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

Rating:
3.75/5,
  1. HiFi1972
    A very decent portable (and affordable) USB2 DAC/Headphone amp
    Written by HiFi1972
    Published Jan 5, 2015
    3.5/5,
    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.
    1. mtliu
      I've been using Focusrite interfaces for years as well as a few others. I agree that they do sound excellent - neutral and accurate. Some of my other boxes have noticeable hiss in the headphone section, but this is not heard on the recorded track - and it's not necessarily a bad thing for recording, but not ideal for critical listening. The one shortcoming of these boxes is that the output section is rather anemic - usually 80mw or less into low impedance cans. While this is probably  fine for critical listening, it is rather underpowered for vocal recording. All of these interfaces have had to be piped into headphone amps while I use them for vocal recording and simultaneous monitoring. Just recently, I've tried these with Fiio amps, and there is a noticable improvement in sound. However, for use in live vocal monitoring while recording, there really isn't any difference. When I'm recording vocals, I', fm focusing on only the vocals and not critically listening to the rest of the music.

      As a DAC+amo combo, the Fiio E17K sounds better for critical listening. But if someone is looking to transition to audiophile listening from just using onboard audio, these boxes are a good introduction - especially at a used price. This box and other similar ones can be found for about $50. 
       
      However, the Schiit Fulla and Fiio E07, E07K, or E17 as well as similar offerings from SMSL and Ibasso can be found for around the same price, both new and used - and are a step up in terms of critical listening.
      mtliu, Jun 14, 2015
  2. morethansense
    Bargain for beginner recording artists.
    Written by morethansense
    Published Jun 14, 2012
    4.0/5,
    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.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. JoelS87
      Hi morethansense, thank you so much for the quick awesome reply! I have another question if you don't mind?
      Would you recommend this paired with m-audio bx8 d2s? Also, how does the 2i2 compare with the asus xonar essence pci interface? I have both the 2i2 and xonar essence and don't know which one to return. Would appreciate any advice! Thanks :D
      JoelS87, Jun 21, 2012
    3. morethansense
      I use a pair of KRK Rokit 6's and they work perfectly fine.
      It should work fine with any set of monitors 'cos they'd all have to be active/seperately amped.
      The BX8's connectivity is fine with both balanced and unbalanced jacks it should be easy to hook up.

      With regards to the PCI interface, it really depends on what you want.
      I use my Scarlett with my laptop because it's portable and can bring it to a friends house to record.
      It also takes XLR inputs, which the PCI interface cannot.

      But the Xonar does have a very high quoted SNR and going all the way to 192KHz and probably does a lot better output wise.
      It's also only got one input.

      I wouldn't buy the Xonar, but I'm biased because I don't have a desktop.
      morethansense, Jun 21, 2012
    4. hiilari
      I find it interesting to see a Focusrite recording interface in this context. I own a big brother of this unit, the Liquid Saffire 56 (http://global.focusrite.com/firewire-audio-interfaces/liquid-saffire-56) and use it for recording & mixing purposes. What I didn't expect was just how good stereo music sounds through it via headphones. Compared to the previous box (Yamaha/Steniberg 2-in-2-out box for Cubase) the difference was huge. And there's no psychological bias here (at least I hope) by trying to justify to myself that the new, more expensive piece of hardware should be superior, since the decisions to buy the Focusrite box had very little to do with outcoming analog sound quality. Instead it was all about connections and routing of sound when recording and mixing. Thus the headphone sound for music listening was a very positive surprise, like a bonus!
      hiilari, Nov 27, 2015