Producing high-quality music is so much easier and more fun if you have the correct audio interface to transform audio signals into information your computer can read.
Focusrite is one of the leading audio interface brands that continue to push the boundaries of innovation.
It can be challenging to pick the correct audio interface from the brand’s extensive lineup, mostly its Scarlett series.
With the company’s 3rd-generation Scarletts, I am inclined to give my honest take on how each model compares with one another to help you decide which audio interface you should buy.
Know that these Scarletts have their respective niches, which I will point out in each product review.
Let us begin by looking at and comparing the different 3rd-generation Focusrite Scarlett audio interfaces now available on the market.
Here’s a list of Focusrite Scarlett Audio Interfaces
- Scarlett Solo – Best for Beginners
- Scarlett 2i2 – Best for Home Studio, Easy Setup
- Scarlett 4i4 – Best for Next-Level Music Production
- Scarlett 8i6 – Greater Flexibility and Better Performance
- Scarlett 18i8 – Best for Bands & Sound Producers
- Scarlett 18i20 – Versatile Audio Interface
- Scarlett Solo Studio Bundle – Best for Guitarists
- Scarlett 2i2 Studio Bundle – Great for That Crystal Clear Vocal Recording
The Scarlett Solo is a great-sounding and easy-to-use audio interface Focusrite designed for guitarists and aspiring artists.
This 3rd-generation Scarlett audio interface has everything a beginner artist, budding guitarist, or aspiring sound producer needs at a price that most people consider a steal.
As a plug-and-play device, using this audio interface is as straightforward as using any computer peripheral.
You only need to plug it into your computer’s USB port, connect the microphone to the first channel, mate the guitar cable to the second, and you are ready to rock and roll like the pros.
Its XLR technology is stellar, complete with the brand’s proprietary Air mode that makes ordinary people sing like the pros.
Included in the package are all the tools you will need to get your home recording on track.
You get the Avid Pro Tools, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Red Plug-in Suite. Ableton Live Lite, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, Plug-in Collective, and three months subscription to Splice Sounds.
Who It Is For: The Scarlett Solo is perfect for beginner solo performers who love playing their musical instruments while singing their favorite songs.
The all-new and improved Scarlett 2i2 is a favorite of experienced and budding recording enthusiasts, known for its exceptional performance at a price that will make you scratch your head.
Focusrite’s preamps are famous for producing crisp and clear vocals without the annoying noise and hiss of other products when revving the gain.
Surprisingly, this audio interface performs as great as the brand’s legendary Liquid Saffire 56 of the late-2000s, making the 2i2 an excellent bargain.
What is fascinating is the 3rd-gen 2i2’s preamps got some pretty serious upgrades, including the proprietary Air technology.
The feature captures ambiance, audio detail, and space realism that seasoned sound producers and recording artists can only get from five-digit rigs.
Despite its professional-grade architecture, this audio interface is never a PC hog.
Setting the buffer size to the lowest possible level does not produce dropouts, pops, or cracks.
Checking its latency is also made ridiculously easier because of its direct monitor switch, empowering users to monitor the audio input without relying on the computer.
What you get is a device that acts like a pro, complete with all the professional-grade recording tools that can expand your music adventures without hurting your budget.
Who It Is For: Anyone who wants to start a home studio should consider the Scarlett 2i2 without worrying about complicated setups, dizzying operation, and a prohibitive price.
The Scarlett 4i4 is almost similar to the 2i2, except for a pair of trailblazing Focusrite preamps and more I/O interfaces.
A pair of low-noise, low-distortion, and transparent preamps are front and center in this audio interface, giving musicians the headroom they need for their projects the way high-end units do.
It has two well-balanced line inputs for connecting synthesizers, drum machines, and other line sources.
Musicians will also appreciate its four balanced outputs for efficient monitoring or exceptional mixing of recordings.
Monitoring the recording is pretty straightforward because of the device’s direct input monitoring system.
It allows users to check their audio inputs straight from their headphones or other output devices without looking at the computer.
The 4i4 also offers high-performance converters, exceptional analog power surge protection, ultra-low latency, impressive halo design, and an industry-leading switchable Air option for phenomenal vocals and instrument sounds.
Who It Is For: This audio interface is perfect for musicians, artists, and sound producers who are ready to take their adventures to the next level because of a growing number of instruments and a fuller appreciation of music production.
This Scarlett audio interface offers budding sound producers a dependable system for making professional-quality recordings that optimizes hardware performance.
The 8i6 is not different from other Focusrite third-generation audio interfaces, although it promises to bridge the gap between the entry-level offerings and its high-end product line.
Inside its now-iconic form factor are a pair of great-sounding preamps and a revolutionary circuitry that transforms audio signals into digital information one can mix and tweak in any computer.
Unlike the brand’s entry-level offerings, this device already comes with S/PDIF and MIDI I/O interfaces that complement its six line-ins and four line-outs for multiple hardware connections.
Its main selling point is the loopback feature, allowing users to grab a stereo feed from any software playback and hardware input for more efficient podcasting, sampling, or streaming.
Also included is Focusrite’s revolutionary sound recording suite that can create masterful sounds the way the pros do but without complicated setups.
For its standout features and exceptional performance, its price is a steal.
Who It Is For: Focusrite designed the Scarlett 8i6 for the avid hardware sound producer ready to ditch the entry-level audio interface for a device with greater flexibility and better performance without hitting the budget.
If your band is ready to hit the big time, you will need an audio interface that works like a professional rig without undermining your group’s meager budget.
The Scarlett 18i8 is the perfect solution for those who want exceptional sound recording capabilities, stable computer connectivity, and a bevy of I/O interfaces to get the band on the act.
This third-generation Scarlett features high-performance preamps with Air technology, ensuring professional studio-quality sound production despite making the music in the home.
It has eight line-ins and four line-outs for more efficient sound recording, empowering any band to create the kind of music they want their fans to hear.
There is no need to purchase expensive sound recording and editing software because the 18i8 already comes with Focusrite’s signature recording suite.
Its system drivers feel right at home whether one uses a Mac or a PC, ensuring optimum functionality.
The Scarlett 18i8 is the next best thing aspiring bands can have for a professional-grade audio interface that will not send them into bankruptcy even before they see their careers lift off.
Who It Is For: The Scarlett 18i8 is suitable for bands and sound producers who play various musical instruments, creating a symphony that only high-end audio interfaces can match sans the hefty price tag.
The 18i20 is Focusrite’s premium audio interface in its eight-model Scarlett lineup.
This device comes with professional-grade hardware and software that simplifies sound production without bothering on the price tag.
Inside its sleek, full-rack design is an architecture that seamlessly integrates 18 sound inputs and 20 audio outputs for a phenomenal sound one can only get from a five to six-digit studio-quality rig.
With eight superior-quality preamps, this audio interface is ready to take home-recording to more professional levels.
Its Air technology ensures crisp, clear, and distortion-free vocals and instruments without any complicated setups.
Making professional studio-quality music and sounds has never been this simple and easy.
Stalwart sound producers highlight the system’s integrated talkback mic, empowering users to talk to band members straight from the device.
With its unquestionable versatility and unparalleled performance at this price range, the 18i20 is a huge hit for up-and-coming home studios dreaming of making it big.
Who It Is For: The 18i20 is the pinnacle of Scarlett technology suitable for anyone who wants to turn an ordinary living space into a professional-grade studio that produces incredible, pro-quality music.
The Scarlett Solo Studio is similar to the Scarlett Solo with the addition of a professional-quality condenser mic and closed-back headphones to start a beginner’s journey into music production in the home.
It is safe to assume that this Focusrite product has the same technological advancements as the Solo, suitable for aspiring artists, podcasters, and novice sound producers.
Its principal advantage is the bundled headphones and microphone, saving users the hassle of determining and buying the best products to go with their Solo audio interface.
The HP60 MkIII headphones provide comfortable and convenient playback, monitoring, and mixing clear and studio-quality audio.
On the other hand, the CM25 MkIII can outclass high-end condenser microphones on the market with its excellent, distortion-free pickup.
Combining these two technologies with the brand’s revolutionary Air innovation results in a system that even professionals envy.
Who It Is For: The Scarlett Solo Studio is an excellent combo for the beginning guitarist who loves singing while playing the instrument, creating phenomenal sound without a substantial investment.
Here is another combo product from Focusrite, suitable for aspiring sound producers and beginning artists.
It extends the Scarlet 2i2 system’s exceptional performance, complete with a professional-quality condenser mic and headphones to make audio playback monitoring and mixing more worthwhile.
The revolutionary preamps are still present together with a more robust I/O interface than the Solo.
The condenser microphone and headphones make the perfect pair, complementing the 2i2’s phenomenal music production.
Monitoring the audio is effortless, allowing users to fine-tune their creations and further harnessing their growing talents.
Setting this package is as effortless as plugging the mic and headphones into their respective ports, and one can start making studio-quality music.
Who It Is For: The Scarlett 2i2 Studio is perfect for those ready to take the step into the world of studio-quality home recording.
Choosing which Focusrite Scarlett audio interface you should buy is easy if you consider the following factors.
I excluded sound quality, monitoring efficiency, and overall performance because these parameters are a given in every Focusrite product you will buy.
Focusrite designed its Scarlett product line as six audio interfaces with unique features catering to different sound production needs.
For example, it would be best for absolute beginners to get either the Solo, Solo Studio, 2i2, or 2i2 Studio to acclimatize them to the basics of music production in the home.
Once they have mastered the fundamentals, people can pick the mid-range Scarlett 4i4 or 8i6.
At the pinnacle of the series are the Scarlett 18i8 and Scarlett 18i20, which are perfect for seasoned sound producers, artists, and musicians.
Number and Format of I/O Interfaces
It will also help to determine how many input devices you intend to plug into the audio interface.
The most basic device accepts a microphone for vocals and another cable for musical instruments.
If you have other devices, such as a bass guitar and drum kit, you might want to get a Scarlett with more I/O ports.
You might also need to consider the number of headphones the audio interface can accommodate for simultaneous tracking.
It also helps to know the type of connections your devices need, such as ¼”, RCA, XLR, digital, or 1/8”.
Check if you need MIDI, ADAT, AES, S/PDIF, and other optical digital I/Os.
There is a Scarlett audio interface for every budget.
For example, the Scarlett Solo and 2i2 are suitable for people who may not have the budget now but can still leverage the devices’ impressive music production capabilities.
There are also the middle ground products – the Scarlett 4i4 and Scarlett 8i6 – satisfying the music production needs of advanced beginners.
Even the product’s high-end models – the Scarlett 18i8 and 18i20 – are still more affordable than other brands.
Why is Scarlett the best-selling interface in 2021?
There are many reasons why Scarlett is the best-selling interface in 2021.
Let us start with the brand.
This UK professional audio company is a four-time recipient of the UK’s Queen’s Awards for Enterprise – two each for Technology and International Trade.
It is easy to see that Scarlett audio interfaces have enviable technology and a user-friendly design to match.
Focusrite designed its Scarlett audio interfaces to do only three things: provide users the best sound, the most pleasant experience, and the fastest speed.
Scarlett audio interfaces offer an enjoyable experience for anyone from the novice musician to the hardcore sound producer.
Their sound processing performance is perfect for those who want only the best sound to come out from their home or professional studio.
Is Focusrite Scarlett really the best interface?
Many people think the Focusrite Scarlett is the best audio interface today because of its pristine sound performance, reliability, effortless setup and operation, and affordability.
However, other people may beg to disagree, primarily because they prefer other brands or looking for product features the 3rd-generation Scarletts do not have.
Like any other product, deciding about the best audio interface boils down to personal preferences relative to one’s needs.
Any product that addresses a potential buyer’s pain points is worthy of the best audio interface accolade.
Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that Focusrite will not receive the UK’s most prestigious royal award if not for its cutting-edge technology, user-friendliness, and exceptional audio processing performance.
Focusrite’s impressive line of Scarlett-series USB audio interfaces are perfect for modern sound producers, artists, musicians, and music-loving folks.
There is a Scarlett for every type of musician, from the Solo for absolute newbies to the 18i20 for people who are passionate enough to embark on a professional studio-quality sound production right in the home.
You can get any of these Scarlett audio interfaces from Sweetwater.