Hands-On Review of the Newest Member of the Focusrite Family: The Scarlett Solo
Focusrite recently announced a new addition to its Scarlett series of USB audio interfaces, the Scarlett Solo. The Scarlett line has quickly developed a reputation for providing quality analog-to-digital conversion for working musicians and their home studios, and includes a plethora of additional features, not the least of which is the quality of Focusrite-designed microphone preamps.
"Thanks to its size, and its bus-powered functionality, I can see the Solo fitting right in with traveling musicians, as well as being ideal for a beginning home studio..."
The Solo is now the Scarlett line’s base offering, and is available at an entry-level price. While some might look at the price and assume Focusrite has skimped on quality in comparison to the Scarlett 18i20 interface, the only difference between the models is that the Solo has scaled-down input and output capacity, and therefore doesn’t require the DSP routing of the 18i20. Its smaller size appeals to singer/songwriters, vocalists, or mobile DJs.
The interface features only two ins: a single XLR microphone input (with the same Focusrite preamps as the rest of the Scarlett line), and a 1/4" input that can serve as either a Hi-Z instrument in or line level input, with the flip of a switch. For the output, you get a front-panel 1/4" stereo headphone jack, and two rear RCA outputs for connecting monitors. The name Solo is truly fitting, as this box gives you just enough I/O to capture a vocalist and instrument (be it keyboard or guitar) simultaneously.
Clearly designed with portability in mind, the Solo is entirely USB bus powered, and at less than six inches long, will be easy to stow in your bag next to your laptop. Though the cliché “built like a tank” gets thrown around often when talking about audio interfaces designed for portability, the Solo constructed ruggedly and is encased in sturdy aluminum, painted scarlet red to match the line.
Even though the controls on the Solo itself are pretty straightforward, Focusrite added some nice touches that bring a little more elegance and functionality to the device. The level control knobs for both the XLR input and 1/4" instrument/line input feature an LED halo that glows green when your level is adequate or red when you’re clipping the input, giving you a quick visual readout of what you are recording. Since many folks who will use this interface will very likely be recording themselves, this quick feedback on your levels can help greatly.
The other controls on the Solo are no less straightforward and useful. Your monitor control knob, which covers both your headphone and rear-panel line outputs, is large and easy to grab. Anyone who has ever tracked vocals or an instrument at home will appreciate the direct monitoring switch, which lets you avoid the frustrations of dealing with recording latency. To get around latency without taxing your computer’s processing, just flip the switch on the Solo’s front panel, and you will hear exactly what’s coming into your Solo, rather than the track playing back from your DAW or recording software, saving you the time and effort of tweaking your DAW’s buffer size.
Getting the Solo hooked up to my MacBook Pro was quite simple. Thanks to its plug-and-play compatibility with Core audio, I simply connected it with the included USB cable, and selected it as my input and output device in my DAW, Logic X. Just a note, Windows users will have to download drivers for their respective version of Windows.
If you are just getting started recording, Focusrite has you covered, as it includes a version of Ableton Live Lite for DAW duties, as well as the Focusrite Scarlett plug-in suite (which includes an EQ, compression, reverb, and more), the Novation Bass Station virtual instrument, and 1GB of Loopmasters sample content, so this would be a solid bang for your buck if you are starting from scratch.
I tracked some acoustic guitar and decided to use both inputs at once, setting up an sE Electronics sE X1 large diaphragm condenser mic pointed at roughly the 12th fret on my Breedlove acoustic, and then plugging the output from the acoustic’s pickup directly into the instrument input on the Solo. I switched the direct monitor switch to “On” and got to tracking. The mic input picked up the weight and the boominess of the guitar, while I could use the pickup track to gently blend in some attack and higher end. My initial setting on the instrument input was somewhat hot, and quickly the LED halo around its level control knob glowed red, letting me know my levels needed adjusting. Having the Scarlett reverb handy was a nice touch, too, and it was easy to dial-in a subtle setting to add some flavor to the tracks.
Thanks to its size, and its bus-powered functionality, I can see the Solo fitting right in with traveling musicians, as well as being ideal for a beginning home studio, especially one that works mostly with virtual instruments but could still benefit from improved monitoring quality and the digital-to-analog end.