Guitar Interactive Magazine toggle menu

Review

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 Audio Interface

Issue #46

All in all, a worthwhile upgrade to a very popular unit; does a great job without fuss and is a pleasure to use.
Andi Picker

Pros:

Very simple to set up and use
Quality feels good
Solid neutral sound
Low Latency connection

Cons:

Rear combi sockets may be a bit awkward for some users

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 Audio Interface

Focusrite seems to be on a roll, despite operating in a hugely crowded market. Andi Picker checks out the Scarlett 18i20 interface aimed at keeping the UK audio specialist in the lead.

Focusrite’s Scarlett range of audio interfaces seems to go from strength to strength, and I swear that just about every “which interface should I buy?” query I see on the various online forums and groups has a Scarlett model vs something else. I have the “new generation” version of the 18i20 sitting here – it looks pretty similar to the previous one except for a moved logo, but it’s got a few serious upgrades under the covers.

Let’s start with the basics, the 18i20 is a USB audio interface with eight analogue inputs; a pair on the front panel with mic/line/instrument options, and a further six on the back panel have mic/line. ADAT allows up-to an additional eight audio inputs depending on sample rates (eight at 44.1/48 kHz, four at 88.2/96 kHz, disabled at 192 kHz) with something like a Focusrite OctoPre plugged in, SPDIF gives a pair of channels of digital I/O, and conventional 5-pin sockets handle MIDI I/O. Audio output is on ten balanced/unbalanced jack sockets with the first pair labelled for monitors, and the back panel also houses a wordclock output, USB 2 port and a proper mains socket.

On the front panel are phantom power switches for two banks of inputs (1-4 and 5-8) and gain controls for each analogue input (with instrument and pad buttons for channels 1 and 2). Each audio channel also has a useful LED ladder meter marked for -42, -18, -6, -3 and 0 dB and there is a monitor level control (with dim and mute buttons) and a pair of headphone sockets with individual level controls. Oh, and a power switch – on the front panel where you can actually see and reach it!

So far, it all looks pretty much like the original version of the 18i20, unless you caught the hint about 192kHz sample rate converters, which are new. Whilst many users will never need quad rate sampling, the other headline upgrades will score points just about every time the unit is turned on. The instrument inputs have an additional 8dB of headroom – this is a big deal for anyone DIing high output guitars and basses; IO sockets have circuitry to protect against phantom power accidents (we’ve all had the odd near miss), input controls have evenly distributed gain and the USB connection has been engineered to give the claimed lowest latency in-class – designed to allow real-time monitoring through the DAW with a suitable system. All of these things will matter to users who are just trying to get the job done, and I applaud Focusrite for a very mature upgrade to an already best-selling range.

As well as the hardware, the package includes Focusrite Control that allows software control and routing (including setting up individual headphone mixes), and a bundle with Pro Tools |First, Focusrite Creative Pack (a dozen effects for Pro Tools including Eq, compression, distortion, modulation, tuner, echo and reverb), Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite Red 2 & 3 plugins suite, Softube Time & Tone bundle, Novation Bass Station, and a Loopmaster sample library.

The unit is a familiar 19” rack format and is clearly designed to be cased – the rack ears appear to be fixed which is a bit inconvenient if you share my bad habit of stacking gear anywhere there’s room for it, and the combi-socket inputs on the back panel do mean that you can’t just hook it to a patch bay or a bunch of flying leads and then connect whatever you want to on the fly without having rear access. That said, I bet that most of these units will have their inputs pretty well permanently connected, so that’s probably a good cost/space/functionality call in reality.

In use, the new features are almost invisible, they just sit there and work to make life a little easier. So far as I can tell, the sound is as it used to be, clean and neutral with a decent amount of quiet gain available, just as it ought to be in a workhorse interface; and if you need to use a boutique pre-amp or two, just patch them into a couple of line-ins or digital inputs. I honestly forgot about the new ultra-low latency connection as I tend to monitor through software anyway, but when I checked, I was actually running without problem with a buffer size that’s smaller than I reliably run on my RME interface – so I guess that works too.

All the knobs are nicely weighted and feel secure and there’s loads of room to get your fingers round them, and input metering is easy to see and usefully calibrated. Basically, you take it out of the box, plug it in, install the driver/control package and you’re ready to start recording. For anyone who needs an expandable system to record multiple sources, and who wants to concentrate on the performance and not the hardware, the 18i20 2nd Gen will do a fine job at a very reasonable price.

All in all, a worthwhile upgrade to a very popular unit; does a great job without fuss and is a pleasure to use.


Issue46.jpg
Comments

Issue #50

John Petrucci

Out Now

Read the Mag
Top