In this article I want to give you a really detailed look at the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and talk about how I use it in my podcasting. But, before we kick that off, let’s get the jargon out of the way.

I’m sure more than a few of you will be wondering, “What on earth is a preamp?!” and wondering why would you use one. Well, let’s start there, before delving into the equipment.

What is a Preamp & Why Might a Podcaster Need One?

A preamp (or preamplifier) is a piece of hardware, which can be used to give you greater control over your recording setup. In this article I’m going to talk about the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 preamp, which plugs in to your computer or laptop via the USB port, and allows you to record with two separate microphones. Scarlett2i2

This might be a good option for you if you:

  • Want to improve your audio quality
  • Want to record locally with a co-host
  • Want to record professional sounding interviews or podcasts on location

I’ve been using this handy little preamp for around two years now. On top of the great audio quality you can get by recording through one of these, one of its most endearing qualities is that you’ll find it in the audio arsenal of experienced professionals and complete beginners alike. Focusrite

How Does it Work, and What Else Will I Need?

Podcasting with a USB mic is a great way to get your show off the ground, but after a while, you might start to think about striving for a more ‘studio quality’ sound. This is where a move towards buying a preamp like the Scarlett 2i2.

In order to use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 you will need:

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  • An XLR cable, or two if you have a co-host or are conducting interviews.
  • An XLR microphone, or two if you have a co-host or are conducting interviews.

XLR CablesAn XLR cable (or microphone cable) is the standard type of cable you’ll see used by musicians and other live performers. This simply connects at one end into your preamp, and at the other end into your microphone.

As good as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is, your choice of XLR cable and microphone will still play a big role in your overall audio quality, and though it isn’t necessary to fork out big money for these, be wary of the very cheap options.

What Does it Cost?

I use the Shure SM58 as my microphone of choice. You can pick one of these up for around £79/$99, and I like the Planet Waves XLR cables (£10/$15 each).

As I mentioned earlier, it’s rare for a microphone, preamp, or mixer to be an excellent choice for both the podcasting veteran and novice. At roughly £92/$149 the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 certainly isn’t unaffordable though. It’s a good choice for someone who is looking to drastically improve their audio quality and give them greater control and options in how they record their podcast.

This means that you could be fully set up to record alone (just the focusrite, an SM58 and cables) for around £181/$249, or with a co-host/interviewee for around £270/$389.

Simple Setup

If you’ve ever plugged in a USB device before then you’re set. You’ll be able to unbox this preamp and have it set up ready to record in less than a minute. It’s a very small, simplistic looking model, free from the barrage of knobs and faders that can make mixers look intimidating to beginners and novices.

To get set up, connect the Scarlett 2i2 to your computer or laptop via the USB cable provided, then connect your microphone (or microphones) to the preamp using your XLR cable(s). Audacity

Next you’ll want to set your recording software up. If you’re using Audacity to record a podcast, simply click the Input dropdown menu (see screenshot) and select Scarlett 2i2 USB.

Similarly, if you want to use the preamp for your Skype calls, open up Skype, click Preferences>Audio/Video and again, select your Scarlett 2i2.

Portability

The small, light nature of the Scarlett 2i2 means that you can basically pack a mobile studio into an average-sized shoulder bag. For example, you might be attending an event or a conference where you wanted to do some interviews, or you may even want to record a podcast episode there and then. You could easily pack the Focusrite along with a laptop, headphones, USB cable, 2 XLR cables, and 2 microphones and still have room in your bag to spare.

Are There Any Negatives?

As you can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of this piece of equipment, and really struggle to find any fault with it. However, I’ll give you a couple of pointers to be aware of.

For each microphone, you have a gain dial to control the volume level you’re recording at. One thing to watch is that if you’re only recording with one mic, be sure to turn the other gain dial all the way down. Even though nothing is connected to that port, having the gain up on that one can still bring your background noise up, and give your recording more of a background hiss.

The other thing is the sensitivity of these gain dials. We’ve all stayed in that one hotel where the shower is icy cold, you’ll turn the temperature dial quarter of a millimeter and the water is suddenly the temperature of molten lava. This is a bit like the gain dial on the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 when you’re working with a dynamic mic. Sometimes you’ll think, “I just need to be that tiny bit louder,” you’ll make a tiny adjustment, and suddenly the sound is screaming at you through the headphones. This can take a little getting used to, but certainly don’t let it put you off buying one. The many pros far outweigh this minor technicality.

The Sum Up

Pros

  • Can improve your audio quality
  • Can record on location with co-host or interviewee
  • Affordable
  • Simple to set up
  • Light and portable

Cons

  • Gain (recording sensitivity) slightly over-sensitive
  • Not suitable if for 3 or more co-hosts/interviewees

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is, in my opinion, an excellent little piece of kit for podcasting. It’s great for two contexts:

First, for any early stage podcaster who wants to start getting into the more pro-level equipment. It allows you to use top quality XLR microphones without introducing all of the intricacies and complications of a mixer. On top of that, because it’s simple, you get a higher level of components than an equivalently priced mixer. The quality of the pre-amp here really can make any microphone shine.

Second, for any podcaster who wants to do a lot more on-location work, and needs something small, light and quick to set up. If you need to get out and about with your XLR mics, this could do the trick very nicely.

Focusrite Scarlett photo by Matt Gibson licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0