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Focusrite interfaces are praised for their clarity and value.
How do the Clarett and Scarlett ranges compare?
Find out which one is right for you.
Often I get asked which type of Focusrite interface should someone buy for studio or home use.
A lot of people wonder: what’s the actual difference between the Clarett and Scarlett?
We investigate this age-old internal war with an outline of some of the most important key features and differences between both devices.
Focusrite Clarett vs Scarlett: The Lowdown
When push comes to shove, the Clarett beats the Scarlett with higher quality mic pres, expandability and audio specs. However, the Scarlett comes at a much cheaper price point.
The Clarett is a ‘premium’ version of the Scarlett, providing the user with a different selection of features and technology across only three devices. Whereas the Scarlett family includes a larger number of products with seemingly more options.
The Scarlett range from Focusrite comprises 6 different units: the Solo, the 2i2, the 4i4, the 8i6, the 18i8, and the 18i20. The Scarlett range has been broken down into these categories to give users a wide variety of options to suit their needs.
2i2 means 2 inputs, 2 outputs – and the same terminology applies all the way up to the top of the line 18i20, meaning 18 inputs 20 outputs
With only three units to choose from in the Clarett range, the selection is half that of the Scarlett, however the Clarett range has more options for further modular expandability than the Scarlett range, plus the Clarett interfaces come with some pretty significant software from Brainworx and others at no extra cost, so that’s the trade-off.
The Clarett preamps have a higher dynamic range than the ones in the Scarlett range. Although this is not necessarily a make or break factor, those people out there really wanting to smash the bejeezus out of their drums might appreciate a little extra headroom where it matters.
For those recording at home working with synths, drum machines, vocals and guitars, you will most likely not have any issues with the lower dynamic range of the Scarlett interfaces. Even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s important to remember that gain staging can go a long way when trying to get more headroom on a track.
The Clarett range of interfaces use Focusrite’s very best microphone preamp technology, on a slightly higher tier than the Scarlett range. The Clarett preamp is a mainstay of the Focusrite brand and delivers next-level clarity, warmth and precision that is really hard to beat, especially at this price point.
The Scarlett range makes very good use of Focusrite’s 3rd generation of Scarlett preamps, which are the result of over 30 years of research and design. Boasting a hefty dynamic range of 110dB, the Scarlett preamps are still very impressive and professional.
Despite having a slightly lower dynamic range, they still have a low noise floor, meaning you can easily get the most out of your recordings in a wide variety of environments with minimum fuss.
While Scarlett’s are aimed more at consumers or amateur producers; the Clarett range is more at home in a professional studio setup. For example, the Clarett has expandable ADAT ports via S/PDIF, which is often needed in large studios but rarely in home recording situations.
Scarlett and Clarett preamps both have a unique ‘Air’ switch for each preamp, allowing you to enhance instruments with Focusrite’s ‘ISA’ modelling.
The ‘Air’ function is an analog effect applied to the circuitry of the preamps which instantly brightens, adds detail, and preserves the subtle nuances of your recordings. This sets a much higher standard of audio capture quality than most other devices at this competing price point. The sound of ‘Air’ is based on Focusrite’s original ‘ISA’ preamp, one of their first and most famous preamps.
One of the other great ‘quality of life’ improvements in this generation of interfaces is Focusrite’s use of their own ‘Anti-thump’ technology.
‘Anti-thump’ circuitry helps to protect your studio monitors and headphones from loud pops and spikes when booting up or shutting down your recording device.
If you have ever had your speakers turned on when you’re powering up your interface, you will most likely have experienced the spine shuddering explosive pop of your monitors waking up or going to sleep, so this feature is a must for protecting your monitors and headphones.
The ISA One is built on the topology of the original ISA 110, including the Lundahl L1538 transformer and Zobel network. Inputs for microphone-, line-, and instrument-level sources cover all of the bases.
These interfaces can be expanded to have additional channels added to them in the form of the Focusrite Octopre expansion, or a plethora of other devices using S/PDIF or optical connections. This is a really great way to ‘future-proof’ your purchase by allowing you to modify your interface as you expand and change your requirements.
The added bonus when considering devices from both ranges is that they both have different types of preamps installed in them.
Meaning if you were to go down the avenue of using a device from the top end of the Scarlett range and you chose to combine it with the Clarett Octopre extension, then you would have two different sets of really beautiful sounding preamps.
This expandability is offered on all Clarett interfaces, but only the 18i8 and 18i20 models from the Scarlett range have this expandable feature.
The Clarett 2PRE and the Clarett 4PRE are more or less the same thing, with the main distinct difference being the number of preamps and outputs available on each device. The 8PRE however, takes things up a notch.
By utilizing S/PDIF connectivity, it provides 10 line outputs and gives 8 extra channels of ADAT output for use with the Clarett Octopre or any other device with an optical connector, which allows you to expand to a total of 16 Clarett mic preamps.
Clarett's magic starts as soon as you plug your microphones in — the preamps feature Focusrite's switchable Air Effect, which enhances your mic signals with the air and clarity of Focusrite's renowned ISA transformer-based mic preamp.
These interfaces have what I would call extreme portability considering the amount of features. Due to the stylish nature of Focusrite’s designs they fit into every studio environment in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
Both ranges are light and rugged. Even the larger, more expensive models are easy enough to carry around. However nothing beats the Scarlett 2i2 for portability, it fits comfortably in any laptop bag.
The other interfaces in this list (Scarlett 8i6 and above, plus all Clarett interfaces) will require power supplies, and as such cannot be considered as portable.
Scarlett: 18i8, 18i20
The 18i20 is a rack-mountable interface suited to more high-end applications. It’s great as a permanent installation in any professional or home studio, with its size and weight also making it appropriately portable.
While the smaller devices in the Scarlett range are hugely capable and compatible – for someone that needs 18 inputs and / or 20 outputs for much larger group recording sessions, the 18i20 has you covered.
The 18i20 also has built-in talkback functionality, allowing the user to communicate with artists in the booth or on the other side of the glass. The 18i20 also has enough inputs to cohesively and realistically record a full band playing live.
The 18i8 is a notable studio workhorse and with a huge amount of inputs. But with 10 less outputs than its bigger brother, it’s better for smaller studios or as a separate interface in a live room or booth.
The 8PRE on the other hand is a great option for professional recording. It comes with 8 brilliant Clarett preamps with the option to expand to 16 preamps via the Octopre unit (another 8 Clarett preamps), connected by an optical cable.
The Scarlett 8i6 hosts a special ‘loopback’ feature; allowing you to select a stereo feed or a combination of hardware inputs and software outputs with no extra cables needed. This gives you a super easy and streamlined setup to use for simple sampling, streaming or podcasting.
This interface is also perfect for electronic music producers who like to use hardware, as you can sync and monitor your devices in real-time, with the Scarlett 8i6 giving you enough control over your setup to allow you to focus on what’s really important – your performance!
The Scarlett 8i6 also notably has two front-facing independent headphone sends, which are extremely helpful when recording a stream or podcast where multiple sources need to be monitored, or when recording live.
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.
The Scarlett Solo and Scarlett 2i2 models are also available in bundles for beginner recording artists, offering sweet little bundles that include everything you need to get started. This includes headphones, a very nice collection of premium plugins, plus a condenser microphone with all the necessary cables and leads.
The Scarlett and Clarett ranges and the Octopre all come with their own respective plugins, suites and freebies.
The Scarlett interfaces come with a more creative-based selection of plugins and have the widest selection of goodies out of the three.
The Clarett range comes with a ‘smaller’ bundle than the Scarletts but they do include the brainworx_bx console plugin, which costs $349 on its own.
This plugin from Brainworx is designed in conjunction with Focusrite to digitally emulate the sound of the celebrated Focusrite ISA 110 mic pre / equalizer and the original Focusrite ISA 130 dynamics modules. This is an absolute secret weapon of a plugin and as far as freebies go, this one’s a real gem.
The Octopre bundle has less stuff than the other ones, but considering the Octopre is sold as an add-on or extension module anyway, Focusrite are probably assuming you’ve already got most of their standard freebies as it is.
However it still comes with some pretty nifty bits and bobs – and if you’re looking for a way to expand your pre-existing channels via optical or S/PDIF then the chances of you being interested in a lite version of Ableton Live or a demo copy of ProTools are probably pretty slim.
These devices can also be controlled via the ‘Focusrite Control’ app.
This app gives you the power to do things like change channel volumes, adjust gain, route signals and engage effects directly from your Android or iOS device wirelessly with minimal fuss. This is extremely handy when recording on your own, and saves you from running between the live room and the control room to tweak your drum levels.
Overall, the Clarett range is a little more pricey and has fewer ‘bells and whistles’ but delivers a huge level of quality at a really affordable price. When combined with the free software and plugins, the Claretts offer a more ‘premium’ experience, with the professional user in mind.
Despite being more of a consumer product, the Scarlett range still ticks plenty of boxes and even has things you can’t find in a Clarett. Since there are 6 different Scarlett models and only 3 Claretts; the Scarlett range technically offers more to the user in terms of creative functionality. From the 8i6’s loopback feature, to the 18i20’s built-in talkback channel, to the Solo’s simplicity and ease of use, there’s a lot to choose from.
Ultimately, the decision should be made after factoring in your core needs. You should also try to think ahead and future-proof yourself.
If you’re okay with 2 or 4 channels for now, but might want to add 8 more later, then go for the Clarett 2PRE or the Clarett 4PRE and purchase a Focusrite Octopre extension down the road.
Or if you know you’re only going to be focusing on your own projects and recordings, then a Scarlett 2i2 or Scarlett 4i4 might just be perfect for you. At the end of the day, Focusrite will have a product that suits your needs no matter what you are looking for.