Focusrite’s Scarlett 4i4 is designed for the new generation of recording artists
Much has happened over the four years since Focusrite last refreshed its Scarlett interface range; the arrival of the 4th generation feels like a small return to normality
Focusrite Scarlett 4i4. Image: Focusrite
⊕ Inputs can be fully configured from front panel br>
⊕ Air mode’s harmonic drive gives ideal front end for plugin amp sims br>
⊕ New Gain Halos provide detailed input level, gain and output metering br>
⊕ Auto Gain and Clip Safe take pain out of setting gain levels br>
⊖ No option to have Air mode’s drive without its presence peak br>
The Scarlett range has been a whopping success for Focusrite, selling over six million units worldwide. This is thanks to the series’ combination of high-quality preamps, accurate conversion, stylish simplicity and surprising affordability.
With the launch of the Scarlett 4th Generation interfaces, Focusrite will be hoping to maintain the runaway popularity of the series, but will the various tweaks and improvements be enough keep Scarlett ahead in a fiercely competitive market? We grabbed the all-new Scarlett 4i4 to find out.
Connections and capabilities
The core 4i4 specs remain unchanged from the third generation: four channels of analogue I/O, headphone output, MIDI I/O and USB host connectivity. The first pair of input channels support mic, line or instrument inputs via a pair of front panel XLR/Jack combi sockets, and feed into a pair of updated preamps (more of which in a mo’). The second pair of inputs, located on the rear panel, are line-level only, making them ideal for hooking up to hardware synths, effects units, DJ mixers, and other gear.
Scarlett 4i4’s inputs feed to converters that are taken directly from Focusrite’s pro-grade RedNet interfaces. This results in an impressive 120dB of dynamic range – significantly more than the 111dB of the previous generation.
The 4i4’s four rear panel line outputs are supplemented by the front panel headphone jack that is independent of the other outputs and powered by an all-new custom designed headphone amp. Although its not the loudest that we’ve heard built in to an audio I/O box, this packs ample volume level to for use even in live situations, and maintains a crisp and accurate sound across its full volume range.
Focusrite’s Control 2 software provides computer-side control over proceedings – configuring input channels, setting up direct monitoring, and managing the three independent output mixes. Each mix can be routed to one-or-more of the available destinations – that is, any of the three stereo pairs of physical outputs or to an internal loopback buss.
Happily, the new preamps deliver a clear, crisp and accurate sound, much as you would expect, but now feature a re-engineered ‘Air’ mode. The presence peak this introduces is slightly different to the one produced by the previous generation preamps and is a bit less harsh overall, although its effectiveness still depends on the sound source you’re working with.
A new second Air mode adds a touch of harmonic distortion alongside the presence peak, adding a subtle high-end sparkle to your sound. This helps vocals and synths sound lush, and is exceptional on a DI’d electric guitar, giving the signal an extra push into your plugin amp that truly brings the guitar tone to life. Our only complaint here is that the harmonic drive can’t be engaged independently of the accompanying – and sometimes unflattering – presence peak. Focusrite tells us this is due to be addressed in a future firmware update, but it’s a shame it’s not available at launch.
The Scarlett’s preamps make it easy to maintain a strong, clip-free recording level too, with a new Auto Gain feature that listens to a few seconds of your performance to determine the perfect gain setting, and a Clip Safe mode that monitors the incoming signal and auto-adjusts the gain to prevent clipping.
You’ll recognise that signature red finish anywhere – the Scarlett 4i4 4th Gen’s enclosure proudly sports the metallic casing of its predecessors, and has the same compact-yet-chunky solidity. Focusrite has slightly tweaked the front panel layout, though, to accommodate a new cluster of buttons that allow the inputs to be configured directly from the panel, which is very handy.
The button labels are backlit which, as well as looking smart, allows them to give visual feedback on their state – whether phantom power (which is now per-channel rather than global) is enabled or not, for example.
Even more visually striking are the updated Gain Halos – light rings surrounding the input gain knobs. Where the previous generation hardware simply changed the halo colour – green, amber or red – to indicate signal level, the new halos progress smoothly around the ring, giving a much more accurate indication of the gain setting and signal levels. The master output dial also now has its own halo that gives a constant output level reading.
Price matters too
Practically everything about the new 4th Gen Scarlett 4i4 is an improvement over its highly popular predecessor, but there is one thing that may affect that popularity: price. Now, this all depends on where you are – there’s a 14.5 per cent rise in the UK and a 10 per cent leap in Australia. It’s not a huge jump, but is worth being aware of.
Nevertheless, the new Scarlett 4i4 delivers a top-notch sound, has sufficient I/O for many different projects, is easy to use and looks smarter than ever – it’s hard to think of an interface better-suited to a small studio or portable setup.
- USB Audio Interface
- External or bus-powered
- 2x mic/line/instrument input with per-channel phantom power
- 2x line-only input
- 4x line output
- Independent 6.35mm headphone output
- MIDI I/O
- Internal loopback bus
- Includes comprehensive package of production software
- Price: £289.99 / €260.50 / $279.99 (USD) / $399.99 (AUD)
- Contact: focusrite.com
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