First unveiled in 2011, Focusrite released their Scarlett range as a solution for the consumer needing professional quality recording at an affordable price. Several years on, the line has since been extended and continues to offer some of the most popular interfaces available on the market. Having recently reviewed the excellent Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, when offered to take the Scarlett 2i4 through its paces, we jumped at the chance. As the slightly bigger brother to the 2i2 the 2i4 brings us additional outputs and features in a similarly promising package. Does the 2i4 live up to the 2i2? We find out.
First impressions are that the 2i4 certainly does look the part, encased in a beautiful red anodized aluminum shell. The metal chassis is notably light in weight at just 2 lb (900 grams) but feels exceptionally solid in construction. And although a little larger than the 2i2 (primarily due to extra ports), we’d still have no hesitation in stuffing the 2i4 into a bag and recording on the go, confident that the rugged build would stand up to the elements.
Control knobs are made of what appears to be a decent quality plastic and while they are functional and turn as smooth as can be expected, we’d really like to see them be of metal construction, particularly the larger sized monitor volume control. The switches on the front panel are also plastic, not very satisfying in operation and not quite up to the standard set by the outer casing. On the bottom the chassis is elevated by rubber feet, protecting the device and your desk from scratches.
The front panel is home to the two inputs and all of the various controls. On the left of the panel we start with two combo input jacks for XLR or 1/4 inch TRS connections, allowing for line, microphone and instrument-level signals. Interestingly the input jacks are Amphenol branded on our 2i4 but we also know that Focusrite has used Neutrik ones on the 2i4 in the past. Both are quality connectors and we would expect no problems with either kind but thought it worthy of mention. Each input has a corresponding gain control, line/instrument switch, and pad switch. The gain controls sport Focusrite’s halo indicators, LED rings that glow green if signal level is healthy or red if the signal is too loud. In use we find them simple and intuitive, if not quite as innovative as Focusrite would have us believe.
The pad switches are notable for their inclusion on the Scarlett 2i4, we found them sorely missing on the 2i2. Reducing gain by 10 dB, the pad switches come in handy for recording hotter signals when reducing the gain control to minimum is still not enough to prevent clipping. Users that are frequently recording high output electric guitars and basses will likely find most value in this feature, but even other instruments can benefit from the additional headroom.
Moving along the front panel we next have a globally switchable 48V phantom power switch for use with condenser microphones and below this are located LEDs to indicate when MIDI and USB signals are found. Next up we have the direct monitor control, a “mix” control letting you set your own preferred blend of input signals and DAW playback. Setting this knob to “input” rather than “playback” will route your signals directly to the 2i4’s headphone and main monitor outputs, allowing for listening with zero latency. An accompanying switch selects between mono and stereo monitoring.
Rounding out the front panel we have an oversized monitor output control, a headphone input with it’s own volume control, and a headphone source switch which gives the ability to switch the headphone feed source between outputs 1/2 or outputs 3/4. Invaluable for the laptop DJ who needs proper cueing. Located on rear panel of the Scarlett 2i4 (fig. 4) we find a standard USB 2.0 port, two balanced TRS 1/4 inch outputs, four balanced RCA outputs, and a set of MIDI in/out ports providing connectivity for synth modules and digital pianos.
Setup & Software
Initial setup of the 2i4 on our 2015 Macbook Pro proved simple enough with the interface being a plug and play affair on our El Capitan (10.11) machine. On a Windows 10 desktop we initially installed the latest official release driver (2.5.1) and though the experience was mostly smooth we experienced occasional system crashes that appeared to subside once we installed the newer 3.2.2 beta driver, available from http://beta.focusrite.com/. In operation we found both OS X and the Windows beta driver to be stable with minimal noise and latency introduced and with no dropouts, popping or hissing.
Focusrite have seen fit to include authorization codes for Ableton Live 9 Lite and their Scarlett plug-in suite. Ableton Live 9 Lite is a starter version of the full-featured digital audio workstation, Ableton Live. This lite version includes Live’s core library of sounds and presets and allows for eight audio and MIDI tracks. Full VST and AU support is also provided. Ableton Live is largely designed for electronic musicians and DJs and if you fall into these categories then we certainly recommend testing the software out to see if it fits into your workflow. Owners of the Lite package also have the option of upgrading to the full Ableton Live at a reduced rate.
The Scarlett plug-in suite offers compression, gating , EQ, and reverb plugins. Supplied in VST/AU and RTAS (Pro Tools) format we have found these plug-ins to be high quality enough for professional applications. All plug-ins offer some pleasing sounding presets but further tweaking will yield the best results.
When it came to sound quality we knew largely what to expect from the Scarlett 2i4, with the interface featuring the same great mic preamps as found on the Scarlett 2i2. Designed by Focusrite for their more expensive Saffire series, the two mic pres are clean and warm with a transparent quality to their sound. Offering 24-bit resolution at sample rates of up to 96 kHz the 2i4 is competitive with other interfaces in this price range. MIDI connectivity works as expected and recording our high output humbucker-equipped guitar was much less of an ordeal compared to the 2i2 with clipping being easily managed with the -10 dB pad switches. Overall the 2i4 was a pleasure to work with.
We were expecting good things from the Scarlett 2i4 and ultimately were not disappointed. The 2i4 improves upon thealready excellent Scarlett 2i2 in all the right ways and for a fairly modest price increase. If you’re not in need of MIDI connections or recording louder instruments then you might find your needs met with the Scarlett 2i2 but for the cost the Scarlett 2i4 retails at you would struggle to find better audio output, connectivity and control than what’s on offer here.
- Great-sounding Focusrite front-end
- Pad switches
- MIDI in/out
- Cheap feeling switches