Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 review: Affordable home recording
Focusrite Scarlett 6i6
• Lots of connectivity options for a competitive price
• Pretty sturdy overall
• Looks good
• Two headphone outputs with individual controls is a nice feature
• Less suited to portable recording than the 2i4
• Instrument pre-amps aren't very inspiring
• Pad and line/instrument switch is done via software rather than control panel
The Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 is a relatively affordable audio interface with 6 inputs and 6 outputs. It features two Focusrite mic pre-amps and two headphone outputs with separate level controls. The interface can record in high quality 24 bit 96 KHz audio on Mac, PC and iPad. It’s compatible with Mac OS X 10.8/Windows 7 or higher. The unit is a good way to get into home recording although there are some questionable hardware and software design choices.
First generation and second generation options on the market
Currently available is both the first generation 6i6 ($174.99) and the second generation 6i6 ($249.99). We’re reviewing the first generation model. The second generation Scarlett gets a cosmetic make-over and has a higher maximum audio quality of 192kHz / 24 bit. It also has new instrument preamps with increased headroom and a more natural frequency response. If you want a bargain the first generation models still work fine and are 2/3rds of the price.
There’s six models in the Scarlett line and the 6i6 is the third from the top of the range. Slightly more affordable is the Scarlett 2i4 (first generation $164.99, second generation $199.99). The 2i4 has a 2 in/4 out set-up, including a MIDI in/out. See our review of the 2i4 here. Higher in the range is the Scarlett 18i8 (first generation $289.99, second generation $349.95). The 18i8 is a significant jump in cost and offers an 18 in/4 out layout with eight analog inputs and four mic preamps. The 6i6 would be fine for recording a small group, say guitar, bass and vocals at once. By comparison, the 18i8 would be able to handle a modest drum kit recording or a larger band set-up.
Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 offers two mic/line/instrument preamps
So what does the Scarlett 6i6 have going for it? It has two mic preamps on the front panel, each of which can record in the following modes: XLR, line level and instrument. On the rear panel there are two 1/4″ TRS line level inputs, a S/PDIF i/o and a five-pin MIDI i/o. There’s also four 1/4″ line outputs. These are mirrored by two headphone outputs with individual level controls. This set-up is definitely a useful inclusion which allows both the performer and engineer to monitor the performance via headphone. This 6i6 is the most affordable interface in the Scarlett range with two headphone outputs.
The unit connects to your device via USB. You’ll need a converter if you want to run it with an iPad. Another key point is that the 2i4 runs entirely off USB power whereas the 6i6 requires you to connect it to mains power as well with the included adapter. Ultimately, this makes the 6i6 notably less user-friendly if you want to record on the go with an iPad.
The mic preamps offer 48v power, which you can turn on or off via the front panel. Both preamps have a 10 dB pad function for high output instruments. The pad is operated via Scarlett MixControl software, as is the switch to change between line and instrument level. Compounding this issue is the fact that MixControl is not very user-friendly. It’s not a deal-breaker for the 6i6 but it certainly seems like a bizarre design choice. By contrast, the more affordable 2i4 unit has physical controls for both the pad and the line switch. This is a much better solution that also results in one less window cluttering up your DAW.
The gain controls on the mic inputs are surrounded by halos. They turn orange when close to clipping and red when clipping has occurred. They look quite smart although it’s a fairly imprecise way of indicating clipping. As a result, you’ll need to monitor your DAW levels for more detailed feedback.
Sturdy physical build
The physical design of the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 is definitely a selling point. It has a good-looking and rugged anodized aluminium chassis. The inputs, outputs and most of the controls are solid and would hold up to a bit of a beating. Unfortunately, the main volume and headphone volume controls are made of slightly cheaper, lighter plastic than the tougher gain controls. I haven’t had any issues with it but it’s worth noting. The volume control is large, which is good for fine adjustments. The interface weighs in at 1.18kg and measures 50mm H x 210mm W x 180 D, so it does take up a bit of desk space.
There’s a sturdy on/off switch on the rear panel, which the 2i4 doesn’t have. I switched the 6i6 off while the computer was running, when I turned the unit back on it refused to operate. Rebooting the interface required a full computer reboot every time, at least on my PC. This seems to make an interface on/off switch rather useless.
Good audio performance for the price
The essential part of every interface is of course its audio performance. The Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 is competitive for the price range and is certainly no slouch. Its dual mic preamps provide a clear, modern sound which give uncoloured results, although some might find them a bit sterile. By all means, I was happy with the results I got from mics paired with the interface. All things considered, the unit’s performance for DIed instruments wasn’t all that impressive. In addition to the 6i6, I definitely recommend getting a DI box such as the Radial J48 Active DI to get much better results. It helped fill out the frequency range and provided a warmer sound. You can’t really expect an audio interface at this price point to sound amazing without the addition of a DI. For the outlay the results on both mics and instruments were respectable.
Software bundle is a mixed bag
If you pick up the Scarlett 6i6 you’ll also the get the following software: Ableton Live Lite, Scarlett Plug-in Suite (RTAS/AU/VST), Red 2 & Red 3 Plug-in Suite (AAX/AU/VST), the Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Novation Bass Station and 1GB of Loopmasters samples. The Softube Time and Tone Bundle includes the TSAR-1R reverb, Tube Delay, Saturation Knob distortion and the Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor. It’s a recent addition to the Scarlett bundle and it’s quite useful.
The Scarlett Plug-in Suite is nothing to get excited about. I would definitely recommend getting your own third party plugins to use instead of the Scarlett plugins. Some users are fans of the suite though, particularly the EQ. The Red 2 and Red 3 plugin suite is based off the ’90s Focusrite Red equalizer and compressor hardware units. The suite is normally priced at £229.99. The plugins sound quite similar to the existing Midnight plugins but they now operate in 64-bit AAX/AU and VST. It’s a pretty useful inclusion to the package. Ableton Live Lite is limited to eight tracks of audio or MIDI. That means that only the most modest of recordings would be able to be completed on it.
Scarlett interfaces can have some annoying glitches on some set-ups, such as frequent crashes, particularly for Windows 7. However, it does run smoothly for many users. If you can try the unit before you buy that would be ideal, or alternatively consider buying from a supplier with a generous return policy.
Is the Scarlett 6i6 worth buying?
The Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 is a good value purchase if you want to get into home recording. It’s suitable for multiple mic recording or recording small groups of musicians. The interface has a sturdy construction, looks good and produces good results for the cost. It lacks physical controls for certain functions, unlike its cheaper sibling the Scarlett 2i4, which is disappointing. Additionally, the 2i4 is more suited to portable recording. The 6i6 does have the advantage of dual headphone outputs with separate level controls. The Scarlett range doesn’t have a perfect track-record when it comes to glitches, so that’s another point to consider before buying. Nevertheless, many users do run the interfaces without any issues. The bundled software isn’t all gold but there are a few gems included.
I own several audio interfaces, and this is probably the best I've bought in this price range.
The interface allows for dual independent headphone outputs. This is a small yet significant feature that more interfaces should have.
Overall I'm pretty satisfied with the Scarlett 6i6 and I'm giving it 4 out of 5 stars. It would get 5 stars if the software MixControl was a little better organized.
It's now becoming a joke in our ranks how difficult this little red box is at being able to properly interface with Protools, Audacity, or other systems.
- Computer Connectivity: USB
- Form Factor: Desktop
- Simultaneous I/O: 6 x 6
- A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
- Analog Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo, 2 x 1/4" (line in)
- Analog Outputs: 4 x 1/4" (line out), 2 x 1/4" (headphones)
- Digital Inputs: 1 x Coax (S/PDIF)
- Digital Outputs: 1 x Coax (S/PDIF)
- Number of Preamps: 2
- Phantom Power: Yes
- MIDI I/O: In/Out
- USB: 1 x USB Type B
- OS Requirements – Mac: OS X 10.7 or later
- OS Requirements – PC: Windows 7 or later
- Power Supply: 12V DC power supply
- Manufacturer Part Number: Scarlett 6i6