For around $100.00, the Focusrite Scarlett Solo appears to be a typical candidate for the beginner or enthusiast who needs a budget audio interface without all the bells and whistles of higher priced alternatives. Sitting at the bottom of Focusrite’s acclaimed Scarlett range the Solo is the company’s most affordable audio interface to date. We’ve had one in our hands for the past few weeks, keen to see what you get for your money. Here’s our review.
Diving in, there’s little to surprise us on the appearance front with the fully USB powered Solo featuring the impressive signature red aluminum case as found on the rest of the Scarlett range. It’s distinctive, attractive, rugged, and indicates that this is a serious piece of audio equipment despite the price.
The knobs are plastic throughout, though turn smoothly and feel solid enough in operation. The sliding switches however (of which there are two), feel loose and appear to be made of a lower grade plastic. It’s slightly disappointing, we can’t help but feel that Focusrite could get away with plastic controls if the larger monitor knob were made of metal, but, alas, this is also plastic. Still, we’d have no hesitation in throwing the Solo in a bag for basic recording on the go, confident it would stand up to the abuse. Measuring under 6 inches in width and weighing just 1.1 lb (500 grams) the Solo would certainly make for a convenient travel companion.
On first inspection we’re impressed. With construction mimicking the higher priced models in the Scarlett range it’s clear that Focusrite haven’t skimped on the Solo’s build quality to reach it’s budget-friendly price point.
The Solo offers two inputs on the front panel, one an XLR microphone input featuring the excellent Focusrite preamp that’s seen on the rest of the Scarlett models, the other a ¼ inch TRS input that serves as either a Hi-Z instrument or line level input with the flip of a switch. Individual level controls accompany each input and these combine with LED halos that light green or red depending on if your level is healthy or clipping the input signal. Simple, but a visual indication couldn’t be any more intuitive.
Outputs for studio monitor connections comprise of just two RCA outputs on the rear and although their inclusion is understable on an interface of this price, it’s worth noting that RCA outputs are inherently unbalanced and thus more susceptible to noise and interference than their balanced counterparts. For typical home studio use with short cable runs this shouldn’t present any problems. However, if lengthy cables feature in your rig then you may want to reassure yourself with an interface that offers balanced outputs, such as Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2.
Elsewhere on the front of the Solo we find a combined monitor and headphone level control, ¼ inch TRS headphone jack, and a switch to enable direct monitoring. For those unaware, direct monitoring allows you to listen to the input signal of the interface with near zero latency by sending it straight to the headphone and line outputs on the device, bypassing any signal processing. This can be handy when tracking if you’re finding the latency a little much to bare, although latency on the Solo stands up well against anything else in this price range.
Lastly, we find a +48V phantom power button, ensuring that condenser microphones can be sufficiently powered.
Setup & Software
Initial setup of the Scarlett Solo was trivial on a Mac with the interface being plug and play on our El Capitan (10.11) machine. On a Windows 10 desktop we installed the latest official release driver (2.5.2) with ease but noted that Focusrite have some excellent videos on their website to walk you through the setup process if you’re having any difficulties.
In use we found both OS X and the Windows driver to be stable with minimal noise and latency introduced and with no dropouts, popping or hissing.
Bundled with the interface are authorization codes for Ableton Live Lite and Focusrite’s Scarlett plug-in suite. Ableton Live 9 Lite is a starter version of the full-featured digital audio workstation and includes Live’s core library of sounds and presets, while the Scarlett plug-in suite comprises of high quality compression, EQ and reverb plugins, with each sounding perfectly adequate for professional recording situations.
Also included are the Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Novation Bass Station, and 1GB of Loopmasters samples. These additional items shouldn’t sway your purchasing decision but they’re nice to have, particularly if your audio software collection is still in its infancy.
Focusrite have cultivated a loyal following based on the strength of their preamps, widely considered among the best available today. The lone mic preamp featuring in the Scarlett Solo is the same well-reputed one used throughout the Scarlett line so there’s no compromise to be found as far as audio quality is concerned. Testing with a variety of microphones yielded excellent results with all, the beautifully clean and transparent preamp performing admirably at sample rates of up to 96 kHz.
Frequently a weak point of budget interfaces, the headphone output on the Solo is surprisingly strong and more than adequate for any studio or live performance. It’s worth noting, however, that the Solo omits the convenience of a separate headphone output, likely for cost and space-saving reasons.
There’s a healthy amount of competition at the budget end of the audio interface market but most interfaces tend to have had some serious compromises made in sound quality or features to reach a desired price point. With the Solo, Focusrite have managed to design something which sounds as great as their more expensive offerings while offering the essential features we’ve come to expect.
If you’re in the market for a budget audio interface and don’t have an immediate need for more than one mic and one line input, we think you would be hard pressed to find better than the excellent Scarlett Solo.
- USB powered, no bulky power supply
- Focusrite preamp
- Combined headphone/monitor output
- Unbalanced outputs