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Like many podcasters, you probably started podcasting using a USB microphone. Those are great tools for beginners, but after a while, you may notice that your sound quality isn’t up to the same standard as some of the best podcasts (even with a good homemade podcast studio). If you want to level up your podcast, eventually you’ll need to invest in an XLR microphone.
An XLR microphone and XLR cable are the standards of broadcasters, musicians, live performers, and anyone who needs perfect audio. But you can’t plug XLR gear into your laptop, so you need an audio interface in between.
Need help choosing a microphone? Check out our podcast microphone recommendations.
An audio interface is a hardware device that gives you control over your recording setup. Some plug into your computer through a USB port. It’s useful if you need to improve the quality of your sound, want to record professional interviews on location, or if you want to record locally with a co-host.
Which audio interface should you buy? There are plenty of options, but one of our favorites is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, a high-quality and affordable device that’s useful for new and veteran podcasters alike. In this Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 review, we give you an overview of this audio interface along with our thoughts.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Overview
Focusrite was established by famous audio engineer Rupert Neve in 1985. Since then, Focusrite has been manufacturing some of the best audio equipment in the world, for home users and big commercial operations. If you’ve ever worked in a recording studio, you’ve undoubtedly used their equipment.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a powerful all-in-one solution for home recording, which makes it a great tool for podcasters who want to improve their audio quality. Let’s go through each facet of the product.
Focusrite designed the Scarlett 2i2 to be durable. Some users will carry it around with them, so it has to withstand some punishment. The chassis is all-metal, finished with Focusrite’s traditional red with black fascia. The edges are rounded and smooth. It measures 3.89 by 6.89 by 1.87 inches and weighs less than one pound.
The weight is the only thing we don’t like about this unit’s construction. Given that it’s not very heavy, it’s easy to move around accidentally on your table. Once you connect a microphone or other device, the 2i2 can get jostled a bit.
However, the light weight means you can bring it anywhere. It fits comfortably in a tote bag or backpack. You could easily store it alongside your computer, USB cable, and a couple of XLR microphones, and still have room.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a compact and simple device. It doesn’t overwhelm you, which makes it a good option for beginners. The switches and controls are simple and neatly laid out on the front of the device. Everything is visible and well-labeled. That’s exactly what you want in a piece of production equipment, honestly. You want to be able to use the device intuitively after a quick tutorial to reduce the time you spend recording.
The only connection is a USB to your computer. That’s all. There’s no complicated wiring or additional devices. And since it’s USB, you can connect it to any computer, so if you find yourself using a public computer or someone else’s device while recording on location, you’ll always have a way to hook up your Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
The front of the unit has two ¼ inch XLR combo inputs. Each comes with a switch so that you can choose your input source. You can input anything that uses XLR, not just microphones, like instruments, a drum machine, a stereo mixer, or anything else.
Both inputs offer switches for Air control and both have their own gain knobs. There’s a unique illuminated halo around the gain controls that gives you instant feedback about what’s happening with the volume levels.
Additionally there is a ¼ inch socket for the headphones, a phantom power button, and a monitor level control. The back of the device is equally simple with two balanced TRS outputs and a USB-C connection. All standard stuff.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 comes with some extras as well, including a range of recording software, sounds, and plug-ins. You get Pro Tools – First Focusrite Creative Pack, a unique collection of 12 plugins that are only available to Scarlett customers. It also comes with a starter version of both of the industry standards, Ableton Live and Avid Pro Tools, as well as Softube Time, Tone Bundle, and the Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite.
Additionally, purchasing the 2i2 gets you a three-month subscription to Splice, access to a bank of royalty-free one-shots. Loops and presets are added to the library every day. and a choice of one XLN virtual instrument. USB-C, and USB-A cables are also included.
To be fair, while Focusrite is generous with the add-ons, they can get a little overwhelming. Don’t feel like you have to use all of these tools to create a successful podcast. Experiment with the ones you think are valuable and don’t worry about the rest.
The price of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is our favorite part. Considering the phenomenal value you get with this device, the $169 price tag feels absurdly cheap. This is well within a typical podcast budget, even for newcomers. If you’re looking to boost your production value, this should be an easy purchase for you.
Setting up the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is simple. All you have to do is plug in the USB cable provided. Then connect your XLR microphones to the interface.
Next, set up your recording software. Find the input settings in your software and the Scarlett 2i2 should be listed. If you want to use the 2i2 for online conversations, just select it as your input and output in whichever call recording app you’re using.
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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Performance
Our Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 review wouldn’t be thorough unless we talked about the device’s performance. In short, we are highly impressed with the recording results.
Since Focusrite is known for the quality of their preamps, it’s no surprise that this interface has two improved low noise models. They offer a good level of headroom and have switchable phantom power for condenser microphones.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 offers independent recording and playback of both channels, which is important if you have a podcast guest or co-host because you can edit each speaker separately. During recording, you have the choice between “instrument” and “Air” modes for each channel. The Air function emulates Focusrite’s original ISA preamps, which is the ideal selection for vocals.
(These ISA preamps are used in top-tier studios all over the world so their quality is undisputed. They were designed by Rupert Neve, after all.)
The result is an open and bright sound. This is a big benefit when recording vocals for your podcast. It has a 24-bit rate and 192kHz sample rate, so the quality produced is high. The entire system is based on the legendary Focusrite ISA preamp. The final product is crisp, accurate, and absent of unwanted distortion.
Keep in mind, however, that like any interface (or any piece of audio equipment), you’ll have to fiddle around with the settings a bit to suit your own needs. Your voice is unique, after all.
One issue we noticed in our Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Review is that when you’re recording with only one microphone, it’s important to turn the gain level all the way down for the other microphone. Even though nothing is plugged into the second port, having gain up can still get background noise and you end up with a hiss under your vocals.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Review Final Thoughts
Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2:
Pros of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
- A simple and cheap way to improve your audio quality.
- Includes high quality Focusrite preamps and Air circuits.
- An easy way to switch to XLR microphones.
- Compact and lightweight for easy travel.
- Extremely affordable.
- Simple to set up.
- 24-bit rate and 192kHz sample rate.
- Easy to use controls with “halo” illuminated gain meters.
- Comes with lots of free software.
Cons of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
- Not suitable for three or more participants locally.
- Can get some light hiss with dynamic mics if the gain is too high.
- It’s lightweight means it can be jostled around your podcast table.
After our Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 review, we believe it’s a good purchase. It’s an excellent piece of kit for podcasting. You don’t technically need one, and if you’re happy with your sound quality and podcast workflow, you should keep doing what you’re doing.
But if you want to elevate your production to an XLR setup and continue recording on your computer, then we think the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is one of the best audio interface options, especially for new or early podcasters. There are other audio interfaces available, but this one offers the best value.