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Another USB audio interface from Focusrite, the Scarlett 2i2 is arguably the cutest in the range with a nod to the early Focusrite Red rack units.
It's a 2 channel USB 2.0 96kHz 24-bit audio interface. Featuring a pair of Focusrite’s “award winning’ mic preamps, with pretty LED lighting rings around the gain controls, you can use them as Mic/Line or Instrument inputs, 48v phantom power, a switchable zero latency monitor mode, monitor and headphone outputs with separate volume controls.
It's bus powered, the only other connection being a Kensington Lock point. The Scarlett also comes with a suite of Plug-ins (activated by a code in the packaging) and Ableton Live Lite.
About Those Preamps
Once I’d installed the drivers - although it says the Scarlett 2i2 is class compliant, I couldn’t get a peep out of it till I had, we were up and running. Plugging the sE Electronics Voodoo VR-1 Ribbon mic in, got me appreciating the sound of those preamps in full glory. I was actually pretty impressed by them, without any EQ, the mic sounded full and sweet- probably the best I’ve heard it in a while to be honest. With pretty much full gain, there was very little noise.
I had no trouble working at 96kHz and even got the latency down to 36 SAMPLES using live - which was amazing - until I tried to play back any audio. Back up at a standard 256 SAMPLES and we were cooking fine. Perfectly acceptable performance and when triggering drum samples, it was easy to work with.
I did find that hot swapping was a nono though, and required a reboot to reinstantiate the driver for Ableton Live to recognize the unit.
The Focusrite bundle contains a usable reverb, 4-band EQ, 2 channel Compressor, and 2 channel Gate. All of which sounded perfectly usable, the reverb smooth and flexible, EQ sounded quite sweet and the compressor can work from gentle to extremly aggressive FX compression - neither the Gate or Compressor had side chain facilities though. But to be fair, they are free with the unit. Available as VST and AU.
I loved the sound of those preamps on the Ribbon mic, and for the money, it's hard to see a downside just based on that. I did find that the headphone output was a little quiet to my taste, if you are belting out a vocal you may struggle to hear the signal above the noise in the room. As far as features go, there are other models in the range which give you additional IO (though only two mic preamps) and MIDI and S-pdif etc, but for this model the sound is what counts and the Scarlett 2i2 sounds great, especially if you are running some decent mics into it.
Scarlett 2i2 £119, $189
Scarlett 8i6 £199
Scarlett 18i6 £239
Windows 7, XP SP3 (Vista not officially supported)
Mac - OS X 10.6.5 to 10.7
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
sE Electronics Voodoo VR-1 Ribbon Mic
Yamaha DM1000 Digital Desk