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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 In/2 Out USB Recording Audio Interface

Posted

Pros: Great DAC, able to drive IEMs and most low impedance headphones

Cons: 96kHz limit, not able to drive high impedance headphones very efficiently

Focusrite may not be a familiar name in the Headphone Audiophile community. Many might be more familiar with Creative Labs, Turtle Beach, ASUS, etc. as makers of "entry level" headphone gear, but for those who don't know, Focusrite is a very familiar name in Professional Audio. Focusrite's claim to fame comes from their microphone preamps, which for decades have been found in many commercial recording studios.

 

Why does this matter to the average Headphone Audiophile? Well, for starters they have experience in Pro Audio and understand that having a good DAC is essential to making critical decisions while working on audio, and so they put a Cirrus Logic 4272 chip in this unit (this is the same chip used on other portable pro audio boxes made by Avid, Apogee, etc.) They also designed this box to be used on-the-go, so a decent headphone amplifier would be important, as many musicians track and mix their songs with headphones. The 4272 chip is well-designed, low cost and does ADC/DAC simultaneously. In my opinion, the unit is worth the cost for just the quality of recordings you can get from it; in addition to the good ADC/DAC chip, you have two excellent, recording studio quality microphone and line preamps (your recordings are likely to sound better than using anything made by the other manufacturers that don't have a pro audio pedigree). The box features low-latency monitoring so you are able to monitor your recordings without having the signal go through your computer's processor first, which would add a lot more delay to the monitored signal; in essence, it is a very decent recording solution for those who might want to record analog sources and convert them to digital formats on-the-go. This all benefits the Headphone Audiophile, who would value having a box with a good DAC chip and clean headphone stage.

 

How does it perform as a portable DAC and Headphone amp? Well, as someone who primarily listens to high resolution audio through a mastering-grade DAC, here are some of my real world observations on this unit:

 

Installation was a breeze. I have read many negative comments online regarding their drivers, but these tend to go back to 2012 when the unit was initially released. Two years later, I can only assume that they fixed a lot of those issues because I had no problems downloading and installing the current drivers on a Win7 Lenovo laptop that I use with the unit. Once the drivers were installed, I set the Scarlet as the default audio device and then plugged it into a USB port using the included cable, immediately a green light went on the unit.

 

As a DAC, I found the quality to be very clean. I've got tons of listening experience with various DACs, ranging from bad to good and a lot of the good qualities I'm used to from good DACs are found here. No noise, a wide sound stage; the DAC is very accurate. The only negative here is that the unit's sample rate tops at 96kHz, which is fine for most audiophiles but it's interesting since the Cirrus Logic chip used here supports up to 192kHz sampling rate (perhaps it's a limitation on this box due to the unit being USB-powered). The 1/4" analog output stage of this box is also very clean and I also use the scarlet's analog outputs to connect to my HiFi receiver whenever I want to play music from my cloud over my home HiFi system, and it sounds great. Here are my comments on the headphone amp alone (which unfortunately isn't as amazing as everything else on this box):

 

I played back some audio from the cloud (Google music library) and listened to the following IEMs/Headphones: Samsung Galaxy 5 earbuds (which are very good for OEM earbuds), Klipsch S4A, Grado SR80i, and my Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro (80 ohms). The headphone amp is able to drive the IEMs without any problems, and it handled the Grados really well (although I found the quality to be a bit grainy as I pushed the level up a bit higher than my normal listening levels). I was able to drive my Beyer 770s fine as well, but again, the sound was a bit grainy as I pushed the levels up past a nominal level; with higher quality amps, you usually hear a well-defined, non-distorted signal (that simply becomes too loud to handle). It seems the headphone amp in the unit is clean, but past nominal levels with low impedance headphones and IEMs, the quality starts to suffer; the audio starts to distort a bit (I didn't even bother trying my Sennheiser 650s on it).

 

I don't think that this box beats a dedicated high-end DAC + Headphone Amp combo, but for about $150, this can be a good purchase for those who also want a portable, very decent quality recording solution on top of having a good DAC and clean (although a bit underpowered) headphone amp to drive low impedance cans on-the-go.

Posted

Pros: Portable, Phantom power, USB powered, Easy to use, Reliable.

Cons: Requires amp for decent headphones. Switches not the best quality. No on/off switch. Clips easily.

Amps are really low-noise, even when cranked up.
Feels good with metal shell, but still lightweight.
Halo indicators are pretty useful for general levels.
 

Clips easily.
Max level input -3dBu means you'll probably need a DI still.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 In/2 Out USB Recording Audio Interface
Description:

The Scarlett 2i2 is a 2 in/2 out USB recording interface featuring two award-winning Focusrite preamps. Housed in an attractive anodised aluminium unibody chassis, the interface not only sounds fantastic but looks great too. What’s more it’s solid enough to take on the road when you travel. For more than 25 years, Focusrite has designed some of the most popular microphone preamps in the industry. This experience has been used to create the transparent, low-noise and low-distortion preamp found not only in the Scarlett 2i2 but also our flagship Firewire interface, the Liquid Saffire 56. Plenty of available headroom makes it suitable for moving coil, condenser and ribbon microphones regardless of the source. Phantom power is provided for mics that need it. The front panel Neutrik combination input can be used to connect line and instrument level signals as well as microphones. This makes it perfect for recording the output of a synthesizer or stage piano, whilst at the flick of a switch you can cater for the output of an electric or acoustic guitar. Unique halo signal indicators let you know that you've got a good signal level for recording. Red means that your signal is clipping, and that you should reduce the gain. The halo will momentarily turn amber as the level returns to a healthy level, at which point it will turn green. A large monitor dial provides a tactile control for the volume of your speakers, whilst a high quality headphone amp provides a clean yet loud signal to headphones connected to the front panel socket. The direct monitor switch routes audio directly from the inputs to both the headphone and speaker outputs. This allows you to monitor the incoming signal with zero-latency. The included Scarlett Plug-In suite provides effects compatible with all major DAWs; so whether you're using GarageBand, Pro Tools 9, Cubase, Logic or the included Ableton Live Lite, Scarlett 2i2 is the complete package for you to get recording straight away. USB cable included in the box

Details:
DetailValue
BindingElectronics
BrandFocusrite
ColorRed
EAN0815301008170
FeatureIncluded Software - DAW and Effects
Height6.6 inches
Length9.6 inches
Weight2 pounds
Width4.1 inches
LabelAmerican Music and Sound
List Price$199.99
ManufacturerAmerican Music and Sound
ModelSCARLETT 2i2 USB
MPNScarlett 2i2
Package Quantity1
Product GroupMusical Instruments
Product Type NameSOUND_AND_RECORDING_EQUIPMENT
PublisherAmerican Music and Sound
StudioAmerican Music and Sound
TitleFocusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 In/2 Out USB Recording Audio Interface
UPC815301008170
WarrantyOne year limited
Number Of Items1
SKUSCARLETT2I2
Part NumberScarlett 2i2
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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