Simply put, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is the single best budget audio interface. It can support two inputs, whether they’re microphones with phantom power, or guitars and basses. It’s affordable and gets the job done with professional quality.
I got my 2nd gen edition in 2016 after my previous sound interface started acting up (different model). Since then, the 2i2 has served me well in recording 3 singles, as well as a lot of covers where I have my vocals and guitar recording simultaneously.
The device has had a 3rd revision since then. The most obvious addition being the new “Air” button which reportedly enhances the high-end. That should come in handy for adding some clarity on vocals as I usually have to use an EQ to do that in the DAW, even though I’m using a relatively bright microphone.
One of the reasons why the Scarlette 2i2 is the best budget audio interface is how easy it is to connect it to your PC or MAC with the included USB-C cable from the back of the device. On the front, you’ll find two input slots, both of which double as XLR input for microphones or TS and TRS cable for instruments.
Connecting the Scarlette 2i2 to your PC or MAC is fairly straightforward with the included USB-C cable which goes in the rear of the device. On the front you’ll find two input slots, both of which double as XLR input for microphones or TS and TRS cable for instruments.
To start, if one or both of the inputs you’re using is a microphone that requires phantom power, like most studio microphones, be sure to toggle on the button labeled “48V”.
There seems to be some confusion online regarding the instrument level switch so let’s clear that up by referring to the Focusrite documentation. If you plug in an XLR cable, the switch is essentially bypassed and mic-level is applied to the signal.
However, if you’re plugging in a 6.3mm jack, then you’ll have to set the signal level accordingly. If the instrument you’re plugging in outputs line-level, such as keyboards, synths, or drum machines, then you want to toggle the switch off.
Otherwise, if the instrument you’re recording is a guitar or bass, then make sure the instrument switch is toggled on. When in doubt, consult this handy flowchart I made.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 has 2 lines outputs (6.3mm) in the rear for a pair of studio monitors. These carry a balanced signal meaning you want to make sure to use TRS cables (as opposed to TS). If you’d like to learn more, Sweetwater has a very informative page on TS and TRS cables. But the But to sum it up, a balanced signal is noise resistant and that’s what you want to use here to connect your monitors to your audio interface. The other end of the cable that goes into the studio monitor can be either TRS or XLR.
The Scarlett also comes with an output for studio headphones on the front, also in the form of a 6.3mm jack. Both outputs can be controlled separately via a dedicated knob, which I highly appreciate.
Another great feature of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is the direct monitor toggle in the front so that you can hear yourself any time you want to record with headphones on.
Focusrite claims the air button is “designed to transform your recordings” on a dedicated page for the air button. Enabling the button seems to alter the frequency response to add a bit of clarity on the mid to high end, reportedly to emulate the sound of their classic ISA 110 mic preamp.
But what does that mean for you? Should you turn it on or keep it off? As you may have guessed, only you can answer that. Try both ways and see which you like better! There’s no wrong answer here.
If you want to produce music or record instruments, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 will do exactly that. Assuming you don’t need to record more than 2 signals at once, it has everything you could ask for packed in a box with great design. I can confidently say it is the single best budget audio interface.