Focusrite Scarlett Solo (1st Gen)
I owned Scarlett 2i2 briefly few years ago but had to return it after realizing that they made the input so sensitive that an average electric guitar could easily run it into clipping even with gain set at the lowest settings. After reading that they fixed the issue with the newer Scarlett Solo (1st gen), I decided to give Scarlett another chance. I needed a cheaper interface for my desktop computer which I don’t use as often as the laptop. Needed something small and simple that can let me plug the guitar and headphones and Solo seemed like a perfect choice.
- One instrument/line input with maximum input level of +15 dBu (compared to +4dBu on 2i2).
- One XLR mic input with +48V phantom power.
- Headphone output with direct monitoring switch (when engaged, you are hearing the input signal as is without any processing and without latency).
- Gain pots have illuminated halos around them that normally light green, but turn red when the input is overdriven into clipping.
- Unbalanced live RCA outputs suitable for active monitors.
Besides ASIO use for the guitar, I also planned to use the Solo as an everyday WDM sound card in Windows. Focusrite provides both the ASIO and WDM drivers, so after the installation it will be ready for both applications. It comes together with Ableton Live Lite, but I didn’t like it at all, so I got Reaper instead. They also give the VST plugin suite, but I prefer those that come with Reaper, so they are left unused too.
Noise level introduced by the preamp and/or DAC is crucial for playing guitar through the interface, especially if we use higher gain amp simulators. Any noise introduced early in the signal chain will be amplified many times once we add distortion boxes and amps on top of them. Scarlett Solo is very good in that regard. I have recorded a demo with clean and distorted guitar and noise level is pretty low, as low or lower than the real amplifier.
Would I like about it?
- It’s not too expensive and has enough features for most bedroom guitar players. If you play and sing, you can use instrument input for guitar and mic input for the vocal microphone. If you don’t need to record voice at the same time, XLR input can be used to record a mic’d guitar cabinet or DI-box/speaker simulator output, like Palmer those PDI-XX simulators. That way you can have both the dry guitar sound and the amp’d sound which leaves a lot of room for experimenting.
- Sound quality is pretty decent. Compared to the more expensive NI Komplete 6, the preamp is a bit brighter sounding and there may just a tad more noise, but it’s still very quiet, even with high gain amp sims.
- I can bring down the latency enough to make it unnoticeable (i5 quad core, 16GB RAM, fast SSD). Again, it cannot go as low as the Komplete 6, but it’s good enough.
- It doesn’t take a lot of room on the desk and weighs very little, so it can be packed in a pocket of the gig bag easily.
- It looks cool 🙂 .
Would I don’t like about it?
- 1st gen model that I have is notorious for issues with AMD computers. I use Intel exclusively, but I used to have an AMD-based laptop and Scarlett Solo would not work there. Focusrite support suggested downgrading drivers to the previous version which solved the immediate issue, but I couldn’t get latency below the levels that make it impossible to play in real time, so I finally gave up trying. For reference, the aforementioned Komplete 6 worked perfectly with low latency. Focusrite was aware of the issue and they did nothing to fix it. They waited a year or two and put out 2nd gen models that supposedly fix the issue. And what about the suckers who own a 1st gen model? Better luck next time!
- Drivers work fine with Intel, but they do give out the amateur-ish vibe compared to Native Interface drivers. They look like they are put together overnight and expose just few basing settings.
Would I buy it again or recommend it?
Scarlett Solo is a bare bone audio interface that will work if you have minimal needs, but it will work pretty good. If you are absolutely sure that you will not need more inputs/outputs, or MIDI support, then go for it. Otherwise, it may be worth investing a bit more into some of the bigger models. If you own an AMD-based computer, definitely try before buying, or at least make sure that you can return it in case it doesn’t work properly.