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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. focusrite 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 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.

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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.

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?

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.

Simple Setup

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). 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.

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

Pros

  • 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
  • Affordable
  • Simple to set up
  • Light and portable

Cons

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.

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Discussion:

12 Comments

  1. Ler on 31st October 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Hi,
    Great post, I’ve been thinking about purchasing one of these but with 8 out as I’d like to go around and interview people in a specific sport that I’m interested in. I thought I’d try it with headphones with mic just like the barbell shrugged guys. They do a great job and it’s a slick podcast.
    I guess buying one of these, 3 sets of headphones with mics and audacity on my Mac I’d be good to go?? I’m struggling to find someone who can give me advice but your article has cleared this up it seems. Love it when someone speaks my language.
    I was going to use wordpress for my website, and the podlove plugin along with Auphonic…I’m sure for one man band this will help with editing and production of the finished podcast.
    What’s your thoughts on my proposed set up??

    Thanks

    Lee

    • Matthew @ ThePodcastHost.com on 5th November 2015 at 3:57 pm

      Thanks Lee, it’ll run great through Audacity & Mac yes. Might be worth buying a couple of headphone splitters to have more than one person wearing headphones though! What sport is your podcast about?

  2. Travis on 3rd November 2015 at 1:36 am

    Would I be able to host a podcast with a live production using the 2i2? We want to incorporate sounds via Soundbyte as you suggested on your Best Mixers article but I can’t tell if it’s possible on the 2i2?

    Thanks for all the helpful info!
    Travis

    • Matthew @ ThePodcastHost.com on 5th November 2015 at 3:53 pm

      Hey Travis, it would be possible yes. I’ve recorded this way into a Zoom before, though I was limited to one microphone input so that might not be ideal for you if you have co-hosts or guests.

  3. Philip A. on 5th February 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Hi Matthew. How would you compare this to the Zoom H4n? I’m looking for one compact but pro set-up for home studio podcasting solo and with a co-host and location interviews. Very much enjoy your website. Thank you.

    • Matthew McLean on 6th February 2017 at 9:45 am

      Cheers Philip. The H4n is great and means you need less gear to take with you when you record. You can also use it as a preamp into your computer too, just like the 2i2. It sounds like you might get more use out the Zoom for what you’re looking for.

  4. Doug on 28th April 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks for the article. It seems like the 2i2 is the winning interface. I have a Yamaha MG166CX mixer and a couple of 58s. There’s no USB output. Is there an advantage to plug in me & my cohost in the same location, then connect to the Focusrite, into my Mac? I can also run music through another channel.. a) does this sound rights? b) where do we put the Skype? c) is there alternative to Skype, or does it universally give the best sound. Thanks. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Oh, one more thing. I have a website for my music business with a blog. I was thinking of using WordPress for the hosting & putting it into my blog. Thoughts?

  5. John on 2nd June 2017 at 10:43 pm

    As far as the gain goes, do you have a set or specific area you leave it at? I own a 2i2 and I usually leave my gain about halfway and my co hosts needs to be fluctuated, currently using SM58’s. Thanks!

  6. Melanie swan on 17th October 2017 at 9:20 am

    Hi there,
    I have a 2i2 with my new Rode PROcaster. I didn’t realise i had to leave no 2 gain turned all the way down. that’s why it’s hissing!!!
    I can’t get quite enough oompph out of it though. am thinking of buying the cloud flare or the dbs286s to boost it. do you have any recommendations for this?

  7. Jt on 18th August 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Would u recommend the focusrite over say the rode podcaster?

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Written by:

Matthew McLean

Matthew is an audio drama writer and producer who enjoys talking about podcasts. He makes the tea at The Podcast Host, and is a loyal servant of adopted house rabbits.

January 5th 2019