Friday, October 21, 2011

Focusrite 18i6 Scarlett DAW interface

So a few weeks ago I took the plunge and decided to completely remake my recording studio.  For the past 11 years I've been using a Mac G4 running Digital Performer with a MOTU 2408mkii.   Back then this thing was easily on the same level with the first generation Protools digi001 system, but since then it's become a dinosaur.  Don't get me wrong, it still sounds and works great, and I did record 2 full albums and lots of Youtube demo's with it, it's just.... I mean come on, Mac OS9?  Technology has plunged forward in the past decade.

I must apologize to all the mac people out there, but I decided this time to go with a PC laptop instead.  Since we're in the middle of a recession, cost was a big factor, but the reality is unless you're running Protools or MOTU stuff, a mac just isn't the be all end all of computers anymore for recording.  So after widdingly it down to Reaper as my DAW software (I'm still learning the ropes, but so far so good), the next big challenge was which interface to get.

Now obviously I'm a one man band, so the need for 300 ins and outs wasn't a high priority.   I've actually got my mic collection down to only a few high quality condensers and dynamics and they do the job very well since really all I'm recording is vocals, guitars, and a few other random things here and there.   My Neuamann TLM 103 has been with me for years and I love it, and my newest SM7B is absolutely stellar.

My laptop is a brand new Dell 17 with an i7 processor and 8gigs of RAM.  I'm sure a year from now this will be shit, but right now it should be able to power just about anything, so I figured the computer wouldn't be the thing holding me back.

My search for an new Audio Interface ulitmately led me to the Focusrite Scarlett 18i6.  It was in my price range, and since I already own an ISA110, I was pretty familliar with the company.   However I was actually very hesitant about getting the Focusrite 18i6, the reviews on-line seemed to paint a very mixed picture of how it worked.  Every forum post I read seemed to paint a picture of this thing as sounding great, with lots of features, but had tons of issues with it's drivers. So I was on the fence for a while.   Money was an issue, and the apogee duet II doesn't run on a PC.  So do I buy something that sounds worse for cheaper?  Do I spend money I don't have on something wayyyy more than I need?  And honestly a lot of the higher end choices didn't have all the features.  MIDI, SPDIF, enough inputs and outputs, etc.. Anyway, so I finally decided to pull the trigger on the Focusrite 18i6.  I figured if it didn't work I could always return it, plus Focusirte seems to really be on top of this and worst case scenerio, even if I didn decide to keep it, Focusrite would fix the driver issue in the next few months.    And even beyond that, it comes with the Focusrite Scarlett Plugins, which are a $100 progam on their own. 

Seemed like a win win win to me. What did I have to lose?  So I went ahead and purchased an Focusrite Scarlett 18i6.

The first thing I did when when I got it home, before I hooked it up, was download the latest mix control driver.   I've read a lot of people first used the included CD and had issues and had to uninstall, reinstall, unistal, BSOD, etc... so I wanted to avoid that as much as possible.  

Seriously?  If they say not to install what's on the CD-ROM, why would you risk it?

Anyway.  I loaded the mix control driver.  Restarted the computer, plugged the 18i6 in, loaded up reaper and BAM...   It worked.   Absolutely no issues what so ever.

As far as my impressions so far?   First off, the mic pres in this thing are AMAZING!!!   I can't believe these cost under $300.  The funny thing is, I've been using a Focusrite mic pre for 10 years.  I have an ISA110 which I made $2000.00 for back in 2000 and I'd been using through the MOTU 2408mkii as my main single channel pre/eq.   It's always sounded fine (Just listen to my albums), but this thing... damn, my old setup sounds sterile and dead compared to it.  I hate using the sound warm, but it just sounds so much more natural.   Fabulous, couldn't be happier. 

The only things I've noticed about it so far is that the line inputs on the back aren't very loud.  I was testing it with Guitar Rig 5 and found the signal very quite.  I switched it over to mic/line pres on the front and it's perfectly fine.  It makes me wonder if they're meant for +4dB input devices, which is totally fine since I have a Focusrite ISA110 mic pre/EQ which sends out a +4 signal.  But yeah, they work, but just know even with the mix control all the way up, a -10dB line signal is not coming at full level.

The only other thing I've had an issue with so far is the midi when using a Native Instruments very sample heavy Piano's in Kontakt.   I was actually getting some dropouts and sampling issues.   It was fine with most instruments, but those 3Gig Piano's like Vienna or New York would play fine for the first few chords, then drop notes or track really slowly.  I kept thinking it was probably just my computer and I didn't have my memory set correctly yet.  You have to remember I got my computer, DAW software and the 18i6 all within a few days.  This is all brand new to me and needs some tweaks.
Here's how I learned though that it wasn't my settings.  My Rolland D20, which I had been using as my main controller for decades was having issues with some keys not making connections.  What are you going to do, it's 20 years old?  I ran down to the local music store and picked up an Alesis Q49 midi/USB keyboard controller and the second I plugged in to the laptop via USB only I had absolutely no drop outs.  The piano's all played perfectly well.

So there you go, that's my take on the new Focusrite Scarlett 18i6.  I'm not returning it, it sounds amazing, it's tiny and I'm sure focusrite will release driver updates sooner than later, so even if it doesn't work at first, it'll probably be amazing ina  few months.  So.... I give it 9 out of 10 so far.  Go get one for yourself. :-)

As always, for more info on me and music... check out my website....

No comments:

Post a Comment