When it comes to audio interfaces for beginners, I would go out on a limb and say that it’s the Focusrite Scarlett series that dominates the market. These are some of the most popular audio interfaces and they’re recommended to you by everyone, including myself in this old article. I currently own a Focusrite Saffire 6USB and a Scarlett 2i2, and they’re great products for the price.
There are different kinds of Focusrite audio interfaces as well, several of which are from the same Scarlett series like the 2i2, the 18i8, and the 4i4. These are devices with more pre-amps and more inputs so they have more capabilities. The inverse can be said about the Scarlett Solo which is a step-down from the 2i2.
The primary difference between the Scarlett 2i2 and the Solo lies in the number of inputs and pre-amps. The Scarlett 2i2 has two pre-amps and inputs compared to the Solo that only has one. This means the 2i2 can record two instruments at once and the Solo can only record one.
The number of inputs and pre-amps are the main difference between the 2i2 and the Solo, but there are several other differences between these models. We’re going to dive into all of them, moreover, you’ll notice the difference right away when we start looking at the pictures.
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The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 vs The Scarlett Solo
From the image above, you can already see the difference between the two models of the Scarlett audio interface from Focusrite. Both of these audio interfaces are “beginner” interfaces, so to speak, however, the Solo is cheaper (on Amazon) than the 2i2 because it has half the inputs and pre-amps.
If you take a look at what’s said about these devices on the internet, you’ll see a lot of people saying that there isn’t much of a difference between them but there are more than what meets the eye. Let’s get into that now.
What’s the Primary Difference Between the Scarlett 2i2 and Scarlett Solo?
As I said earlier, the main difference between the 2i2 and the Solo is the number of pre-amps and inputs. The Solo has only one pre-amp and one input whereas the 2i2 has two. This is a big difference because it makes the Solo significantly smaller and also less capable.
Put simply, the Scarlett Solo is the absolute smallest model they make and you can’t get any simpler. The 2i2 (also on Amazon) is a step-up from that because you can record more than one of just one type of device at a time (line level and instrument level), for instance, two microphones or one bass guitar and one guitar.
This can’t be done on the Solo because there is only one jack for each type of input, compared to the 2i2 which has dynamic inputs that are capable of taking XLR inputs and 1/4 cables (the type of cable most instruments use if they’re electric).
That said, it is possible to record a microphone and a guitar at the same time on the Scarlett Solo because there is an XLR input and a 1/4″ input which we’ll talk about in a second. This goes in contrast to what a lot of people say about this device.
Explained another way, the Solo isn’t capable of recording two line/instrument level devices at a time. It has to be one line level and one instrument level, and not two mics, or two guitars, for example. If you take a look at the picture above, you’ll notice there is, in fact, an instrument input on there so you can record vocals and a guitar at once if you wanted.
However, you can’t record two mics at the same time or two guitars at the same time, unless you find a microphone that’s able to connect through a 1/4″ input or through some kind of adapter. I’m sure something like that exists.
Other Differences Between the Scarlett 2i2 and the Scarlett Solo
- The Solo is Smaller
According to Focusrite’s specifications chart on their site, the Solo has 5.65″x 3.77″ x 1.71″ dimensions whereas the 2i2 is slightly larger at 7.68″ x 2.09″ x 1.32.” The Solo is just a bit smaller, but I think it’s worth mentioning that there was a point when both of these models were even larger than they are now.
I have the Focusrite Saffire 6USB, for example, and it’s twice the size of the Scarlett 2i2 despite the fact that it has nearly all the same features except it has more inputs and a mixer volume control. External soundcards are getting better and better with each passing year – Universal Audio’s Apollo Twin (on Amazon) as another example – and the smaller size is definitely a part of that.
- The Solo Has A Separate Input for XLR and 1/4″ Cables
This is really the main difference between the two devices, moreover, it’s the difference that’s most noticeable as well. On the 2i2, each input is capable of taking line level or instrument level sources. The input can take a 1/4″ jack like what you would use for a guitar or a bass guitar, or it can take a microphone.
The Solo, on the other hand, has a separate XLR jack for the microphone and then a separate jack for the 1/4″ cable. Because of this, the device is set up in such a way where the knobs and dials are laid out slightly differently on the device.
- The Monitoring Button Controls the Monitoring and Headphone Volume
This is a difference that you would only notice if you’ve used one before, and that is that on the Solo, the large monitoring button that everyone loves so much controls the speaker volume and the headphone volume which is a bit of a problem for some people.
Perhaps you don’t want to turn down the headphone volume, but you do want to turn down your speakers. The Solo doesn’t permit that.
- The 2i2 Is Capable of Stereo Recording
The 2i2 can record in stereo which is pretty cool, although, I almost never use this feature because I typically record either one mic or one guitar at a time. The funny thing is that the Solo would probably be enough for me to do what I do, but I still prefer having the 2i2 just in case.
Recording in stereo just means you can record two tracks at once, one for the left channel and one for the right channel, and then you can pan them afterward. So if you had two guitar players recording at once, one would be on the left and the other would be on the right.
- The 2i2 Has A Dedicated Volume Control for the Headphone Jack
Like we already discussed, the 2i2 has dedicated volume control for the headphone jack which is pretty cool. In other words, you can control the volume of your speaker monitors independently of your headphones, so that’s a good selling point for a lot of people out there.
- 2i2 Has Slightly Less Latency
I can’t confirm this, but I’ve heard people say that the 2i2 has slightly less latency than the Solo, although, the difference may be imperceptible to most. This makes sense to me because there are more than one pre-amp and input on the 2i2.
I imagine it’s not unreasonable to assume that the 2i2 has slightly more power and capability due to it being spread across 2 different pre-amps rather than just one as is the case on the Solo.
Cons of Using the Solo vs the 2i2
- Have to adjust volume when going from headphones to monitors
This is a minor inconvenience but still an inconvenience, nonetheless. Because the headphone and speaker volumes are controlled by the same dial on the Solo, you’ll have to account for the change in volume when you switch from using speaker monitors to your headphones.
- Turning Down The Monitor Button Also Turns Down the Headphones
We already discussed this.
- You have to adjust your headphone volume from the computer rather than from the interface
This is also a minor inconvenience but it’s worthy of note, although, it depends on who you ask. Personally, I prefer adjusting the volume from my computer and not from the audio interface, but some people aren’t about that life.
- Less Definition on the Solo because One Preamp is Doing All The Work
Some users say there is slightly less definition on the Solo compared to the 2i2.
- The 2i2 Can Increase the Gain More Without Clipping
Others argue that the 2i2 is capable of increasing the gain more but without clipping. One example of this would be being able to increase the gain up to 3-4’o’clock on the 2i2 without clipping but then 12’o’clock on the Solo.
- Some People Say The Knobs Are Better On the 2i2
I’ve heard other users explain that the knobs are slightly different on the Solo as well, although, I’m not sure how true that is.
Which One Should You Get – the Scarlett 2i2 or the Scarlett Solo?
I wouldn’t even bother getting the Scarlett Solo simply because the 2i2 gives you a lot more room to experiment as a beginner to home recording without costing a lot more money. The issue with the Scarlett Solo is that you’ll quickly outgrow it unless you know without a doubt what you need it for, ie, video conferencing.
The Scarlett 2i2 will last longer because of its increased capabilities, like stereo recording and the ability to record more than one microphone or more than one instrument-level input at a time. Some of the pros I listed above are also important to consider.
Is the Scarlett Solo Good Enough?
Most people say that the Solo is better if you’re just going to do a solo podcast, video conferences for work like Zoom calls, Voice-Over jobs, or if you plan on recording yourself playing the guitar and singing. However, I don’t even agree with this sentiment for a simple reason: the existence of USB microphones.
You don’t even need a Scarlett Solo to do any of the things I just mentioned because you could just save the money and spend it on a nice USB microphone instead like the Samson Q2U bundle (on Amazon). If you wanted to go the extra mile, you could get a better USB mic like the Samson Q9U (also on Amazon) for a little bit more money, the money you would’ve spent on the audio interface.
That said, Focusrite has clearly thought of that because they’ve included Solo Bundles where you get the USB cable, headphones, and a condenser microphone (also on Amazon) that way they can compete. But I wouldn’t even bother with this stuff. Just get the Scarlett 2i2. It also comes in a cool bundle here on Amazon.
Put simply, the Scarlett Solo is the bare minimum audio interface. It’s for the person who isn’t entirely sure what they’re doing yet but they know they’ll need at least one input and they don’t want to spend much money. But if that’s the case, you’d be better off with a USB mic instead.
Important Things to Note About Audio Interfaces
1) Do You Need Portability? The iRig Pro I/O Series Might Be Better
If you’re in the market for a small audio interface that can record both microphones and instruments, the iRig Pro I/O Duo (on Amazon) might be a better option because it’s fairly small, much smaller than the Scarlett 2i2 or the Scarlett Solo. The iRig Pro I/O has two preamps and inputs like the Scarlett 2i2.
I’ve talked about it before in my guide on audio interfaces. There is an even smaller version of this called the iRig Pro I/O, not the duo, and it functions similarly to the Scarlett Solo but it’s cheaper and much smaller, and more portable. There is also the iRig Pro HD 2 which is just for instruments – I wrote all about it in my guide.