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Focusrite Scarlett 2i4: our hands-on review

Focusrite Scarlett 2i4: our hands-on review
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As I’ve been spending more time exploring more of an improvised live set (thanks Kevin Yost!) than exclusively dj sets, I’ve been looking to replace my audio interface. I’ve been using the Native Instruments Traktor Audio 2 interface for djing (and been hugely impressed) I’m wanting to add some inputs for a microphone and for a guitar or bass to get things into Ableton Live 9 for looping, as well as keeping the two stereo pairs of outputs for djing. One thing that looks to tick all the boxes is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4, so I decided to take a closer look…

Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 USB Audio Interface

Scarlett 2i4 first impressions:

The Scarlett 2i4 is a nice looking piece of gear, resplendent in its red anodised aluminium finish. It’s not quite as heavy as I was initially expecting, it’s not light, but it’s not so weighty that you can’t cart it around in your bag either.

The knobs rotate smoothly, but have a nice resistance to them, and the buttons and switches click reassuringly. The inputs are on Neutrik combi XLR/jack sockets, with two pairs of outputs on RCA phonos, and one pair mirrored on balanced ¼” jacks, it’s easy to get connected to the usual phono inputs on a dj mixer, but also get the benefits of a balanced signal for studio use or to send to the PA if you’re mixing in the box.

The ¼” headphone output is usefully equipped with a switch on the front panel to select between outputs 1/2 or 3/4, always nice to have a switch for this rather than have to use a software application, and the same goes for the physical volume knob and controls to set input type, gain, phantom power, and input monitoring. The Scarlett 2i4 also features proper MIDI in and out DIN sockets for your external gear.

The Scarlett 2i4 set up:

Having started my musical days dealing with issues such as IRQ conflicts when installing new internal soundcards, today’s set ups are really far too easy and installing the 2i4 was no exception. I went to the Focusrite site, downloaded the most recent drivers, installed, restarted and plugged in the interface with the single USB cable, set it as my device for input and output in my audio settings and that was it. OS X saw it and played back fine and, after setting up the preferences in Traktor for master out and cue out, that saw it fine as well and I was cueing and mixing straight away.

If I’m being picky, I would say that the authorisation process for the plugins was a bit clunky, but, as you’re getting some good compression and eq plugins, as well as the BassStation for free, you can’t complain too much I suppose…

Front and rear views of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 USB Audio Interface

Scarlett 2i4 performance:

As said above, it really was worryingly easy to get the 2i4 installed and configured for use, and for djing all was fine without having to tweak a single setting. I tested the Scarlett 2i4 in Traktor and Ableton Live and was impressed. The preamps performed well, and I was happy enough with the performance of the 2i4 to not bother patching in my external preamp and channel strip.

I’ve used this for a few dj sets now and it’s just got on with the job and I’ve not needed to touch it, which is surely what a good product should do. Mixing internally in Traktor, I was monitoring with the ‘phones plugged into the 2i4 rather than going through the external mixer, and the headphone output provided enough volume using my 55 Ohm impedance headphones (104 db SPL/V sensitivity).

The big 2i4 question:

Will I be buying one? I already have. It’s going to take up a bit more space in the gear box than my Traktor Audio 2, but for the extra features it’s a small price to pay. Again, it’s a bit bigger than an interface like the Apogee Duet 2, but the Duet 2 has its connections on a breakout cable and doesn’t feature as many dedicated on the box controls. While the sound quality of the Duet may be superior, for a mobile interface, and for the majority of project studio recordings, the Scarlett 2i4 is more than sufficient, works on the PC too and is considerably cheaper! I’m impressed.

Scarlett 2i4 specifications:

2 in/4 out USB audio interface for Mac and PC

2 microphone/line/instrument inputs on XLR/TRS jack combi sockets

Switchable phantom power (+48V)

Zero-latency monitoring with input/playback balance control

1/4″ TRS headphone output with level control, switchable to monitor outputs 1/2 or 3/4

2 balanced outputs on 1/4″ TRS (1/2)

Outputs 1/2 duplicated on unbalanced RCA phono sockets

Outputs 3/4 on unbalanced RCA phono sockets

MIDI in and out

Kensington lock slot

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