Years ago, the recording studio I co-owned acquired a Focusrite Red 3 compressor. The red aluminum casing was stunning, all the knobs were heavyduty, and it looked and felt like a machine that meant serious business. The magical part was that you could absolutely crush a signal into the dirt, and it still came out sounding clear, present, and transparent. I’ve adored Focusrite gear ever since. But I never expected I’d ever be able to snag a brand new Focusrite mic preamp for under $150.
The Scarlett 2i2 is a home-studio or mobile-recording-ready stereo USB 2.0 interface with two mic pres, phantom power, halo-style signal meters (green, amber, red), two Neutrik inputs, zerolatency direct monitoring, a headphone output, and an included software bundle of Scarlett’s VST/AU/RTAS plug-in suite (compression, reverb, noise gate, EQ) and Ableton Live Lite 8. The 2i2 casing isn’t as tough or as gorgeous as the $5k Red 3, but it’s still pretty cool, and throughout two months of being jostled around in gig bags the interface never failed or suffered any damage.
I tested the 2i2 in rehearsal spaces, a commercial studio, and my home office using a 13" Apple MacBook Pro loaded with GarageBand (for the mobile stuff), a Mac Pro running Pro Tools 9 (the studio), and a 17" MacBook Pro outfitted with Logic (at home). I plugged in various humbucker and single-coil guitars directly through the ¼" Instrument input, and recorded lead and background vocals, guitar amps, drums (stereo perspective), and percussion using mics such as a Royer R-121 ribbon, a Shure SM58 dynamic, an M-Audio Solaris condenser, and an AKG C 414 condenser.
In all recording applications, the 2i2 proved to be a clean and transparent preamp that captured very detailed and dimensional source sounds. I heard everything I wanted to hear, and I noticed zero artifacts or other sonic gremlins. The stereo drum recording—tracked with the Royer in front of the kit, and the AKG as an overhead mic—documented the boom and snap of the kick drum, the woody crack of the snare, and the impact of toms, cymbals, and hi-hats brilliantly. For electric guitars, I tracked amps using a close mic placement on the grille and a room position five feet back. The articulation of the guitar attack was excellent, and the room reflections were captured nicely. When plugging in direct, the clean guitar tones were taut and resonant, with a nice zing on pick attack and finger plucks. All-inall, I couldn’t believe I was recording all this dimensional glory through a $149 USB preamp. Heck, I daydreamed I was at Abbey Road Studios. The Scarlett 2i2 is that good.
CONTACT Focusrite, focusrite.com
MODEL Scarlett 2i2
PRICE $149 street
SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS Mac: OS X 10.6.5 Snow Leopard (32 and 64 bit) and above, OS X Lion 10.7 ready; Win: Windows 7 (32 and 64 bit) and Windows XP SP3 (32 bit).
NOISE 0.002% (Mic/Line), 0.005% (Instrument)
GAIN RANGE +10dB to +55dB (Mic/ Instrument), -10dB to +35dB (Line)
KUDOS Outstanding sound quality. Portable. Excellent value.