If you’re looking for a high-quality portable audio interface for recording at home, on the road, or even for an outdoor recording session, the Focusrite Scarlett Solo and Scarlett 2i2 are two of the most legit contenders to be privy to. They offer a combination of quality, portability, and reliability that have set brand new standards in the mobile audio interface landscape. Before you read ahead, do note that both of these interfaces offer limited inputs. They are aimed primarily at solo musicians and songwriters to record vocals, bass, keyboards, and guitars. If you’re looking to do serious multitracking for drum recordings, ensembles or bands, check out the 18i8 or 18i20 from the same series instead.
In summary, the Scarlett Solo and Scarlett 2i2 are the smallest two models from Focusrite’s flagship Scarlett series. Both are equally competent in playing the role they have been designed to, and the primary difference is that the Solo (true to its name) offers one Preamp while the Scarlett 2i2 offers two.
Before you ride that wave of that empowerment, there are a few technical factors you want to take into account in order to choose the right tools. Here are some pointers in making that choice between these two options.
Both interfaces come with a deep red exterior that pays tribute to the nomenclature of this series. The black front panel encases one large rotary dial for monitoring levels, and two smaller ones act as gain knobs. The latter is embedded onto green and red circles that light up according to the mode you’re in. Overall first impressions are one of a high-end product that surprises the consumer with its affordable price tag.
Both interfaces are near-identical in the manner in which they are constructed. The aluminum casing gives you an instant sense of reliability. The buttons and ports are meticulously assembled. All cables feel secure when connected, and overall the interfaces feel really good to handle.
It’s tiny details like these that go a long way in enhancing the music-making process. Anyone who's had to deal with flimsy knobs and loose cables will relate! So kudos to Focusrite for having been thoughtful enough to consider them.
One mini-gripe: The front and back panels are plastic. But they feel solid enough and don’t look half as tacky as one might think. They also help keep the interfaces lighter. So the trade-off seems fair enough.
While both interfaces are small enough to throw inside your day bag single-handedly, the Scarlett Solo definitely takes portability a notch farther with its petite dimensions.
Both the Scarlett Solo and Scarlett 2i2 are bus-powered audio interfaces. For newbies who don't know what that means, they are powered by your computer via a USB connection. So you don’t need an extra power supply.
This comes with pros and cons.
It adds massively to portability and convenience. All you need is your laptop and one of these, and you're good to go!
The ability to power these interfaces as a standalone device is not an option unless you're using a USB hub or adapter. Additionally, rumor has it that signal flow is compromised when powered via a computer. The jury is still out on this, though. And any differences in sound are so minimal it doesn’t really count in most cases. Especially to the demographic this is aimed at.
This is where the Scarlett Solo and the Scarlett 2i2 make their differences apparent. Let’s have a quick look.
- 1 x Line-in (6.35 mm) input. Meant to be used for Electric guitars, Bass, or any other electric instrument with a mono output (Fender Rhodes, Wurli).
- 1 x XLR input.
- 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output on the front panel with adjustable volume.
- 1 x stereo 6.35 mm output (Left and Right out) located on the back panel. The volume for these is controlled by the large master knob on the front.
Here is the User Guide for Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen.
- 2 Neutrik combo inputs. For those who don't know what these are, they're combined inputs. They accept both XLR and 6.35 mm Line inputs. So this means you can record multiple combinations of instruments. Vocals and acoustic guitar. Or bass and guitar. Or a stereo Keyboard.
- 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output on the front panel with adjustable volume. Except the Scarlett 2i2 has a dedicated volume knob for this. So you have separate sources and signal-path to control the output of the headphone and master outs.
If that’s too much tech talk for you, what this means is that you can send out signals to the speakers as required and then monitor your music over headphones at a volume that works for you. This is especially helpful for solo singer-songwriters, performers, and DJs who use their laptops on stage.
Focusrite has been making their preamps for 30 years. The 3rd Generation mic pres on their Scarlett series is the most up-to-date yet. The 24-bit/192 kHz converters ensure a degree of clarity and detail that would have been unheard of 2 decades back in this price range.
Additionally, their patented 'Air' mode adds a unique high-end detail for vocal recordings. This results in an organic, breathy quality to the voice. Giving them that posh, professional vibe.
The Scarlett Solo and the Scarlett 2i2 both use the same preamps.
One major difference, though:
- The Scarlett 2i2 has two preamps
- Scarlett Solo only has one.
This means that the Scarlett Solo's two inputs are operated by a single preamp. So if you're using both inputs simultaneously, two signals are being split by one, giving you half the headroom and clarity.
The Scarlett 2i2, on the other hand, gives you two independent preamps. No compromise on signal quality during simultaneous recording here.
One of the most important factors while choosing the right interface for your studio is latency.
In layman’s terms, this is the delay between the signal being sent into the interface and the moment you actually hear it over your headphones or speakers. The delay occurs because when you sing or play guitar into your interface, the audio is being processed in the digital realm before it reaches your ears. So the processing power of both your computer and the interface plays a big role in this.
Analog mixers and headphone routers have always had the edge over digital interfaces in this regard. However, recent advancements in technology have made the difference negligible. And the Scarlett series is testimony to this. The Direct Monitor mode (which is turned on by a tiny button on the top left) gives you what Focusrite calls ‘near zero’ latency.
This means that even though latency is actually measured, it is so minuscule that the human ear doesn’t detect it.
The result? You can record your performances feeling connected to the playback or metronome of your song comfortably.
You may also check Scarlett 2i2's 3rd Gen User Guide.
Phantom power is available on both. So condenser mics and any other gear that needs powering are usable.
Here’s how the Focusrite Scarlett Solo and 2i2 add up against each other:
- Design: The Scarlett Solo wins. Both are built well and feel and look like high-quality products, but the Solo is more portable.
- Connectivity: The Scarlett 2i2 wins, hands down. Separate headphone outs and two dedicated preamps seal the deal.
- Latency: Tie.
- Signal Quality: Scarlett 2i2 wins if you’re multitracking.
- Phantom Power: Tie.
- Price: Scarlett Solo wins.
It’s a close call. It’s really going to boil down to your specific needs.
If you’re looking for a second or third interface just to add to an arsenal of studio gear, the Solo gives you almost unbeatable portability.
If this is your only interface, though, the Scarlett 2i2 is hands down the more versatile of the two.