The Scarlett 6i6 2nd Generation is a six in six out USB audio interface, one of many models manufactured by Focusrite, with a street price of around £184 at the time of writing (November 2017). The unit has a truly impressive list of specifications, detailed on Focusrite’s website but summarised briefly as follows:
- Supported sampling rates - 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz;
- Frequency response - 20 Hz - 20 kHz +0.5/-1.5 dB or better (depending on the specific input or output);
- THD+N - <0.003 or better.
Three comments that often come up in reviews of the Scarlett 6i6 relate to how robust it is, its suitability for life on the road, and its attractive red brushed aluminium finish. Addressing these points in order; ‘robust’, yes, but most audio interfaces would fall into this category, especially those housed in a metal case, which is probably the majority. ‘Suitable for life on the road’, yes and no. For real on-the-road use the knobs would have to be recessed, like in the design of many amplifiers and combos, otherwise impacts to the front panel could easily result in the controls being damaged. And finally, the ‘attractive red brushed aluminium finish’. Although it may look nice, being red it matches nothing in my studio, so I feel the ubiquitous black, grey or silver finish would have been better. I accept that not all tastes are the same though.
Power is supplied from an external universal voltage (100-240v) power supply. The unit cannot be powered through its USB cable. One of the benefits of this is that the designers are not constrained by the limited voltage and current that the USB cable can deliver. Of course the down side is that the power adaptor is something extra to carry around if you’re using the 6i6 on location. The power adaptor itself seems quite robust, and has interchangeable pins making it suitable for use in a variety of countries.
Controls on the front panel are minimal, with some features being controlled through the software. Input sensitivity switching for example, but more about this later. All the dials are reassuringly firm, and the two input sensitivity controls have a ring around them that illuminates green to indicate the presence of a signal, and red to indicate clipping. It’s always reassuring to know that a signal is getting through, even if it can’t be heard, and it’s crucially important to avoid clipping. What is lacking is a scale around the input sensitivity knobs, so there is no reference for precise positioning. Another small point is that in keeping with the red theme of the unit, the positioning line on the input sensitivity knobs is also red. In a dimly lit studio this might be difficult to see, so maybe white would have been more practical.
At the opposite end of the front panel are the two output sockets and controls for the headphone volume. Focusrite is one of the few companies that make interfaces with facilities not only for two pairs of headphones, but also with the ability to supply a different mix to each. This is important when, for example, the engineer wants a dry mix, and the musician being recorded prefers an effect applied, such as reverb.
The volume controls for the headphones are uncomfortably close together and require a pinch grip to adjust them. This is more an observation than criticism as putting more space between the headphone volume knobs could have reduced the space between the input sensitivity knobs, that latter probably requiring more frequent adjustment than the former.
The main control is the monitor knob, just off-centre. Its size makes precise and quick adjustment easy.
The front panel also has a 48v phantom power on/off switch, which illuminates when in the on position. This will feel like a luxury to anyone who has used an interface with the switch at the rear, and had the unit positioned under a shelf making access awkward.
LEDs on the front panel show the input sensitivity settings INST or PAD for each channel, a midi activity LED and an LED to show that the device is connected – and that is it, very simple.
The rear panel, from left to right, has an on/off switch, the power supply input, SPDIF input and output, USB socket, midi out and in, line outs 1-4, and two further analogue line ins. It should be noted that of the six inputs, only four are analogue and the other two come from the SPDIF digital inputs.
Although of little consequence once the unit is set up and running, the packaging is some of the best I’ve ever seen. It offers a lot of protection, is functional, easy to remove the unit from, and has the set-up instructions and bundle code printed clearly on the inside of the box lid. Focusrite couldn’t have made the set-up explanation simpler.
Before the Scarlett can be used the control software, which includes the drivers for the unit, must be downloaded. They are not supplied on CD. Employing this system ensures that the user has the very latest drivers. However, I can’t help wondering what would happen if, after downloading and activating the software, the user decides, for whatever reason, to return the unit for a refund. As a general rule, once software has been downloaded and activated return is not usually possible. Just a thought.
The control software is very easy to use, unlike the control software that came with the first generation Scarletts. Having said that, the first generation software was much more versatile, and although this versatility came with a steep learning curve, there are several commendable tutorial videos on YouTube that do a good job explaining the functionality. By contrast, the new control software is both simple and intuitive, and needs little explanation.
My first thought on hearing the sound coming from the 6i6 was that it was very clear, clearer than the interface I had been using. I’m not sure if this clarity was imagined, but at the time I wasn’t waiting to judge the sound, I was busy fiddling with the controls on my mixer when the sound suddenly came through.
The first actual test was with midi, and to my horror I started experiencing hung notes. This means that the midi off messages weren’t getting through, and was a very bad omen considering all the trouble I had had with the Focusrite Saphire Pro 24 DSP interface I reviewed a number of years ago. I made a few tweaks to my system but to no avail – I was still getting hung notes.
I contacted Focusrite Support and they were very helpful in suggesting other things I could do to help cure or find the precise cause of the problem. I must say at this stage that I have always found the Focusrite Support team excellent. Every time I have contacted them they respond quickly, typically within 24 hours and often within 12.
Soon after I had bought the 6i6, Focusrite updated the driver. Once I had installed this updated version the hung note midi problem disappeared. I could now start using the 6i6 on a project.
Recording audio was straightforward. The control software is used to select the appropriate input staging from mic/line, instrument and pad. Pad is used if the signal source is particularly hot, and gives a 10dB reduction.
As already mentioned, an LED halo around the sensitivity control lights to show the presence of a signal, and changes colour if clipping occurs. I’ve read someone’s comment in a review that this change in colour would be more useful if it showed a level close to clipping, such as -0.5dB. At first I agreed but then I realized it would be no use at all, as there would be no way of knowing if the change in colour resulted from a signal that was very close to clipping, or if clipping had actually occurred. Having a third colour would get round this problem, but I feel the system is fine as it is.
Focusrite have clearly put a lot of thought into the Scarlett 6i6 as it feels sturdy and is well designed. While removing the unit to take photographs for this article I noticed the well above average rubber feet underneath ('rubber protection strips' would be a better description). It's this careful attention to detail that makes this interface a winner.
I find that once the system is set up it can be largely forgotten about. I have encountered no audio glitches or midi problems and the unit functions exactly as it should. Although it’s not the top of Focusrite’s range, it certainly performs very well and represents good value for money.
The unit comes bundled with Pro Tools First recording software, which includes some plugins, so all you need is an instrument and / or microphone and a PC to start recording.
The Scarlett 6i6 was the sole recording/playback interface used in the following recording.
A CD quality version of this music is available for download free, from the online music store Bandcamp. Simply enter ‘0’ in the payment box after clicking Buy Now. Of course, anyone wishing to support this site, and the continued production of music, may enter any other amount they wish to contribute.
(I would like to affirm to the reader that I have no connection with Focusrite, and have received no payment or benefits from any source for writing this review. It is a true customer/user review.)