Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 evaluate: Plentiful prospects

We might earn income from the merchandise obtainable on this web page and take part in affiliate packages. Be taught extra ›

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is a glossy and slightly unassuming midrange audio interface that manages to supply premium options at a worth level half of what its direct opponents ask. Weighing in at simply 7.5 kilos and sporting an understated two-tone end with streamlined knobs and buttons, the 18i20 sports activities eight microphone preamps and direct compatibility with production-level audio gear, amongst different highlights. This mixture of function set and worth, together with its general construct high quality, make the third-gen 18i20 a critically interesting choice for producers and musicians working newly increasing recording studios and dealing on a finances.

I just lately had the chance to check a third-generation Scarlett 18i20 at my modest house studio by swapping it straight with my on a regular basis recording interface, the Common Audio Apollo x8. The 2 have lots in frequent by way of workflow and compatibility with exterior gear, however the Apollo x8 runs over double the price of the 18i20. Due to their comparable I/O configurations, I used to be in a position to make a reasonably easy comparability of the 2 items and discover the 18i20’s skill to combine with my studio’s current workflow. Whereas the 18i20 has a number of shortcomings indicative of its midrange price, it could possibly carry out at a excessive stage and prevent some cash in case you’re open to working across the Scarlett audio interface’s limitations.

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20’s design

The 18i20 is the biggest of the six Scarlett-line Focusrite audio interfaces, the smallest of which (such because the third-generation Focusrite Scarlett 2i2) are a number of the finest moveable USB-powered designs obtainable at this time. The 18i20 options the identical signature red-and-black chassis as its smaller siblings, however its energy necessities and rackmount functionality make it an audio recording interface rather more suited to integration with everlasting studio installations. It features a single IEC energy cable, in addition to a USB-C cable for cosy connection to any USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 port on Mac and Home windows computer systems. 4 low-profile rubber ft enable for slip-free use of the 18i20 on desk surfaces, or you possibly can optionally reap the benefits of the 2 included rack ears for mounting in any 19-inch tools rack.

Whereas the third-generation Scarlett 18i20 bears a lot of the identical connectivity and performance as its predecessors, it includes a main enchancment in entrance panel supplies and end, significantly in its acquire management knobs. Earlier generations used plastic knobs that felt imprecise and supplied little resistance, however they’ve been changed by extra strong steel knobs that supply “steps” for setting acquire extra reliably and persistently—giving a greater impression of sturdiness general. The entrance panel additionally options a variety of small, barely recessed buttons that give entry to quite a lot of toggles together with 48-volt phantom energy and microphone/line switching. Accessing these capabilities by way of bodily buttons is sweet on paper, however they’re small and supply restricted tactile suggestions, which could pose a workflow impediment if the 18i20 isn’t located straight in entrance of you.

See also  Lower muddle & value with Black Friday wi-fi encompass sound methods offers

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 comes with eight of its personal built-in inputs, two of that are accessible by way of the entrance panel by way of microphone/instrument combo connectors. The rear panel options six further microphone inputs, in addition to eight line inputs; customers might join line inputs and microphones concurrently and toggle between the 2, however the interface is proscribed to eight inputs complete. For entry to the additional 10 inputs, you’ll have to convey your personal ADAT- or S/PDIF-compatible tools and join it to the corresponding ports within the rear of the interface.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 audo interface
This slim audio interface is absolutely outfitted with the inputs, outputs, and digital synchronization with different gadgets you’ll want.

Getting began with the 18i20

The Scarlett 18i20 capabilities as a plug-and-play machine on Mac and Home windows computer systems with out the necessity for further drivers, nevertheless it does require customers to obtain and set up Focusrite’s management software program to perform as supposed. The Focusrite Management program is totally obligatory if you wish to entry and alter 18i20’s enter and output routing choices, nevertheless it additionally gives non-obligatory one-click toggles for a number of the interface’s entrance panel controls with out the necessity to attain over and press buttons manually. In comparison with the streamlined, intuitive entrance panel of the 18i20 itself, Focusrite Management has a perplexing person interface that’s troublesome to navigate and closely reliant on textual content in a manner that’s harking back to late-Nineteen Nineties internet design. I discovered a fast learn by the Focusrite Management person information to be sufficiently illuminating, nevertheless it was nonetheless onerous to parse precisely what the software program might and couldn’t do.

I related the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 to my Mac Mini and different current studio tools by way of a mixture of its microphone and line inputs, including a further eight from my Panasonic WZ-AD96M preamp by connecting by way of ADAT. This introduced the 18i20’s working complete to 16 inputs, which mirrors my studio’s on a regular basis configuration utilizing my Common Audio Apollo x8. To make sure that the ADAT preamp and the 18i20 have been correctly synchronized, I additionally related a single BNC cable from the 18i20’s world clock output to the clock enter of my ADAT preamp. Your complete connection and setup course of was extremely straightforward and easy and Logic Professional, my digital audio workstation of alternative, acknowledged and obtained audio from all inputs with out the necessity for any further configuration. I think about it will be equally easy it doesn’t matter what you think about to be finest DAW.

See also  Sony Inzone H9 wireless gaming headset review: ANC rules everything around me

One main blow to the 18i20’s potential flexibility that displays its midrange worth level is its lack of devoted converters for its two headphone outputs. Every pair of headphones related to the interface’s entrance panel disables a pair of stereo outputs on the rear of the 18i20, which implies that utilizing two pairs of headphones will knock down the interface’s variety of usable line outputs from eight to 4. For those who’re additionally utilizing a pair of studio displays, that variety of usable line outputs goes down to only two. This may not be an enormous difficulty for smaller studios with fewer connectivity wants, but when flexibility is what you’re after, you’ll have to get inventive and compromise.

The Scarlett 18i20’s sound

The microphone preamps and converters on the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 have very comparable specs to these on my Apollo x8, with a comparable acquire vary of 56 dB and a most 24-bit/192 kHz AD/DA conversion fee. These stats roughly imply that the 18i20 is able to recording at or above the {industry} normal for audio decision at a stage akin to that of interfaces two, three, and even 4 instances its worth. Whereas the technical actuality is a little more difficult than that, as all-in-one gadgets just like the 18i20 usually make technical compromises for the sake of saving house and chopping prices, the 18i20 ought to nonetheless don’t have any hassle producing high-quality information which can be as much as {industry} spec.

Focusrite has upgraded the preamps on the Scarlett line for its third technology with all-new “Air” settings that intention to recreate the wealthy, open high-frequency response of the corporate’s standalone ISA preamps. The Air setting alters the sign earlier than it reaches your DAW, so it’s a good suggestion to experiment with it earlier than committing it to your recorded sound; sound; I discovered it to be a bit crispy and harsh for my style utilized to drums and my voice, nevertheless it added some further magic to my Casio synth and to distorted electrical guitar in a really pure and natural manner. For drums and vocals, I a lot most well-liked the 18i20’s preamps with out the Air setting engaged; this rendered a comparatively neutral-sounding recording with a little bit of wooly low-end that was a pleasant departure from the brittleness generally present in cheaper interface preamps.

See also  Sonos Roam evaluation: Nice sound, in and out

As a result of I had the distinctive alternative to make a direct A-to-B comparability of the 18i20 to my Apollo x8, it was simpler than regular to understand their delicate sonic variations. The 18i20 information on the similar decision because the Apollo x8, however its built-in preamps and converters render a recording of the identical enter materials that is likely to be described as sounding “smoother.” That is neither good nor unhealthy; the recording captured by the Apollo x8 merely sounded extra true-to-life by way of sheer element. The brand new “Air” setting on the 18i20 mitigated a few of this veiling impact when engaged, including a little bit of presence and life again to significantly wooly devices. On the entire, the variations in sound between the 2 are extremely delicate—although the items have technical variations by way of parts, circuitry, and development, none of that may remotely matter to the tip listener if the fabric is pleasurable.

The back of the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is extremely inexpensive for its function set.

So, who should purchase the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20?

Pound for pound, the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 holds its personal in opposition to USB audio interfaces that price considerably extra—a powerful feat of expertise that will have been exceptional simply a few a long time in the past. A mix of futureproof expandability, construct high quality, and industry-standard recording constancy at a really accessible worth level make it a wonderful alternative for customers seeking to leapfrog from a smaller interface to file massive ensembles, full drum units, and a number of simultaneous inputs with out spending a fortune on a studio improve. The 18i20 isn’t fully flawless however, for my part, its limitations boil right down to little greater than studying alternatives for growing artists. Seasoned recordists might balk at its midrange converters or bristle on the notion of sacrificing line outputs for headphones, however engineering is little greater than problem-solving and the shortcomings of the 18i20 are small fry. It does lack premium options like DSP, digital acquire management, and superior routing, however these options add vital price—why they’re usually discovered on high-end tools. Bearing this in thoughts, so long as you’re not working a really massive industrial studio nor require a really massive I/O capability, the Scarlett 18i20 completely deserves a spot in your shortlist of the most effective audio interfaces for the cash.