The team at Focusrite are delighted to be able to announce their newly updated Scarlett range of USB-C interfaces. We at Production Expert have been very privileged to get one of the very first of the new 18i20 units into the UK to use in a studio session. We have given it the once over, and it’s time to let you know what we think to the improvements and upgrades.
Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Generation
The new 3rd Generation of Scarlett interfaces feature six configurations of audio I/O featuring at its heart the best sounding mic preamps the Scarlett range has ever had with the addition of Air (a long time staple of the Clarett range) a high end boost setting to add sparkle and shine to your recording chain. The high impedance instrument inputs have also benefitted from a tweak or two and the AD/DA converters have been updated to offer some of the best specifications of any interface at their price points. The entire range has also seen a design refresh although basic functionality stays the same.
Focusrite have been making mic preamps for around 30 years, and the 3rd Generation mic pre is quoted as the best the Scarlett range has ever seen. The 24-bit/192kHz converters help give your recordings clarity, whilst Air mode breathes life into vocals by reproduce the Air effect of Focusrite’s original ISA mic preamp adding high-end detail for a brighter and more spacious sound.
The Right Tool For The Job
The 3rd Generation of Focusrite Scarlett includes I/O configurations to suit almost any recording or mixing situation. Choose either the Solo, 2i2, 4i4 8i6, 18i8 or 18i20. The new 4i4 and 8i6 add more line I/O vs the 2nd Gen 2i4 and 6i6. New Solo and 2i2 Studio Packs are also available, with Scarlett HP60 MkIII headphone and CM25 MkIII condenser microphone included which are perfect for starting your recording journey.
The Scarlett range are some of the easiest interfaces on the market to get up and running. Focusrite’s Quick Start tool will speed you through the registration process and guide you through setting up software and drivers. Many audio brands could learn a thing or two from this process as there is nothing more frustrating that getting stuck at the first hurdle when all you want to do it get creative and start recording. For Mac users the Scarletts are Plug And Play ready but to get the best out of them you really should download and install the latest version of the Focusrite Control application.
Drivers And Connectivity
Utilising the latest USB-C connectivity Scarlett Gen 3 is very fast. With an up to date computer you will never have issues with roundtrip latency. The drivers Windows have been significantly updated (Mac OS done not have a driver as such) along with the Focusrite Control application to give you a hassle free recording and monitoring workflow. And if your computer does not have USB-C then Focusrite have included a USB-C to USB-A cable. However, in the box we received there was no USB-C cable. These are expensive so I totally understand why this was not included but it might have been a nice addition as many new computers (Apple Macs) are now USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 only.
The Review Unit
The Experts have been given pre-release access to the new Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen featuring 8 of the new Scarlett mic pres, 10 channels of line output over TRS jacks. 8 channels of ADAT optional I/O. Yes I know there are 2 pairs of ADAT optical ports but the second set is for sample rates over 48KHz to still be able to utilise all 8 inputs via ADAT optical, otherwise the unit should have been called the 26i28. MIDI and SPDIF. Rather usefully on the 18i20 you also get a Word Clock BNC output so if you do choose to use the optical I/O to expand your recording rig, you don’t have to worry about clocking through the optical signal the 18i20 can be kept as the clock master which is always a good idea in our experience.
The Review Session
To test the new Scarlett 18i20 we invited signer songwriter Lucy Randell and guitarist Koby Israelite over to the studio to record one of Lucy’s original songs “Find That In Between”. Voice and acoustic guitar are two of our favourite instruments to record to really find out how good any interface, mic pre or AD/DA converter really are both from a sound and workflow point of view.
We like to try new mics as often as possible so on this session we chose the JZ vintage 67 mic for vocals as we are told told it imparts some of that vintage warmth (as the 67 denomination would imply) into recordings.
Stereo Acoustic Guitar
Recording acoustic guitars in stereo can be very gratifying as even the smallest amount of physical movement from the player can give a very nice stereo movement to the recording. In this case we used at pair of JZ Black Hole microphones in a Mid/Side configuration. The upper mic is the fixed cardioid BH2 and the lower mic is the BH1 set to figure 8. The figure 8 mic is then set to record in 2 channels of Pro Tools and panned hard left and hard right with one of the channels flipped 180 degrees out of phase. Then slowly bring in the sides channel and hear that amazing stereo image bloom.
We have covered the previous version of the Scarlett range before and from a tracking and mixing point of view nothing has changed, so check out the link or the video below.
The 18i20 is very easy to use and get a great sound with. The headphone amps are nice and loud and worked really well with my selection of Audio Technica headphones. No distortion, no nasty overloading, it just sounded great.
As mentioned before the Focusrite Control application has been updated for the Gen 3 Scarletts but it’s business as usual here. It just works. However, because the roundtrip latency is so low when you use a buffer setting of 128 samples or below, you don’t have to use the app for monitoring. Just set up some aux sends in Pro Tools (or your chosen DAW) and route these to the headphone outputs. We like this approach as you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth between apps in order to make minor tweaks to headphone mixes.
The track you are about to hear is called Find That In Between by Lucy Randell with Koby Israelite on guitar. It was recorded in a pass with no overdubs or drop-ins. A little chamber reverb has been added (UA Capital Chambers plug-in) to give the track some space and a little light limiting was added to bring the level up for MP3 and YouTube processing. No other EQ or dynamics processing has been added.
There can’t be many people in the recording world who have not, at some point in their careers used some variant of the Focusrite Scarlett audio interface as these things have sold in their millions. The Gen 3 update not only brings a new professional look to these units but also gives the specs a serious quality bump to the point where anyone considering buy a Focusrite Clarett might be taking a look at the Scarlett and trying to save themselves a couple of quid (UK Pounds). The specs on the Clarett are still superior to that of the Scarlett Gen 3 and remember, the Clarett does come in both USB-C and Thunderbolt flavours so depending on your connectivity needs you might choose Clarett for its Thunderbolt option. The Clarett range also features a superior quality mic pre again with Air Mode. Air Mode might as well just be called the makes it sound better mode and while I did not use it in the recording, I do like the way Air sounds on voice, drum overheads and acoustic guitar. Air in the Scarletts works slightly differently to the way Air works in the Clarett range but it still really helps bring your recordings to life in both cases.
All in all the Gen 3 updates are very welcome. The Scarlett Gen 2 sounded good, but to our ears the Gen 3 sounds better and with the super low latency driver available to the Gen 3 Scarlett this make it a very very worthy successor to take the Focusrite Scarlett name forward.
Depending on where you are in the world prices may be subject to change and local taxes but the baby of the range the Scarlett Solo Gen 3 starts at $109.99 USD. The 2i2 starts at $159.99. The Scarlett Solo Studio which includes the condenser mic, cable and headphones starts at $219.99 and the 2i2 Studio starts at $269.99. The 4i4 is $229.99, the 8i6 is 299.99, the 18i8 is $399.99 and the flagship Scarlett 18i20 starts at $499.
You can find out more about the new Focusrite Scarlett Gen 3 range along with full specification and pricing in your region at the Focusrite website.