Focusrite Scarlett Solo
- Build Quality
- 0 latency monitoring - good for lower spec laptops
- High Quality Pre-Amp
- No 2.5 headphone jack out or dedicated level knob
- No combo input - ALX only
- No ability to record stereo line in
The Focusrite Scarlett Solo is the cheapest audio interface offering by Focusrite, but does this cheap price mean it is a cheap bit of kit?
I have been a Focusrite customer for a long time now and recently decided to pick up a Scarlett Solo since I was after something portable I could carry around with me. I have been using it for 6 months now, and so I thought I would share my thoughts on it in this review.
My aim here is to give you all the information you need to decided if it is right for you, and cover off some of the questions that were on my mind before I bought it, which might be on your mind now. Questions like:
- Is this compatible with my microphone?
- Can I record to a backing track?
- Can I use it for streaming?
- What do I need to do, to get started?
We will cover the hardware itself and what functionality it gives you. We will run through some example setup scenarios showing you how it could work in your recording workflow. Finally, we will quickly have a look at the included software and discuss some of the things I think could be better about the Focusrite Scarlett Solo.
The first thing I want to cover off here in regard to the hardware is the build quality, and the Solo has very good build quality! The sound card has a very satisfying weight to it and a real sturdy premium feel like it could be put in your back pack with no worries that it will get damaged. Encoder knobs are smooth to turn and are not flimsy to hold or feel like they will get knocked off easily. Construction is a single sheet of red brushed metal around the outside with front and back being a black mat plastic. It also has solid rubber feet which keep it on your desk helping with inserting and removing the different cables. I would have no problem with sitting something heavy on top of the unit, I was even able to stand on it (not recommended)!
I’m sure however if you ran over it with a car or threw it of a building, it would probably sustain some damage, but for a portable sound card at this price the build quality for me is a 9/10. It could have been 10/10 but, I think the switches (while perfectly functional) are flimsy and just don’t make sense to me. Everything about the build quality is very well-thought-out so I can only assume it must be on purpose that they used these flimsy feeling switches.
The front panel on the Solo is divided into 3 sections, the first for a mic input, second for a line/instrument input, and lastly a master section controlling the output and monitoring settings. In the first (left-hand side) section we get 1 XLR input with Gain control and 48v Phantom Power toggle switch which lights up Red when on. The second (middle) section gives us a mono 1/4 inch jack input with a gain control and line/instrument toggle switch. The final section (right-hand side) we have the master out and headphone monitor volume encoder, Direct Monitor toggle switch and 1/4 inch stereo headphone out jack.
The Gain encoders in the first and second sections each have their own LED level monitors that will light up green when an input signal is fed in, and will glow/flash red when the input level is too high or the Gain has been turned up too far. A really nice, and simple visual solution to monitoring, and something I find really handy.
The Monitor encoder controls both the main output volume and the headphone volume, which for the type of customer this sound card is targeted at is totally fine but I personally would prefer to have a separate headphone volume encoder which is present on higher Scarlett models.
The Direct Monitor toggle switch allows you to listen to the incoming audio from both inputs with almost Zero latency and better yet you don’t need to have your DAW open, just power running to the Solo. This is super handy for monitoring your input volumes before they get to the DAW or listening to yourself sing or play along to a backing track without any added latency. You can also use this switch to mute any of the incoming audio so you are just listening to what is coming out of your DAW.
Around the back is a pretty bare, but what we do have is a set of L/R RCA Line level outputs, Kensington lock and the input for your USB plug. The RCA outputs share the same channels as the headphones so what ever you hear out of the speakers you will hear in your headphones and vice versa.
Being USB Class Compliant the Scarlett Solo is plug and play with Mac requiring no software to be installed beforehand and can be plugged into an iPad to be used with various apps like Garageband but you will need a lightning connector for this. For windows users you will need to download and install the drivers form the Focusrite website here.
This interface is able to send 48v out of the XLR jack, making it compatible with a wide range of microphones including dynamic, condenser and ribbon (both phantom powered and not phantom powered in the case of ribbon microphones). Your best bet is to check what input voltage your microphone manufacturer recommends for your model! Remember if your microphone doesn not require phantom power then it is best to ensure the phantom power button is off before the being plugged in. Below are a few examples of compatible microphones, click the links to check current pricing on Amazon.
Shure SM81 – Personal Favourite
Audio – Technica AT2010 – Best Price (Condenser Microphone)
The Scarlett Solo is super simple to set up on Mac with no drivers needed thanks to it being a USB Class Compliant device. I was even able to get up and running without installing drivers manually on Windows 10 (your mileage may vary) since W10 was able to find and install compatible drivers automatically. However, I would highly recommend downloading and installing the ASIO drivers from the Focusrite website for better performance. Once the interface is connected to your computer you can then follow the normal procedure for using it with you DAW of choice. Below we will run through a few setup examples to give you an idea of what you can do with the Scarlett Solo and how it might work in your workflow.
This is the most basic setup where you can see a single Electric Guitar plugged into the interface. From here the signal is sent to a Computer running a DAW where it is recorded. With Direct Monitor switched on, the musician is able to hear the guitar through the speakers with almost Zero latency.
In this setup an artist is able to record their voice while listening to a backing track sent from the DAW. This backing track could be a click, simple chord progression recording or the out from the master channel in the DAW.
Multi Track Recording
Here a solo artist is able to record both a guitar and their voice at the same time on two different tracks. The instrument can be recorded with a Microphone or directly from the instrument itself.
Perhaps you are a Gamer who streams or a Live Radio/Podcast host, the Scarlett Solo can be setup to take your voice send it into your computer and out on your preferred streaming service. The article here does a great job at describing the process for setting up your audio interface for streaming.
What it lacks
While the Scarlett Solo is a great audio interface with a top quality pre-amp and great build quality, I have found myself wishing that it had a few extra features which I have listed below.
- 2.5mm headphone jack out
- dedicated monitor level knob for headphone out
- combo XLR input
- additional stereo L/R out
- ability to record stereo line in
If I had to pick 1 of the above, it would be the inclusion of a 2.5 mm headphone jack. At first, I had to remember to carry a 1/4 to 3.5 mm adapter with my headphones and now I have gone ahead and purchased a 3.5 mm adapter and I leave it in the interface full time now.
My second choice would be to have separate Speaker and Headphone volume control since when at home I have it plugged into speakers. This feature is present on the higher end Scarlett interfaces so I can understand it being left out of this model.
I have also picked up a 1/4 female to XLR male adapter so that I can record in stereo with two dynamic (no phantom powered mics)
The Scarlett Solo includes a bunch of great software packs including DAWs and Plugins. Below we list the included software and a little about them but over all, Focusrite has given you everything you need to start making music right out of the box.
Focusrite – Red Plug-in Suite
These two effect plugins by Focusrite replicate the Red 2 EQ, and the RED 3 Compressor hardware effect units. While most DAWs will come with built in EQ and compressor effect plug-ins, it is nice that Focusrite has included them in the box and they are very relevant plug-ins for who this audio interface is aimed at.
XLN Audio – Addictive Keys
This is an instrument plugin by XLN Audio giving you the choice to buy (for free) one out of four Key type instruments. The options are Electric Grand, Studio Grand, Modern Upright and Mark One as pictured above.
Softube – Time and Tone Bundle
This is a really great and handy bundle of effects containing a compressor, reverb, saturation and delay effects again all very relevant to the target customers of the product. They are good quality plugins and something I often use in records.
Ableton Live Lite
Focusrite include two introductory DAWs the first being Ableton Live Lite. This is perfect for a solo artist who likes to perform live as Ableton lends itself quite well to Live playback.
Avid – Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack
The second is Avid Pro Tools First, which is a cut down version of an industry standard DAW and very well-known among the music production industry. This software is actually free on the Avid website so it would have been nice if there was something extra included with this deal. Perhaps I did not look hard enough and maybe there is some added benefit to this deal or tighter integration with the Scarlett Solo, but I couldn’t see it.
The Scarlett Solo also includes 2GB of loops and samples so you can put a drum track or backing tracks behind your recording to get them polished off. I find loop material great for chopping up and making something new out of or getting inspiration from.
The Wrap up
All in all the Focusrite Scarlett Solo is a great little audio interface perfect for the producer who needs to be mobile or someone who doesn’t need too many inputs and outputs. The Scarlett Solo is also perfect for streamers who want to use high quality condenser microphones for their streams but don’t want the hassle of buying a bulky or expensive audio interface.
I own a Focusrite Scarlett Solo and I am really happy with it, I can throw it in my backpack and not worry about if it will survive a trip on a train or plane. While it has a few down sides as discussed in this review there are no show stoppers for me. The recording quality is really great and the outputs are loud enough for me! I definitely recommend this product and if you are curious click here to check current pricing.
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Thanks for reading!