Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 by johnnyv
What I was looking for:
I have been thinking about a new interface for a few years and noticed a lot of positive reviews and comments about the Focusrite Scarlett line of interfaces. I cannot justify top end gear for what I do at home and the Scarlett was well within my budget. I was actually planning on spending more!
Make note that these like all lower priced USB interfaces are not top performers with Round Trip Latency. Read this article if your concered about hi performance RTL.
Audio Interface - Low Latency Performance Data Base
The Scarlett line up starts with the 2i2 a 2x2 interface all the way up to the 18i6 which is a 18x6. The 6i6 offers the exact connectivity I required. At the time it was only around $40 more than the 2i4.
I always make a list of what I need before I start shopping. It's surprising how many forum threads I've read where someone runs out and buys an interface and finds out it is missing important features they need. Just because someone recommends an interface doesn't mean it's going to be correct for you.
My shopping list:
I needed a min of 6 inputs and 6 outputs.
2 Combi front panel inputs for instruments or Mikes.
2 line level inputs for Analog mixer.
SPDIF input for Digital Mixer ( = 2)
MIDI input for Controller
4 analog outputs
MIDI output for hardware synths.
Headphones with front panel control - Bonus there is two!
Input/output balance control- Missing must use Mix Control :(
Front panel Monitor level control.
Pre Amps must be regarded as good quality by reviews.
NOT MADE OF PLASTIC!
Small and portable
On /Off switch
( Add for next unit - Insert Jacks for a hardware compressor)
So only one item on my list was missing, the in/out mix knob, well not really missing, just not on the front panel.
I like all the features of this unit. Small footprint and very portable.It is solid and nice looking too! It will be excellent for travelling.
Well thought out,, I like the BIG monitor knob. Very handy.
Two independent headphone outs with volume, perfect.
The combi jacks are pretty standard fare on most interfaces and work well with just about anything you can toss at them. A little sensitive but a overall well designed preamp that won't colour your sound.
The LINE/INST switch is missing from the front panel and is software driven within the Mix Control software. So this is not a stand alone unit.
The peak meter is very interesting, a circle LED around the input level controls. It turns from Green to Orange to Red. I don't like it much, I would rather a segmented bar meter as you really have no idea where in the green it is until it's too late. You'll need to rely on your DAW's input meter in the end. But I guess it's a step above a tiny little LED that most use.
On the Back:
I was so happy to find a on/off switch heh
I am not a fan of Buss power so this unit gets my big thumbs up for being shipped with a power supply.
There are well documented issues with USB ( buss) powered interfaces introducing noise into the system. Another reason to go with this unit instead of the 2i2 or the 2i4. I also prefer the stability of AC power for Phantom powered mikes. Some mikes just cannot function using USB 2.0 buss power. This might now improve with USB 3.0.
The 2 back panel inputs and the 4 outputs are all TRS, very nice. I'll sometimes be patching to a FOH PA. So this unit is all balanced inputs and outputs.
MIDI in and out for us old school hardware users.
SPDIF in/out for my Digital Mixer and future powered monitors, the only way to fly for Monitoring IMHO.
The standard full size USB- B connection.
Software And Drivers:
They had version 1.6 posted on the web site that had issues, the audio would cut out after 1 second.
I emailed customer service and was promptly given a link to the "Beta" version of 1.7.
March 28 2014: they have now released 1.8
Without contacting support I would have been using pour drivers. I'll give credit to their customer support who replied promptly and explained it very clearly to me.
Note: There is a Matt from Focusrite who answers threads from users with issues on the Sonar forum a lot. Seems like a top notch support crew to me that they are willing to read DAW forums.
The Mix control is not what I'd call user friendly, but once you get your head around the weird labeling it's a powerful tool. You can set up dozens of custom mixes. You can have 4 different stereo cue mixes between the 2 headphones outputs and the 4 rear outputs. Or 2 stereo ( headphones) and 4 Mono mixes.
Downside is you have to keep the Mix Control GUI on screen to make adjustments all the time if working this way. Recommend a second monitor.
You can assign tracks directly from your DAW for up to 12 mix control DAW outputs and use the Mix Control to make the cue mixes without messing with the DAWS track output levels. Very powerful and with Sonar I could make a template that took advantage of this. If I was recording 6 musicians this would be a excellent set up. I guess this software shines with the 18i6.
You can toggle the combi jacks for line/instrument in the GUI. A light on the front panel indicates your setting,a thoughtful touch but I would have liked the hardware switch like the 2i4 better..
If what you need is more connectivity and the mix control software then the 6i6 is the first in the Scarlett line up that includes the software package. Sorry, no DSP.
There are a lot of interface in this price range and I'm sure a few are worth a close look, but this is what I chose after reading a lot of threads on interfaces over the last couple of years. It was the only one that had the right combination of in/ outs for me too.
Just a brief update:
Now I've been using it for a couple of Months, I'll just add that this is working out to be a great unit. I'm getting better recordings than in the past. I can add more efxs and soft synths to my projects because the drivers must be substantially better then my old Tascam had.( Duh) I keep the buffer slider at 10ms and I've never had a dropout or weirdness since.
I tried the setting at 2ms buffer and you can play Guitar Rig with very little lag, but I then get dropouts if running inside Sonar. My computer is 5 years old and I'm sure most newer machines would behave better.
The mike pre amps are better, so much better that I now am using my 01v mixer via SPDIF only when I need input compression on Bass and Vocals.
For acoustic guitar, mandolin and such, I just go straight to the Scarlett's pre amps. I find these pre amps a little overly sensitive so setting levels on the conservative side works best. Not anything more than can be expected at this price point.
Insert jacks to patch a hardware compressor will be something I'll add to my next wish list.
I will add here that I found you don't need to open the Mix Control Software unless your going to make a change to the monitor mix. So I just forget it exists. The levels showing in the mix control have nothing to do with your input level, I was originally worried about the red clipping lights, but turns out the input sliders are for monitoring only and do not change your input levels. As long as the front panel and your track meter are not red all is good.
Speaking of Monitoring-
I'm using my Yamaha 01V for headphone balance,, it's just plain easier and LOUDER> As I said the mix control software would need a second video monitor to be really usable. My Tascam had a front panel Mix Knob for the blending of the input and output. So if your DAW mix is too loud compared to the input you have to open the mix control to make the adjustments.
Anther update, June 27th 2014, I have taken it on the road a few times and it is perfect for this. I can put my whole studio in a small suitcase.
The scarlett, A SM 57 and cable,headphones and a laptop. I also took a few stomp boxes and my G&L Tribute and recorded directly.