Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Preamp: A Podcasting Review
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is one of my favourite pieces of podcasting gear.
It's what's known as a “preamp”. But what does that actually mean, and why would you use one?
Let's start there, before delving into the 2i2 itself.
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. This one – the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 – plugs in to your computer or laptop via the USB port, and allows you to record with two separate microphones.
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 one of these handy little preamps for around five 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.
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’ setup. This is where a move towards buying a preamp like the Scarlett 2i2 is worth considering.
In order to use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 you will need:
- 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.
An 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?
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 improve their setup and give them greater control and options in how they record their podcast.
If you’ve ever plugged in a USB device before then you'll be able to unbox this preamp and be 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).
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.
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.
And although I predominantly use my 2i2 with dynamic mics like the Shure SM58, this can also result in some hiss underneath the vocals.
The Sum Up
- Can improve your audio quality
- Gives you flexibility
- Freedom to upgrade mics further down the line
- Can record on location with co-host or interviewee
- Simple to set up
- Light and portable
- Can result in some light hiss under recordings with dynamic mics due to gain being turned up high.
- Not suitable if for 3 or more co-hosts/interviewees, locally
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 preamp 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 nicely.
Need More Help Choosing Podcasting Equipment?
If you need some more tailored advice for your own setup, or want help with any other aspect of podcasting, then we’d love to work with you.
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