studio bundle costs $269.99.

Final Thoughts

Your XLR microphone capture will only be as good as the device you plug it into. With its third generation, the Scarlett 2i2 by Focusrite continues to build upon the long legacy of quality preamps and innovation with direct monitoring, LED level indicators, and AIR mode. At $159.99, the 2i2 is competitively priced to its counterparts.

If you are looking to create high quality content with audio fidelity in your voice overs, the Scarlett 2i2 Generation 3 is a heavy hitter right out of the box.

Pros

  • High build quality
  • Refined Focusrite preamps sound amazing
  • Ring LED assists with seeing line levels

Cons

  • USB 2.0 connectivity seems odd for a new device

The product discussed in this article was sent on loan by Focusrite for the purposes of review.

[Editorial note:] After this article posted, we had the opportunity to speak directly with the manufacturer regarding this decision. According to Focusrite, their internal tests did not offer improvements in track count or latency between USB 2.0 and 3.0. Therefore, a decision was made to keep the Scarlett 2i2 operating at USB 2.0.