Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 Audio Interface Review

Hey guys, in this video we’re going to review
the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 audio interface. This is a mid-level rackmount audio interface
that has a lot of features and connectivity. We’ll talk about everything this audio interface
is capable of, how to use it, and what’s included. If you’re interested in getting
one of these units, I’ve left links in the video description down below.
Let’s start with what this audio interface includes.
The front of the audio interface has 2 combined XLR ¼” inputs that can also act as a direct
box for an instrument input. The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 can record at up to 192 kHz,
but it can’t use all the inputs at once when it’s doing this. The next 2 buttons
give us phantom power for all the inputs, separated in 1-4 and 5-8. Then we have the
preamp levels with an instrument button, and pad for the first 2 inputs. The next 6 inputs
just have preamp levels. To the right we have a level indicator that shows us the input
level after the microphone is amplified. We can use this to make sure we’re getting
a loud enough level without clipping. After that is the monitor output with a DIM switch
and mute mode. The DIM switch will reduce the audio output by 18 dB. Then we have 2
headphone outputs and a power switch. Most of the connections we’ll use on the
18i20 are found on the back of the unit. Starting on the left, we have our power connector.
Then there’s the SPDIF connectors which can be used to attach a stereo digital effects
processor. We’ll cover that again a little later. Next are MIDI inputs and outputs to
attach a MIDI device. These can be required depending on the type of MIDI device you use,
but many MIDI controllers are now made to be USB compatible. The next connector is for
USB connection to the computer. Then we have the clock connection to sync to other devices.
The optical inputs and outputs give us 8 additional inputs and outputs to use with a second rack
processor, such as the Focusrite Octopre or a Behringer unit like I have below. The two
outputs in white are the monitor outputs for our monitor speakers, or in this case, I have
them routed to a headphone amplifier first, which can then be sent to a set of monitor
speakers. The line output allows us to connect to analog effects processors. The rest of
the inputs are for microphones or line inputs. Unfortunately, they’re all on the back of
the unit, which can make accessing them difficult if the audio interface is setup in a rack.
To fix that, I’ve purchased an ART P16 XLR patchbay to pass all the inputs through to
the front of my rack. Then I’ve made a few custom sized XLR cables with bulk wire and
Neutrik connectors to connect it all. So let’s cover why I chose this audio interface.
My previous audio interface was a Focusrite Scarlett 18i6, first generation. When I upgraded,
I wanted to make sure whatever I chose was rackmountable to keep all my equipment contained
and wired up in a clean way. Another thing I considered was the number of inputs. I wanted
at least 8 microphone inputs, but the option of expanding to more was a nice bonus since
I already owned the Behringer ADA8000. The one thing to keep in mind is a lot of audio
interfaces will have additional line inputs, but they require external preamps, so by the
time you buy preamps and the interface, it’s actually cheaper to just go with a bigger
interface like this. This interface is also great because it allows me to loop through
external effects processors, and I might experiment with that in the future. I’ve also been
really impressed with my audio interface before, since Focusrite does make really clean sounding
audio interfaces with good quality built in preamps.
Before you go ahead and try to use this audio interface, you’ll need to install the drivers.
They are available on Focusrite’s website when you register your product. Just make
sure to get your serial number off the bottom of the unit before you go mounting it in a
rack, because you’ll need that to register it.
Now let’s cover how to use Focusrite Control. Focusrite Control is the configuration software
that lets us adjust the settings and signal routing with the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20.
This is part of the software package that you need to install to get the audio interface
working. If we start in device settings, we can see
what audio interface we’re use, the firmware version, sample rate, clock source, and the
monitor controls, which determines which outputs are controlled by the monitor level knob on
the front of our audio interface. Our default has this set to output 1-2.
Next we’ll move onto the output routing section and cover how we can set up our different
hardware outputs. If we start at the top, we can see our monitor
outputs. Clicking on this brings up the mixing controls so we can adjust what signals are
passing to that output. The first thing we should note is that the monitor outputs are
set up as custom mix. This means that we can add or remove hardware and software outputs
to the monitors. If we want this simplified, we can have it set to either a playback output
or direct routing out of a hardware input. Either way, with custom mix we can do all
these things anyways, but we can only have 1 custom mix, so everything set to custom
mix monitors the same inputs and playbacks. The top of our mix shows the hardware inputs.
These are the inputs to our audio interface that are directly routed to the output, that
way there is no latency. We can add new hardware inputs with the plus button to the right of
the inputs. For each input, we can adjust the panning, level, mute and solo. If we double
click the pan or level, it will reset to zero. Down below we can change our Playback outputs.
The default for our software will be Playback 1-2, unless we tell it to use another Playback
in our software. Along the left side, we can do this with all
our outputs, including the headphones, SPDIF, and ADAT outputs.
The last thing I want to cover with the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is how to loop through an effects
processor. The process is the same whether we use SPDIF or line outputs and inputs, so
I’ll be connecting through the line inputs and outputs for this example.
To get started, connect a pair of outputs from the audio interface to the line inputs
of an effects processor. Then connect the line outputs on the effects processor to a
pair of line inputs on the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. For this example, I’m using my Eleven
Rack as the external effects processor. Normally I just connect it as my USB interface to do
this, but this will work to test in this video. We’ll start up our digital audio workstation,
and add a hardware output to a clean DI guitar track. Then we set our Eleven Rack to respond
to a Line Input as the input signal. To listen back in real-time, we can setup
real-time monitoring for our monitor or headphone mix in the Focusrite Control software to play
the signal on inputs 3-4, then adjust the level from the Focusrite Control. To get this
into our DAW, we would create a stereo track and set it to record the stereo 3-4 input.
We can also play it back through the DAW using input monitoring, but this adds a little bit
of latency. We don’t end up hearing the latency when we capture the track though.
One thing we should note here is that the line outputs 7-8 and 9-10 are linked to the
headphone outputs 1 and 2. This means that they default to also having playback 1-2 sent
to them. If we’re trying to use an effects processor on these outputs pairs, we would
have to disable the outputs to the headphones as well to only get the output we want. This
is done by changing the output from custom mix to playback 7-8 and 9-10. That’s fine
for me, since I can connect headphones through my headphone amplifier on the monitor outputs,
but it provides less options for different headphone mixes.
The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 also comes bundled with included software and plugins. You’ll
get the Focusrite Red Plugin Suite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, an Addictive Keys piano,
Loopmaster samples, Pro Tools First (which is free anyways), and Ableton Live Lite. All
this software is available for download, and the instructions are written on the inside
of the box along with the code to redeem the bundled software.
Thanks for checking out this review on the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. If you’re interested
in getting one for yourself, we’ve left links to the product in the video description
down below. You can also like the video, subscribe to the channel, press the bell icon to get
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