The very first attempts to design and create a DAW came in the late 70s. In many ways, it was destined to be unsuccessful. The hardware just wasn’t available, and the processing power was just not good enough. The interface in today’s Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3 Review would have been an unattainable dream back then. Luckily they persevered.
It took a while, but in 1989 Digidesign (Later to become Avid) released a product for the Mac called Sound Tools (later to become Pro Tools). A stereo digital recorder for the computer that had a hardware interface. The ideas began to mature as in 1992 Steinberg released Cubase, and things began to take off.
To the modern musician, the DAW is a standard piece of kit. To us ‘old dinosaurs’ still a work of wonderment.
Something was missing…
But it still needed something extra. Yes, you could record using MIDI. Even using myriads of ‘created’ sounds. But you couldn’t use a ‘real’ guitar, bass, or any other live instrument, neither could you record vocals – Enter the audio interface.
Very simply put, all it does is convert an analog signal from a guitar or a mic to a digital signal. Now anything was possible, and the small or home studio could really get on with the job.
Focusrite has been at the leading edge of this technology for many years. But before we go through our in-depth Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3 Review, who are they?
If you have been in a studio to record in the last thirty five years or so, you may have used Focusrite gear. You may even have been unaware that it was working away in the background. Processing and therefore ‘sweetening’ your sound a little.
A UK company
Based in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, they were founded in 1985 by the legendary Rupert Neve. There are six companies in all. All develop high-class audio equipment, but it is Focusrite that is the most recognizable.
The Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3 is one of the latest incarnations of this much-loved and widely used interface. It has its roots created and designed by Mr. Neve. Let’s not forget it was he who designed and built the early consoles for a certain Sir George Martin. He also knew a little about audio and recording.
Neve and Martin in collaboration? The others never stood a chance.
The legend becomes attainable…
From those early consoles and designs, we have reached a situation where that quality is now mass-marketed. Available to us all. Great gear, at such an affordable price, this is something special.
Focusrite produces a range of interfaces to suit all scenarios. We are going to take a look at one of them, the Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3.
This might be a small little unit, hardly much bigger than an effects pedal, but don’t underestimate it. It looks quite ‘cute’ with its fire engine red finish, but it is packed with Focusrite quality. This is a professional piece of kit.
It has some improvements from the 2nd generation model. Some companies do not sit back and rest on their laurels. They are constantly looking for ways to improve.
In this case, they listened to users, some of whom made the suggestion. The result is that now on the 3rd Gen, you can run balanced cables. That instead of the RCA jacks on its predecessors.
But that is not all that has been tweaked a little. But more on that later.
Let’s make some music…
For the songwriter, or just for those wanting to lay down some covers, this is the ideal solution. It carries ‘that’ Focusrite preamp that has become legendary. It also has a DI for your guitar or bass that is crystal clear. The controls are easy to use and still feature the Focusrite ‘halos’. More on those later as well…
Even lower latency than previously achieved is a feature as well as 192kHz sampling rates. Plus, an instrument input that has no problems with those sometimes ‘over-hot’ pickups that can cause problems. There is plenty more. Again, we shall talk about it all a bit later.
This little interface delivers what you need and at a price that you won’t believe. Go plug it in and make some music.
It has quite a strong build. There is an all-metal construction with rounded edges to give it a more relaxed design. It is finished in that very recognizable Focusrite red with a black fascia.
As we have already alluded to, it is quite a compact unit measuring just 3.77 by 5.65 by 1.71 inches and weighing under 1 pound. If we are to be picky, the lack of any weight to this interface does have the potential for movement problems.
With a mic or guitar plugged in, it can get moved about a bit as there is nothing to stabilize it. As there are other connections for speakers etc., this could be a problem. As we say, being picky, really.
Phantom power is built-in, and you do not need any further drivers for it to function. It is very much a plug-in-and-play piece of kit.
If there is one thing that Focusrite is very adept with, it is preamps. This has a low-noise, transparent model. It has technology built-in that is the same as some of Focusrite’s flagship interfaces.
It will give you plenty of headroom to allow you no problems with dynamic, ribbon, or condenser mics.
If simplicity is the key to a great interface, then this wins hands down. It really does not come any easier.
On the front, there is a jack socket providing a high headroom input for your guitar or bass known as Line Two. This has its own gain control, as does the XLR input for the mic designated as Line One. There are also the buttons for Phantom power and the Air circuit control. We shall talk about that later.
The front of the interface control panel is completed by the ¼ inch headphone socket. And the monitor level control and the button for direct monitoring.
On the rear two balanced TRS Line outputs and a USB 2.0 Type-C socket.
This is where the Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3 scores some serious points. And of course, that will be the area that most are interested in. What will it do for my music?
When you’ve got a great sound coming out of the monitors, it is inspiring and helps you to perform better. The level of latency is so low on this interface you can monitor plug-in effects in real-time. That lets you hear what you’re doing as well as how you want it to sound. All of which helps you churn out better performances.
Of course, you may prefer the ease and convenience of monitoring what is going on directly. In which case, all you do is turn on the Direct Monitor switch.
We talked earlier about ‘tweaked’ upgrades from previous incarnations of this interface. The improvements include the lower levels of latency we have just mentioned and overall better sonics.
Now with 192kHz sample rates, you can generate studio-quality sound. And we might add, a sound you can put in your bag and take with you wherever you go.
And the addition to this model of USB-C ports?
We shall discuss portability a bit later.
The instrument input has had some re-design that allows it to be able to deal with the hottest of pickups. And these days there are some very ‘hot’ things walking the streets. We blame Gibson for that. They started it. Who can ‘out-humbuck the humbucker?’ It’s a little game that some manufacturers play.
Focusrite has built-in safeguards to protect your interface from any sudden power surges. Such events could do serious damage.
To combat this, they have installed analog protection circuits that are placed across the interface’s inputs and outputs.
The Air circuits…
The preamp in this little box was already pretty good, but now Focusrite has added their Air circuit. This is a switchable option on the front panel that lets you give a brighter sound to your recordings.
The idea is to take the preamp in the Scarlett Solo even closer to the legendary Focusrite ISA mic preamp. And that was designed to give you the same sound and performance as a legend in recording – The Forte Console. As this is thought of by many as the top of the pile in analog recording, it’s not a bad thing to have in your armory.
Always trying to improve, Focusrite has made this little box even more useful, now that it has become more portable and practical.
Earlier, we mentioned the addition of USB-C ports. These have been added, and this interface will now support the iPad Pro. Now you can take your Scarlett with you. Plug into the iPad Pro and go to your music app, and away you go. Now you can have sample rates of 192kHz with your iPad and Scarlett in your bag. And you can take it anywhere.
One design feature we have always appreciated about the controls is the ‘halo effect.’ They are a great tool for letting you know exactly what’s going on. To let you know if you are generating what can be described as a ‘healthy signal.’
If the halo round the Gain control for either channel is green, then all is well. If it goes red, your signal has begun clipping, and you need to take your foot off the pedal a bit. It will turn orange briefly as you reduce the gain. This lets you know it is going back to green and a good setting.
Simple, easy to see, and use…
One of the reasons Focusrite has such a reputation for creating great easy to use interfaces.
The rest of the controls are also easy to use. With the Direct Monitor switch, headphone socket, and a large dial for volume control, monitoring is simple.
As if you haven’t got enough onboard, you get quite a bit more. More than just quite a bit. What you get is a great software bundle. That includes software, free downloads, and discounts on some products.
As part of this extra package, you get Ableton Live software and the Focusrite Pro Tools Creative Pack. There is a choice of 1 from 4 options for XLN virtual instruments and Softube Time and Tone. Also, access to the collection of plug-ins from Focusrite.
Scarlett 3 owners also get a three-month free subscription to Splice. Here they will find a huge quantity of royalty-free loops, presets, and plenty of other options for you to use.
As an added extra, you will also get a Type-C to Type-A cable.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3 Review Pros and Cons
- 24-bit/192kHz converters giving high-performance.
- Upgraded Scarlett mic preamp.
- Air mode included for a brighter sound.
- Instrument input with high headroom.
- Easy to use controls with the halo indicators.
- Low latency for great monitoring in real-time.
- Balanced Left and Right TRS outputs, including level controls.
- Sturdy metallic build.
- Extremely portable for use anywhere.
- A great package of extras.
- It is a lightweight interface and can move around a bit with a guitar plugged in.
Looking for more superb equipment for your studio?
Recording at home has never been easier. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best USB Audio Interfaces, the Best Audio Interface, the Best Multitrack Recorder, the Best Studio Headphones For Home Recording, and the Best Studio Monitor Speakers you can buy.
Also, take a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Best Headphones for Mixing and Mastering, the Best Microphones Recording Electric Guitar, the Best Audio Mixers, the Best DI Boxes for Bass, and the Best Microphone Preamp on the market in 2021.
You may also enjoy our review of the Behringer Audio Interface 4 Channel UMC404HD.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3 Review – Final Thoughts
In our view, there can be little doubt about the quality of the Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 3. It is probably the best USB interface for working with a single instrument or voice. Just about everything you will need in a small or home studio is included. And a little bit extra.
If you want the best at its price point, then here it is. We think Mr. Neve will be impressed.
Until next time, may the music make you merry.