A man whose name reverberates around the world of sound has given us some very special things. He has made things possible at a quality level we could never have dreamed of.
The company that he set up creates some great products. We are looking at one in this Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen Review. Is it as good as some say it is? Has that man’s company created something special?
We’ll come back to him later.
- The Late 1970s
- Ten Years After
- Pulse Code Modulation
- Cue and… Action
- Let’s Go Back To Our Friend
- Still Based Along the M4 From West London
- Great Gear, Great Prices
- Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen – Overview
- The Build
- Compact and Practical
- The Preamps
- Is That Not Enough?
- The Controls and Connections
- The Rear
- The Performance
- Recreating Some Classic Sounds
- Low Latency
- Sampling Rate
- Software Extras
- Key Features
- Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen Review – Pros and Cons
- Need Some Great Recording Gear?
- Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen Review – Final Thoughts
The Late 1970s
That was when great strides were being taken in the design of musical software. It was crude and very basic, but it set the cogs working in several minds in a variety of places. Dare we dream seemed to be the driving force.
The first Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW for short, was developed. But it wasn’t viable. There was a problem that had nothing to do with the music people. Their idea was sound, but it didn’t have the computer processing power to make it work. The computer boffins had to catch up. Gradually, they did.
Ten Years After
In 1989, Digidesign gave us Sound Tools for the Mac, and shortly after Steinberg’s Cubase. These were all MIDI-based. That was fine in some respects. But to function as people envisaged, it had to be able to record vocals and guitars.
If you want to build systems that will allow small studios to be set up, it has to record mics and guitars. How to convert an analog signal to a digital signal and make it viable? That was the problem,
Pulse Code Modulation
It had already been done. In 1938, a couple of Brits created PCM or Pulse Code Modulation. It was a way of converting analog to digital and is still the basic principle behind what we use today.
Cue and… Action
Enter stage right, the Audio Interface. Now we were moving. People could set up a small studio, even in their bedroom at home. A whole new industry was launched with all the associated paraphernalia that went with it.
Let’s Go Back To Our Friend
His name was Rupert Neve. A British designer from Devon. He designed recording consoles for Sir George Martin and his Air Studio. Is there a better name to go on your CV than Sir George? Of course not. A lot of companies started to make audio interfaces, but not like Rupert could.
He set up his company in Buckinghamshire in the UK in 1985. That company was Focusrite. If you have been in a recording studio in the last twenty years, it may have been possible that Focusrite gear was adding some sweeteners to your sound.
His ISA preamps are legendary and are made to provide the performance of those Focusrite Forte consoles that shook the sound world.
Still Based Along the M4 From West London
Mr. Neve has long since retired; in fact, he passed away last year at a grand old age. But his legacy lives on in the ideas and designs he gave to us. Today, Focusrite is still at the leading edge. Well, they would be; he knew what he was doing.
Great Gear, Great Prices
It’s not often that such quality comes with a price tag that means it is cost-effective. But those of you who have used Focusrite gear, as I have, will know the quality is real. And you certainly aren’t going to argue about the price.
So, let’s take a look at the UK’s gift to home recording.
Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen – Overview
This is a compact and powerful audio interface packed with great features. The connectivity is exceptional and wide-ranging, meaning you can keep your hardware plugged in.
Two Focusrite preamps are built-in, and each has combination inputs. These are placed just where you need them on the front panel. Both of them have the ‘Air’ option, modeled on the ISA console transformer. That gives both voices and instruments a bright and crisp sound.
Improved Analog to Digital conversion is going to make recordings and playback clear and with plenty of clarity. The sample rate of 24-bit/192kHz is impressive. And the high-quality headphone outputs both have dedicated volume control. This gives you control and flexibility over recording and the mix. In other words, a high performance audio interface.
Record everything at once
Other connections are on the rear, so they don’t clutter up your desk with cabling. There are four balanced line outputs and four balanced line inputs. There is also S/PDIF and MIDI in and out.
The inputs for instruments have been upgraded to handle even the hottest pickups. And there’s plenty of free software to take you on your way. Sound good? Well then, let’s get into the details of this Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen review.
Having used Focusrite Scarlett audio interfaces, I am always left in an awkward position. They are made to be compact and not take up space. As well as lightweight if you want to carry them with you. Indeed, they are those things. And as a result, they are some of the best portable audio interfaces you can buy.
However, being so compact and lightweight does have its challenges. If you are someone that likes to record standing up, with your guitar plugged in, they can move around a bit.
For some, that can be awkward, especially if you have a telephone-style, or coiled cable. You can find yourself dragging it all over your desk.
I don’t want it to sound like I am moaning. For the sake of balance, you have to find “something” you don’t like with Focusrite gear. For me, that is it. And, if that is the only thing, we are going to be on a winner here.
Compact and Practical
As I say, it is compact at only 5.89 by 8.27 by 1.87 inches, so it doesn’t take up much room. Additionally, weighing just one pound, it is going to be easy to carry around with you.
It has an all-metal construction that is solid and can take a few gentle knocks. The corners are nicely rounded off, so there are no sharp edges, and it looks the part. The design has concentrated on making it easy to use and durable. They have succeeded in that.
The Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 has been blessed with two great-sounding Focusrite preamps. For a long time, Focusrite preamps have been the talk of major studios everywhere. The performance is exceptional, and they have won awards to prove it.
The knowledge of “how to do it right” has been poured into these preamps for the 8i6. The result is two low-distortion, low-noise amps. These preamps carry the same technology that is included in Focusrite’s top-of-the-range products.
And the design includes the higher headroom you may need if you are using some high-quality ribbon or condensers mics. Phantom Power, of course, is included should you require it. No wonder it is one of the most popular audio interfaces on the market.
Is That Not Enough?
For some manufacturers, it might be. But Focusrite has added their Air mode to both channels. This is a switchable option that, when used, will make your recordings have an open and a brighter sound.
This works especially well with vocals and with acoustic instruments. Furthermore, the Air mode feature is one of the reasons why Focusrite audio interfaces sound so good.
The Controls and Connections
Let’s list these and then mention a few relevant points.
On The Front
- There are two-channel inputs with combination sockets to take XLR or Jack Plugs.
- Each Input has dedicated Gain control.
- Each Input has options for Inst, Air, and Pad.
- Indicator light shows if you are using the 48v Phantom Power.
- Master Monitor Control.
- Two headphone inputs, each with dedicated volume control.
Most of the controls are self-explanatory, but maybe we should mention three to ensure clarity.
The Inst Control
This sets up the impedance and the input gain, so it is optimized to receive input from high impedance signals. This would apply to guitars, and bass guitars, that have magnetic pickups. But also for acoustic guitars and several other instruments.
The Air Control
This we have already mentioned, giving your recording, especially vocals and acoustic instruments, a brighter sound.
The Pad Control
This will stop any input sources that are louder from overloading the preamp and hence causing clipping. It does this by bringing down the input gain on the selected channel by somewhere around 20 to 26dB.
We can’t finish this quick look at the front panel of the 8i6 without mentioning the halos. An excellent design idea, when all is well, it will be green.
If it starts to clip, it will turn red, so time to reduce the gain. As it returns to green, it will briefly turn amber just to let you know it’s on its way down. A great visual resource to let you know when everything is fine level-wise. Likewise, it’s another reason why Focusrite makes some of the best selling audio interfaces out there.
Here you will find four balanced line inputs and four balanced line outputs. You can connect it to any external dynamics or effects units you have, or other sound creation gear. There is a MIDI Out/In and a USB-C port.
As an extra, there are also SPDIF connections. This is a format that will transfer digital signals for audio from one device to another without having to convert into analog first.
As with everything Focusrite, the performance is excellent. The 8i6 has come a long way from the 2i2 I first used. This latest incarnation allows much more headroom for the two instrument inputs, reducing any unwanted distortion. And with six line inputs, two in the front and four on the back, you can record a lot of stuff at the same time.
Recreating Some Classic Sounds
The Air mode that is featured on all the inputs recreates that classic sound of the transformer-based ISA preamps. And as I have already mentioned, the instrument inputs can now handle the hottest pickups around. This means the Focusrite 8i6 is one of the most versatile audio interfaces currently available.
Always something you will need to achieve a great sound. With the 8i6, you can hear everything as it happens. Do you want delay and reverb on the guitar? You can hear it in real-time, so you know exactly what you are going to get. Furthermore, if you prefer a more simple approach, then you can also monitor the input directly using the Direct Monitor circuit.
We have already referred to it earlier, but it is worth mentioning again. Sixteen bit was once acceptable, even highly thought of for a while, but things have moved on. In the 8i6, the high-performance converters let you record then mix at 24-bit/ 192kHz.
When you purchase the 8i6, you get free downloads of the following when you register the product.
- First Focusrite Creative Pack.
- Pro Tools.
- Softube Time and Tone Bundle.
- Ableton Live Lite.
- Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite.
- A choice of one free XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument.
- Plus a 3-month Splice subscription.
You will need to ensure you are running the following systems.
- Mac OS 10,12 or later.
- Windows 7 SP1 or later
There is so much that Focusrite filled this seemingly little box with. Just to make sure it is all still fresh in your mind, let’s do a summary of what is included.
- Two 3rd gen preamps with switchable Air Mode.
- Two Instrument inputs with high headroom.
- Four balanced line inputs and outputs plus MIDI in and out and SPDIF in and out.
- Halo level indicators.
- Monitoring in Real-Time.
- Direct Monitoring.
- Two headphone outputs, both with separate level controls.
- Software Bundle.
- 12V DC power supply included.
- Three-year warranty.
Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen Review – Pros and Cons
- 24-bit/192kHz high-performance converters.
- MIDI interface.
- Sturdy and strong metallic body.
- Super-low latency.
- Lots of useful software, effects, and samples.
- Fantastic value for money.
- Headphone pre-amplifier is not the most powerful depending on what headphones you use.
- Sometimes switches slowly between different sample rates.
Need Some Great Recording Gear?
We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Audio Mixers, the Best USB Audio Interfaces, the Best Audio Interface, the Best iPad Audio Interfaces, the Best Portable Audio Recorders, the Best Multitrack Recorder, and the Best Studio Headphones For Home Recording you can buy in 2022.
Also, take a look at our comprehensive Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio 3rd Gen Review, our Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3 Review, our Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB Review, our Presonus Audiobox USB 96 Review, and our BEHRINGER Audio Interface 4-Channel UMC404HD Review for more amazing interfaces currently on the market.
Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 3rd Gen Review – Final Thoughts
You may have gathered I am impressed. You can hardly be anything else. They haven’t filled this interface up with stuff you don’t need. Everything is practical. Everything is usable. And everything is quality. I will say it again – a great interface at a great price. I think Mr. Never would have approved.
Until next time, make yourself heard.