The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, a USB 2.0 interface with eight mic preamps, is the latest in a new generation of audio interfaces designed to specifically work with computers. Focusrite claims it’s the USB 2.0 complement to the Saffire PRO 40; however, while the Scarlett 18i20 includes many decent features and produces a clean, dependable sound, it still falls short of the Saffire PRO 40’s qualities.
On a general level, the Scarlett 18i20 features 18 inputs and 20 outputs, with sufficient I/O to fulfill most standard studio tasks while offering good sound quality and enough flexibility for the producer’s DAW. Each device features six combination XLR/jack mic/line inputs and two front-panel XLR/jack mic/line/instrument inputs with 10dB pad buttons. Also included are 10 analog inputs and two independent headphone outputs on the front panel.
ADAT and S/PDIF digital I/O, along with MIDI I/O and Word Clock, work together for improved synchronization. ADAT, particularly, is an asset for digital sources, adding more preamps, such as Focusrite’s OctoPre Mk II. This feature boosts the mic pre complement up to 16 channels, which allows a studio to handle a complete band to create a decent sound without excessive use of overdubs.
Also adding to the good sound quality is digital conversion technology, with sample rates up to 96 kHz, 24-bit. This aspect is particularly helpful in delivering a high-quality sound regardless of audio software used and major DAW.
Because producers want equipment that easily integrates with their DAW, Scarlett 18i20 features routing flexibility. The gear adapts to the requirements and wants of any recording session, letting the user route any input signal or DAW output to any output.
Beyond the features, the Scarlett 18i20 produces a good enough, reliable sound. The award-winning microphone preamplifiers offer a low-noise sound with minimal distortion, good headroom, and excellent dynamic range – great for pretty much any recording. Adding to this, the two front-panel inputs manage the highest-level inputs without creating distortion.
The final feature making the Scarlett 18i20 worthwhile are the plugins, which are part of the decent-sized software bundle coming with the device. Along with Ableton Live Lite and Novation Bass Station, the Scarlett Plug-in Suite assists with EQ, compression, and reverb. 1 GB of Loopmaster Samples are also included.
On a surface level, we find that the Scarlett 18i20 provides reliable, high-quality performance that’s further enhanced by the features it offers. Producers need to have a decent sound for making a recording, no matter if live instruments or electronic sounds are involved, and the Scarlett 18i20 fulfills this by offering a clean quality throughout many configurations. The ability to adjust to practically any DAW is certainly another bonus.
Yet, if you’re already using the Saffire PRO 40 for your workstation, the Scarlett 18i20 is somewhat unnecessary, as the sound quality and features, while good, fall short. When we reviewed the Saffire PRO 40 last year, we remarked that the superior sound quality, which eliminates as much “sonic dirt” as possible, went far and above what’s expected from the price range, thus making that gear the benchmark for all other Focusrite audio interfaces to meet. The Scarlett 18i20 gets close but doesn’t quite reach that mark.