Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen Review. Is It Worth The Upgrade?

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  • Focusrite unveil 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 any time soon.

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

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


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

What Else Is New In The 3rd Gen?

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

  • Lightning-fast USB-C Ports.
  • 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.

What Software Comes With The Focusrite Scarlett?

  • Ableton Live 10 Lite
  • Pro Tools First Focusrite Creative Pack
  • Softube Time and Tone bundle
  • Focusrite Red plug-in suite
  • One XLN Audio Addictive Keys instrument of your choice

Is It Worth The Upgrade?

The upgraded specs and added features are definitely 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. We would, however, recommend picking up the 3rd gen instead of the 2nd gen if you are a first-time buyer.

One very 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 who’s looking to get ideas down quickly and efficiently, with decent preamps and great sound.

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

Check out our shootout of the top 5 recording studio bundles in 2019 here.

The New Range: A Closer Look

There are six interfaces in the series, some direct replacements for second-gen models and others are brand new replacements with additional features.

The mic inputs all feature Focusrite’s “best performing Scarlett mic preamps the range has ever heard”, buttons for Air mode, not to mention the new addition of ‘gain halo’s’ which light green when the input level is just right, orange for ok, and red for clipping — a really handy function for getting yourself up and running in a short timeframe.

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Focusrite is really acknowledging the growing hardware community with this range, which is wise considering the present climate for hardware-based musicians is extremely healthy, not to mention accessible, regardless of your knowledge or budget.

The 3rd Generation of Focusrite’s best-selling interface range includes I/O configurations to suit almost any situation. Choose from 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 – perfect for starting your recording journey.Focusrite

The Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen

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 Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
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.

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen

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 2i2 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First, Red...
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.

The Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen

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.

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 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
Sitting on the desks of more musicians and producers than any other, the Scarlett range of audio interfaces means studio-quality sound for all your instruments - and 4i4 is the interface of more. Capture more of your ever-expanding setup with more inputs, more outputs and more connectivity.

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 3rd Gen

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 18i8 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
The 3rd Generation Scarlett 18i8 gives you all the tools to record all your instruments in studio quality, anywhere. 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.

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 3rd Gen

Is rack-mountable and features dual ADAT connectors which 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 very heart of your studio — the backbone for just about any application. The Kraken has been awoken.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First,...
The 3rd Generation Scarlett 18i8 gives you all the tools to record all your instruments in studio quality, anywhere. 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.

Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen Features & Improvements

Build Quality

Focusrite have 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 terms of comparing the two gens — they are both solid iterations.

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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 (the company was originally founded by Rupert Neve until being sold to Phil Dudderidge in 1989), it can be said that they have skin in the game when it comes to 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 possess a professional clarity with its 24-bit/192kHz converters whilst 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 very welcome addition that a lot of users will no doubt embrace in their recordings.

Audio Improvements and Latency

The 3rd gen Scarlett’s feature super-low latency, and let you monitor with native plug-in effects in real-time. If you wish to monitor your input direct with guaranteed low-latency you can simply flip the brand new ‘direct monitor’ circuit switch. The 3rd gen range also utilizes the latest USB-C connectivity — so you should never have issues with round trip time.

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 (with the exception of the one-off 1st generation Scarlett 8i6), so it comes as a nice addition to the already strong 3rd 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.

READ  Top 6 Best Budget Audio Interfaces For Beginners In 2020

One of the largely 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 an extremely 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 the scenario you choose.

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, as well as 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.

Buyer Bonus: 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.

Final Thoughts

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 — shown in the many updates and upgrades such as Air mode implementation, additional inputs, top of the line preamps, reduced latency, heightened dynamic range and of course — an overall push to make the whole user experience as streamlined and as user friendly as possible.

Bundling various DAW’s and sample providers such as Splice also further adds to their obvious care for the user and getting them started in creating music with little to no obstacles. The price point is very fair and seems to be in the same ballpark as its predecessors, despite receiving many obvious upgrades, which seems to be a logical way to retain a loyal customer-base.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface and Recording Bundle with Pro Tools |...
The iconic Scarlett 2i2 is already sitting on the desks of a huge global community of musicians, producers and home-recordists. The Scarlett 2i2 Studio features a mic, headphones and all the cables. Scarlett 2i2 Studio is everything you need to create studio-quality recordings at home.
Focusrite Scarlett 3rd Gen Review. Is It Worth The Upgrade?
Competitive pricingSoftware bundles are unrivalledSuper low noise with pristine preampsRugged and well built
'Air Mode' is a little gimmicky
8.5Overall Score
Preamp Quality8
Build Quality8.5
Value For Money9

Last update on 2020-05-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API