FOCUSRITE HAS BEEN ON FIRE lately with its attention to recording solutions for musicians. Last year, the company deployed its massive experience in the pro-audio field to produce its Scarlett 2i2 mic/instrument preamp for just $149. Far from an attempt to entice home-studio geeks with an affordable, yet neutered product from an esteemed brand, the 2i2 is a sonically transparent preamp that can definitely cut it in pro sessions. The 2i2 is now offered in Focusrite’s savvy Scarlett Studio bundle (it also can still be purchased separately), and a miniature preamp designed expressly for iPads has materialized in the new iTrack Solo.
Excepting the computer and perhaps a mic stand, this bundle ($249 street) really can be “your total home studio in a box.” Even if you prefer to do critical listening through studio monitors, and therefore need to add that cost to your recording-gear fund, it doesn’t make the Scarlett Studio any less of an astounding deal. You get that brilliant 2i2 mic preamp, a set of Scarlett Studio HP60 headphones, a Scarlett Studio CM25 large-diaphragm condenser, a red mic cable, Cubase LE6 recording software, Novation’s Bass Station soft synth, a collection of Loopmaster samples, and Scarlett Studio EQ and compression plug-ins. While the hardware’s “everything scarlett” hues make for shrewd marketing, I didn’t care if it was a gimmick, because, wow, the red gear looks cool as all hell.
The HP60 headphones have very hip ’50s/’60s styling, but construction is a tad flimsy, and as they sit somewhat loosely atop your head, isolation from outside distractions is limited. Sound reproduction, however, is excellent. The HP60s are pleasant to listen to (no fatigue was noted during long mix sessions), and stereo imaging is spot on. No frequencies are significantly hyped, so the tonal spectrum is accurate enough to make sonic evaluations with confidence. The mixes I did wearing the HP60s translated well to other playback systems, with the exception of some bass frequencies that I initially under or over mixed until I got used to the phones. The CM25 condenser sounds natural, clear, and open on vocals, although audible sibilance was noted while tracking some singers. The CM25 isn’t a one-app mic, either. It also captured all the jangle and high-end shimmer of acoustic guitars, added some nice air when recording guitar amps, and ably reproduced the low thump and sizzling snare sound of a cajon.
Considering what you get for $249, the Scarlett Studio package is simply a crazy good value. Really. It’s nutty, old-time New York City screaming- mad stereo-store TV ad guy crazy. Each element taken separately would be a good choice for making pro-sounding tracks, but offered all together, it’s pretty much a deal recording musicians shouldn’t refuse.
Just a few years back, they would have labeled you a crazy person if you suggested that, someday, everything you needed to record a multitrack production could be carried in a Pee Chee and your coat pockets. I’m talking preamp, mic, and recorder—which, in this case, is an iPad. (What did you think the Pee Chee was for?) The small but mighty iTrack Solo ($159 street) has native iPad capability for seamless integration with the popular Apple tablet (it can also be used with PCs and Macs), and the package also includes Ableton Live Lite recording software and Scarlett signal-processing plug-ins. Lest you think the iTrack is just too tiny and cute to survive being constantly packed off to rehearsal spaces, collaborators’ homes, and other mobile locales, I purposefully dropped it on a wood floor from a height of four feet. The metal casing took the abuse without a scratch, and while the Gain knobs popped off their stems (I simply put them back on), there were no other ill effects. When I got back to recording, the preamp continued to work as if nothing had happened.
The iTrack Solo sounds very good, and serves up clear, focused, and transparent vocal and instrument tracks. No artifacts were noted, and headroom is reasonably generous. Compared to the Scarlett 2i2, the 2i2 captures slightly more complex midrange articulation and rounder lows for ten bucks cheaper than the iTrack Solo. However, the iTrack is more portable, and iPad users will love its trouble-free, plug-and-play operation.
Connecting the iTrack to an iPad is another matter. The included proprietary cable is short (6” long) and stiff, and you’d better not lose it while en route to a session, or that session will be put on hold until a new cable is acquired. (Focusrite now offers a free 3m-long cable to all users who register their iTrack Solo with Focusrite.com.) You also can’t plug in two mics to record a live-stereo performance (though you could “cheat” by using the iTrack’s instrument input to connect a hobbyist mic hardwired to a ¼” cable). Those quibbles aside, the iTrack Solo is an awesome preamp for the iPad set, and it allows your “recording muse” to visit anywhere and any time you please—from rehearsal spaces to lunch breaks at the office to a lounge on a Maui beach. Focusrite, focusrite.com.