Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen Review (Still Worth It Today?)

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VERDICT
Focusrite have done a great job with the new line of 3rd generation interfaces. While first glances may give the impression that they are just a prettier version of their former selves, the real magic lies under the hood.
Preamp Quality
8
Features
8.5
Build Quality
8.5
Value For Money
9
PROS
Competitive pricing
Software bundles are unrivalled
Super low noise with pristine preamps
Rugged and well built
CONS
'Air Mode' is a little gimmicky
8.5
OUR SCORE
  • Focusrite unveils their brand-new 3rd gen Scarlett audio interfaces.
  • We go over the new features and review each of the units.
  • Is it worth upgrading from 2nd gen to 3rd gen Scarlett? Find out below.

The World’s Best-Selling Audio Interface Gets An Upgrade

With the release of the new third-generation range of audio interfaces, Focusrite shows no plans in slowing down on their quest to provide affordable, easy to use and high-quality audio products for beginners and professionals alike.

Popular with musicians, podcasters, and other audio enthusiasts who need great sound at a great price point, it’s hard to see Focusrite taking a backseat anytime soon.

We look at the new range of products and give our thoughts below.

Spec Differences Between The 2nd & 3rd Gen Scarlett Interfaces

Focusrite-Scarlett-2nd-Gen-VS-3rd-Gen-Specs

As you can see from the table above, there are some noticeable improvements in the 3rd Gen. All specs considered, the inputs and outputs benefit from a wider dynamic range, gain ranges, and higher input and output levels.

What Else Is New In The 3rd Gen?

But what else is new? Before we dive deep into the individual units themselves, here’s a quick overview.

  • Previous USB 2.0 type–B sockets have been replaced with type‑C connectors.
  • Additional input and output configurations.
  • Newer, better drivers and updated software.
  • A cleaner, louder headphone amp driver.
  • ‘Direct Monitor’ buttons now offer a switch to control ‘mono’ and ‘stereo’ summing.
  • Air Button, which activates an emulation of the classic ISA mic preamps.
  • Full native support for USB-C iPad Pro (Announced June 16, 2020)

Our Verdict On The Focusrite 3rd Gen

Focusrite has done a great job with the new 3rd generation interfaces. While first glances may give the impression that they are just a prettier version of their former selves, the real magic lies under the hood. This is evident in many of the upgrades listed above.

Bundling various DAWs and sample providers such as Splice also adds to their evident care for the user, and is why Focusrite have become a mainstay in budget-friendly pro audio equipment.

The Full Reviews

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen

Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen)
$119.99

The simplest USB audio interface they make. If you want to start creating studio-quality recordings with your guitar, the 3rd Generation Scarlett Solo provides an easy way in.

Why We Love It:
  • Low latency
  • Optimized third-generation technology
  • Intuitive halo indicators
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The Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen comes with balanced TRS outputs, which ensures the elimination of noise and hum when connecting speakers with balanced inputs. This interface is compact, buss-powered, and features two inputs — one for microphone and one for instrument — perfect for the on-the-go musician, vlogger or podcaster.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen

BEST OVERALL INTERFACE
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen)
$179.99

Two of the best performing mic preamps the Scarlett range has ever seen, now with switchable Air mode to give your recordings a brighter and more open sound.

Why We Love It:
  • Award-winning
  • Compact
  • Super-low latency
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Improves on the generation 2 model with 2 upgraded Scarlett mic preamps, high-performance  AD/DA converters, optimized preamp gain structure, super-low latency, and 2 high headroom instrument inputs — at the time of writing, this budget-friendly little number is the world’s number one selling audio interface.

Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

BEST SELLER
Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen)
$249.99

Scarlett 4i4 is the perfect interface for musicians and producers starting to expand their setups and needing that extra little bit of connectivity. Four inputs, four outputs for simultaneous recording of all your channels.

Why We Love It:
  • Super-low latency
  • Award-winning
  • Easy to use
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Replaces the Scarlett 2i4 and features four balanced line inputs and four balanced outputs for monitoring and fx sends. It is a great intermediate interface that allows for expanding your setup with extra connectivity whilst remaining at a wallet-friendly price.

Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen

Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 (3rd Gen)
$299.99

The Scarlett 8i6 is the compact studio solution you've been looking for, allowing you to keep all your hardware plugged in and ready to go: set up mics, guitars and synths to start creating as soon as inspiration strikes.

Why We Love It:
  • Compact
  • Intuitive halo indicators
  • Super-low latency
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Replaces Scarlett 6i6. Like the 4i4, it features two combined instrument and mic inputs, dual headphone outs, gain halos, S/PDIF I/Os, MIDI Input and Output, plus a further four inputs for line-level instruments — 8-in 6-out makes this an excellent audio interface for the hardware-based musician.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 3rd Gen

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (3rd Gen)
$419.99

With its high channel count, compact size and a huge selection of software in the box, 18i8 is ready to record your band wherever you are.

Why We Love It:
  • State-of-the-art interface
  • Award-winning preamps
  • Super-low latency
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Features 4 mic inputs, 8 balanced line inputs, 4 balanced outputs, 2 high headroom instrument inputs, and 4 monitor outs for dual monitor speaker switching — another excellent choice for band practice or the hardware-centric producer.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen

OUR PICK
Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (3rd Gen)
$549.99

The rack-mountable 18i20 gives you 18 inputs and 20 outputs of incredible sound quality. Enough to turn any space into a fully-fledged recording studio.

Why We Love It:
  • Mic preamps renowned for their clarity
  • USB-C Connectivity
  • Competitive price
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Rack-mountable + dual ADAT connectors allow you to expand your setup with up to 8 additional channels. An onboard mic with a talkback function, 18 inputs, 20 outputs, 8 mic pre’s with Air mode option, and dual monitor outs make this the heart of your studio — the backbone for just about any application. The Kraken has been awoken.

Looking to get into music production but don’t know where to begin? Start with these 5 Free DAWS.

Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen Features & Improvements

Build Quality

Focusrite has marketed the Scarlett range in the ‘budget’ league of soundcards, though have received tremendous success as they can afford to cut costs without sacrificing quality. The XLR ports, buttons, and dials all feel well-build, and the chassis, despite being part-plastic, feels rock solid. The 3rd gen continues this streak with high attention to build quality, and not much can be said in comparing the two gens — they are both solid iterations.

Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen Preamps and ‘Air Mode’

Focusrite claims that the 3rd generation Scarlett interfaces are characterized by high gain values and low noise. Making mic preamps since 1985 (Rupert Neve founded the company until being sold to Phil Dudderidge in 1989), they have skin in the game regarding developing high-end gear.

Focusrite claims the 3rd Generation mic pre is the best the Scarlett range has ever seen.

Featuring six configurations of ins and outs with the best performing Scarlett mic preamps the range has ever heard, now with Air, high headroom instrument inputs, and high-performance converters, Scarlett is enabling millions of musicians, songwriters and producers to record, mix and playback audio in studio quality everywhere, all the time.Focusrite

Your recordings will shine with professional clarity with its 24-bit/192kHz converters. At the same time, Air mode (also present in the Clarett USB range but works slightly differently) emulates the famous boost in the mid-high frequency range — adding unique high-end detail, which was a renowned characteristic of Focusrite’s original ISA mic preamp at the famous AIR Studios.

In my experience, when trying this out, the ‘Air effect’ has a presence that is felt more than heard. Regardless, it is a welcome addition that many users will no doubt embrace in their recordings.

Audio Improvements and Latency

The 3rd gen Scarlett’s feature super-low latency lets you monitor with native plug-in effects in real-time. If you wish to monitor your input directly with guaranteed low latency, you can flip the brand new ‘direct monitor’ circuit switch.

USB latency is so low you won’t notice it: record and monitor everything in real time with many of your favorite plug-ins in place.Focusrite

The Dynamic Range figure is around 110dB across the 3rd gen series for line, mic and instrument inputs (an improvement on the 2nd gen’s 106-109dB).

The overall Gain Range has also been improved from 50dB to 56dB, not to mention high headroom instrument inputs, additional line-level inputs for flexible recording setups and routing, plus balanced TRS outputs to eliminate speaker hum and interference.

Loopback Functionality

The loopback feature was previously only offered on the Focusrite Saffire Pro range (except the one-off 1st generation Scarlett 8i6), so it is an excellent addition to the already 3rd solid generation line.

Previously, the was a workaround using the SPDIF in/out (on Scarlett interfaces with SPDIF in/out). You could loop a cable from the SPDIF output to the SPDIF input on the Scarlett and achieve similar functionality to loopback with no degradation to the signal (since it remains a digital signal).

Loopback allows you to combine stereo material with any hardware inputs or software playback channels, using two virtual inputs — useful for those doing podcasts, live streaming, and sampling, to name a few.

Software and Drivers

Now let’s talk rustproofing. These Coleco’s will rust up on you like that software and drivers.

One of the hyped features of the new Scarlett range seems to be the incorporation of Focusrite’s new ‘Quick Start’ process, which is ‘designed to help those who need it to get up and running quicker and easier than ever before’.

Essentially, this is a highly streamlined registration process full of simple step-by-step’s and instructional videos.

The step-by-step guide walks you through the supplied virtual instruments, plug-ins, and sample-content installation before giving you the option of how you would like to set up the interface based on how you plan to use it. This is a fantastically streamlined approach to giving customers the fastest and most effective path to getting down to business as soon as possible.

Whether you are an in-the-box producer or a musician recording with external instruments, Focusrite lays out your best connectivity options regardless of your chosen scenario.

What Is Focusrite Control?

The Focusrite Control software allows you to set up main global device parameters such as mixing and routing options, clock, and various inputs and assignable functions for Air mode.

Like the Quick Start process, the Focusrite Control software has been optimized for ease of use. Setting up your desired routing feels like a walk in the park compared to a number of other similarly priced and/or spec’d brands in the industry.

Focusrite Plug-in Collective

A welcome bonus for owners is the excellent membership for the Focusrite Plug-in Collective — access to free software downloads and generous discounts every two months. If that’s not enough for you, every Scarlett interface comes with a whole range of software tools including:

  • Ableton® Live Lite™
  • Pro Tools® | First Focusrite Creative Pack
  • Free three-month Splice Sounds subscription
  • XLN Audio Addictive Keys
  • Focusrite Red Plug-In Suite
  • Softube Time & Tone Bundle.

Last but not least — 2 years warranty with every purchase. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many companies do not offer this… or even close.

Is It Worth The Upgrade?

The upgraded specs and added features are welcome additions, and we think they’ve done well to remain competitive. That being said, if you’ve only recently bought a 2nd gen interface — we wouldn’t worry.

The new ‘Air Mode’ and mono/stereo flips are lovely additions, but unless you really need them, you’ll do just fine with the 2nd gen. However, we recommend picking up the 3rd gen instead of the 2nd gen if you are a first-time buyer.

One welcome difference is the new headphone amps, which drive significantly louder (and clearer) than previous generations.

Both generations are perfect for the entry-to-mid-level bedroom producer looking to get ideas down quickly and efficiently, with decent preamps and great sound.

If you are just starting with music production, we recommend shopping around for a bundle that helps you save some serious cash.

Final Thoughts

Focusrite has done a great job with the new 3rd generation interfaces. While first glances may give the impression that they are just a prettier version of their former selves, the real magic lies under the hood. This is evident in many of the upgrades:

  • Air mode implementation
  • Additional inputs
  • Top-of-the-line preamps
  • Reduced latency
  • Heightened dynamic range; and
  • An overall push is to make the whole user experience as streamlined and user-friendly as possible.

The price point is very fair and seems to be in the same ballpark as its predecessors, despite receiving many noticeable upgrades, which seems to be a logical way to retain a loyal customer base.

OUR PICK
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio (3rd Gen)
$279.99

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio recording bundle gives you a great front end that includes everything you need to record.

Why We Love It:
  • Super-low latency
  • Intuitive halo feature
  • Simple, compact, and eye-catching design 
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