While great strides were being made in the development of musical software in the late 70s, it was all very basic. You might expect that. But whether they had overlooked a problem by accident, I am not sure.
They developed the first DAW, but there just wasn’t the computer hardware or the processing power to make it viable. The subject of this Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen Review would have been just a dream in those days.
Sound Tools and Beyond
In 1989 Digidesign released Sound Tools for Mac computers. Developments kept coming, and we had Cubase shortly after. But still, there was a problem.
The recording was MIDI-based only. You couldn’t record guitar, bass vocals, or anything live. Either by plugging in or via a mic. Use was limited to whatever sounds you could create and use with MIDI, i.e., digital sounds.
There were a lot of sounds, of course. But if the goal is to design computer-based recording, then mics and live instruments had to be used. A way had to be found to convert analog signals from a mic or a guitar to a digital signal a computer could understand.
Say hello to my little friend
Enter the audio interface. Analog to digital was achieved. It did the job, and now a lot more was possible. Now you could record music at home, in your bedroom. The home studio had arrived.
A lot of companies were able to design and make their audio interfaces. But one was at the forefront and has been ever since. Driven on by the man who designed consoles for Sir George Martin at Abbey Road in London. Is that enough of a testimonial? That man was Rupert Neve; the company he established was Focusrite.
Have you been in a recording studio in the last twenty years? If so, there was likely some Focusrite gear working away, sweetening up your sound. You may not even have been aware that it was there.
From Buckinghamshire with Love
There are six companies, all under the same banner. All based in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. The UK’s gift to the world of home recording.
Rupert Neve set up the company in 1985, and they have been at the leading edge of this technology since then. If anyone in the world knew how to do it, Mr. Neve did. Of the six companies, it is Focusrite that we are concentrating on. Of all of them, they are the most widely known.
The improvements keep coming
The Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen is one of the latest versions of this amazing little interface. One that has its roots in Rupert Neve’s designs. He knew a little about recording and audio. And he knew what he wanted to produce.
Not two expressions that often go together. You either get one or the other. Not with the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd gen audio interface. This is a piece of recording quality at a price everyone can afford. Great gear at such an affordable price doesn’t come around all that often.
And how do I know it is that good? I have one here that I use with its green and red halos around the gain controls saying good morning. Let’s get on with it. Let’s have a look at what one of the best home recording audio interfaces you can buy is all about.
Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen – Overview
You will find an audio interface from Focusrite’s Scarlett range on more musicians’ desks than any other interface. Can you guess why? Simply put because it gives you studio-quality sound for all your instruments. As a result, it’s one of the most popular audio interfaces currently on the market.
As we shall see as we look more closely, it gives you a lot of possibilities for connectivity and performance. Two great Focusrite preamps, four balanced outputs, and four line-ins. This will allow you to record four mono or two stereo sources at the same time.
This upgraded version now has Focusrite’s “Air Mode,” which is an emulation of their legendary ISA console transformer. This will give you an open sound with increased brightness. A perfect foundation for use either in a home or mobile studio, the 3rd Gen Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 has a lot to offer.
It is not hard to recognize a Focusrite interface. The 4i4 has the traditional all-metal housing finished in red with its black fascia. The rounded edges of the construction give it a relaxed design and also prevent any sharp corners. It measures just 4.72 by 7.28 by 1.87 inches and weighs one pound. Easy to carry around with you if you need to.
To be a bit picky
For the sake of balance, we can say from experience that the lightweight design can cause a problem occasionally. As it is so light, it can move around if you have a guitar plugged in, with nothing to keep it stable.
And because there are connections for speakers, mics, etc., the potential movement is something to be aware of. Although, it is easy to secure to overcome that problem.
Phantom power is built-in, and there are no extra drivers to install. Very much a plug-in and use interface. They couldn’t have made it much easier to use. So, if you are looking for one of the best easy to use audio interfaces, you may have just found it.
This latest manifestation has been given some additions. The exterior is still immediately recognizable, as I said, but it somehow looks a bit sleeker in its design. But inside, there have also been a few changes. Lower latency, improved sonics, and better sample rates are the most notable. They have also improved the preamps and added the Air circuits.
Instrument inputs have been upgraded so that they take even the wildest active pickups. Let’s now look more closely at some of the features.
Focusrite preamps are well-known and respected, but the preamps installed here are two of their best to date. Transparent, low-noise preamps with low distortion levels are the same technology you find in their top-end products.
For over 25 years, Focusrite has established its credentials in preamp design. These don’t disappoint, giving you all the headroom you will need, even for the most sensitive mics. Be they ribbon, dynamic, or condenser, these preamps perform.
The Controls and Connections
Often the area that can make a difference between an ordinary interface and a very good one. The Scarlett 4i4 3rd gen has two instrument inputs that give you a high headroom for guitar and bass. You can also use them for micing up acoustic instruments.
There are also two balanced line inputs. These will allow you to connect up drum machines or synthesizers and other sources at line level. Plus, if you had a pair of external microphone preamps, you could also use these line inputs for two more microphone inputs for vocals, guitars, etc.
There are also four balanced outputs for sending audio to hardware processors for some hybrid mixing or for monitoring.
On the Front panel
Two inputs can handle both TRS and XLR connections. Each has its own controls for Instrument and Air options. Each also has its own Gain controls with a Halo design. We will go back to that interesting design feature later.
There is a dial for Monitor levels and a headphone socket. As well as a Phantom power button for Condenser mics. All nicely placed and easy to use.
The Rear panel
On the rear are four balanced line outputs and the two balanced line inputs. Also, there is the input/output for MIDI. Furthermore, there is a USB Type C connection using a 2.0 protocol.
The Gain Halos
Let’s go back to the Gain controls and their halos. They are an innovative design idea that lets you know immediately about the recording level.
It operates around three colors. If the halo light turns red, then it means the signal is clipping. You will therefore need to reduce the Gain. As you do, the color will turn orange while it is returning to a safe level. When it has reduced to a safe level, the halo will turn green, what you might call a creative and useful visual design idea.
This is where this interface earns its points. The inputs and outputs enable simultaneous recording of instruments or mics, drum machines, and synthesizers. The preamps we have already discussed are one of the reasons the audio quality is so good.
Switchable Air Option
Gives your vocals an open and bright sound and is another big asset. The Air effect will reproduce the quality of Focusrite’s original ISA microphone preamp. A preamp with a big reputation.
The original Focusrite Air ISA preamps were set up for Sir George Martin and his AIR, “Associated Independent Recording” company in 1965. The first album completed by AIR was the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul.” Not a bad start.
They have been at the forefront of hundreds of other recordings that you would be familiar with. Rupert Neve created the ISA 110 module, which became a legend.
The super low-latency levels allow you to monitor in real-time. You can hear all the sounds and effects you are using to give you a great-sounding monitor mix. If you prefer to monitor your direct input, you can use the Direct monitor circuit.
The performance of convertors has improved in recent years. CD-quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) might have been acceptable at one time, and in some cases still is, but standards have risen. That is clear in this interface which enjoys up to 24-bit/192kHz sampling rates.
There is some built-in protection to safeguard the interface from any damaging surges of power. The analog protection circuitry covers the inputs and outputs on the Scarlett 4i4.
We have already mentioned the size and the weight. If you need to carry it with you, there is no problem. It has a sturdy build and will function well as an interface in a mobile studio arrangement. The result is one of the best portable audio interfaces on the market.
As a part of the deal, you get Pro Tools, Ableton Live Lite, and Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite. There is a Focusrite creative pack as well as three months subscription to Splice. You also get the choice of one free virtual instrument from XLN Addictive Keys. These are all made available to you on registration of your 4i4.
Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen Review – Pros and Cons
- Good quality all-metal build.
- Easy to carry with you as part of a mobile setup.
- Two impressive Focusrite preamps.
- Four balanced outputs and four line-ins.
- Focusrite AIR option.
- Easy to use controls.
- The halo design around the Gain controls to prevent clipping.
- Low Latency.
- Direct Input Monitoring if you choose.
- 24-bit/192kHz performance.
- Analog protection circuits in case of a power surge.
- Great price point.
- Can be a bit lightweight and unstable with a guitar or bass plugged in if it is not firmly secured.
Looking to Get Started Recording Music?
We have just what you need. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Portable Audio Recorders, the Best Audio Mixers, the Best USB Audio Interfaces, the Best Audio Interface, the Best Multitrack Recorder, the Best iPad Audio Interfaces, and the Best Studio Headphones For Home Recording you can buy in 2021.
You may also enjoy our comprehensive Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio 3rd Gen Review, our Focusrite Scarlett 18i18 3rd Gen Review, our Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Gen 3 Review, our Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB Review, and our Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3 Review for more awesome Focusrite interfaces currently on the market.
Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 3rd Gen Review – The Bottom Line
There is no doubt this is an exceptional audio interface. Focusrite has its reputation, and over the years, it has been well justified. This is just another example. And Rupert Neve’s idea of creating great audio interfaces at cost-effective prices is realized once again.
This is a top-notch audio interface of that there is no doubt. For what it is designed to do, and at the price point, there is simply nothing better. What are you waiting for?
Until next time, let your music play.