4 Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Alternatives (Updated 2022)

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Alternatives

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Focusrite is one of those companies that you just can’t help but be a little impressed with. This British company was relatively obscure in the music production world for decades and manufactured outboard gear such as preamplifiers and channel strips.

But over the past decade, they have emerged as the industry leader in USB audio interfaces for amateur and semi-pro musicians. The Focusrite Scarlett series is practically synonymous with audio interfaces at this point and the company boldly (but probably accurately) claims that the Scarlett 2i2 “has already helped make more records than any other interface in history.”

With a very reasonable price point and a great reputation, it’s no surprise that this piece of gear is everywhere. Sure, they aren’t all hit records but musicians around the world are definitely using the 2i2 and all its variations.

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s the best for everyone and while the Scarlett 2i2 is great it’s still a bit of an entry-level audio interface and some musicians may want to upgrade to a more advanced audio interface. Others may be happy with the Scarlett 2i2 and are just wondering what else is out there.

In other words, there are plenty of reasons why you may want to explore alternatives and whether you want something cheaper, more premium, or just some variety we’ll take a look at all your options. But if you just want to skip ahead and see what made the list you can check out my tip picks here:

Most Comparable
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
9.9
  • Very comparable to the Scarlett 2i2 in almost every category but features better volume input
  • Simple to use with a sleek design
  • More than 450 five-star reviews on Amazon
Best Budget Alternative
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
9.7
  • Easy on the budget but still high quality despite Behringer's reputation
  • Comparable quality and feature list to the 2i2
  • More than 13,000 five-star reviews on Amazon
Premium Pick
Universal Audio Apollo Twin
Universal Audio Apollo Twin
9.6
  • Professional quality with pristine sound
  • Comes with bundled plugins that are above and beyond the industry standard
  • Premium pricing for a truly premium product

But before we get into the reviews, let’s make sure we’re on the same page with audio interfaces.

Understanding The Importance Of Audio Interfaces

An audio interface is one of the least sexy parts of music production, but it’s the fundamental link between music and the computer. It’s simple but exceptionally important and audio interfaces take mic, instrument, and/or MIDI cables as inputs, and output to a computer or laptop via USB cable. Formerly, music recording involved recording to tape machines. A USB audio interface can be thought of as a tape machine that writes to your hard drive instead of tape. Tape machines are large, expensive, and very mechanically complex, so once computers became powerful enough, the transition to digital was inevitable.

At this point, the vast majority of the world’s music involves an audio interface of some kind and a computer. And according to Focusrite, a lot of the world is using a Scarlett 2i2 to do this.

Still, many musicians continue to use analog gear such as tape machines during the recording process, but the music is pretty much always recorded to a computer at some point or another. If you want to use a metaphor, a USB interface is kind of like a sink. It’s one of the most overlooked fixtures in the kitchen. But if you tried cooking without a sink, you wouldn’t get far.

For the record, you may have come across USB microphones, which do not need an audio interface. I have never encountered one I would recommend. These have built-in mini interfaces by definition. The mics themselves, and built-in interfaces, are not of great quality. While that might feel like a little tangent, it does highlight how audio interfaces are everywhere.

What Makes The Focusrite Scarlett Series So Popular?

Before we really dig into the alternatives, it’s a good idea to understand what makes the Scarlett series so popular in the first place. Then, we’ll know what we want to look for in an alternative.

Budget and Quality

Part of what makes the Scarlett 2i2 so popular is its price point.

We’ve talked about how important it is to have a quality audio interface and it’s rarely optional. There’s always a market for required gear and it’s no different when it comes to audio interfaces. But cheap isn’t going to work if it’s low quality and with more than 30,000 five-star reviews on Amazon there are a lot of people backing up the build of the 2i2.

Easy-To-Use

Every piece of equipment requires some patience to learn but what really helps the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 be more user-friendly is just how popular it is. It’s easy to find support online whether that’s from Reddit, YouTube, or anything in between. And since it is generally marketed as an introductory interface, many people have made tutorials to help beginners get started.

Focusrite also has a wide range of videos that give over how to use the interface and the software. However, the more experienced producer may not need to have their hand held and a more advanced interface could be a positive.

Pre-Amps, A/D Converters, and Audio Interfaces

Before we get into the reviews, let’s clear up some confusion around pre-amps, audio interfaces, and A/D converters.

It helps to know that audio interfaces have two main components: pre-amps, and A/D converters. Pre-amps are necessary to raise the volume of the instrument or mic input. They are always used when recording from a mic or recording direct-in using a guitar or bass. A/D converters convert the analog signal to digital.

Until a few years ago, A/D converters varied in quality. Technology has advanced to the point that they are all essentially interchangeable. Anecdotally, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anybody comparing the merits of different A/D converters since it’s a bit of a pointless debate.

On the other hand, pre-amps are hotly debated. Think about guitar amplifiers. They all play the same basic function, but everyone knows how important amp choice is to guitar tone or the sound of vinyl.

Audio interfaces aim to have “transparent” pre-amps, meaning they don’t add any particular character to the sound. But there is a difference in quality between the pre-amps that are found in an inexpensive interface compared to the pre-amp found in an expensive interface.

Many producers, myself included, bypass the pre-amps in their interface using outboard pre-amps. Some pre-amps are known for being extremely clean, others impart a desirable character.

For the record, Focusrite was founded by Rupert Neve, and made professional pre-amps for years before releasing its first interface. Translation: Scarlett’s pre-amps are as good as any in their price range. This also means that we’ll be looking closely at the pre-amps across different audio interfaces but largely ignoring the A/D converters since they’re all equal for the most part.

Best Alternatives To The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Now that we know what we’re looking for, it’s time to get into the reviews.

I’m going to focus on alternative interfaces with two mic/instrument inputs. This is a common setup because it is very flexible for most individual musicians’ needs. It gives the capability to record two tracks simultaneously- singing while playing an instrument, or stereo recording. You may only need one input, or you may need more (to record more musicians at once or to record a drum set with lots of tracks at once). If so, most interfaces in this list belong to product lines that also include interfaces with more or fewer inputs.

The price usually scales accordingly so if you know you don’t need two inputs you can consider adjusting the specific model you purchase.

Most Comparable: Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2

Most Comparable
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
  • Very comparable to the Scarlett 2i2 in almost every category but features better volume input
  • Simple to use with a sleek design
  • More than 450 five-star reviews on Amazon

While Native Instruments is known mostly for Kontakt, the industry-standard software that hosts sample and instrument libraries, they make hardware too. Anecdotally, I had a Native Instruments interface for a few years when I was starting out, and I was always really impressed with its build quality.

This newer interface from Native Instruments also comes with a reasonable price point and has the same feature set as the Scarlett 2i2 making it one of the closest alternatives. I’m also a big fan of the minimalist look and definitely prefer the simple design and color of the NI Komplete Audio compared to the Scarlett 2i2.

One feature that edges it above the 2i2 is the physical VU (volume input) meters. The Scarlett 2i2, and most interfaces, simply have an indicator light that flashes red when the audio is clipping. Generally, users monitor their actual input level on their DAW. The Komplete Audio 2 lets you see your level at a glance. This could be very useful in live settings, where visibility is lower and you don’t want to waste time fiddling.

As I mentioned before though, this interface is new, and the Scarlett 2i2 has been the popular choice for years. This means there is less troubleshooting support for the Komplete Audio 2. Someone who is not confident in their tech skills should keep this in mind. However, that’s not to say you’re not going to find any support for this audio interface, it’s just not going to be as much compared to the ubiquitous Scarlett 2i2.

When it comes to sound, they’re very comparable and this video does a great job showing off the sound difference:

The biggest downside is going to come down to driver issues, which is a pretty common problem with a (relatively) newer audio interface. There are some specific issues with certain operating systems but others seem to have no problems. If you’re using a more unusual or older operating system, you may have a problem but otherwise, you should be good to go.

Overall, the Komplete Audio 2 is one of the closest alternatives you can find but also comes with nice features that can make it even more appealing for some producers. You can read more reviews, check out the minimalist design, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Budget Alternative: Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD

Best Budget Alternative
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
  • Easy on the budget but still high quality despite Behringer's reputation
  • Comparable quality and feature list to the 2i2
  • More than 13,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

Behringer has made a solid name for themselves as “the one option that costs ⅔ what everyone else’s does for some reason.” A few years back, buying a Behringer product was like gambling. Their prices were always the best, but the customer reviews always shook out the same way. 70% were ecstatic, 30% reported “it was a dud” or “it stopped working.”

That said, Behringer has clearly been aware of its reputation and working hard to improve it. These days, they’ve managed to keep their costs low, but the reviews have shifted in a positive direction. Behringer’s products are still on the low end of manufacturing quality, and they are never at the forefront of innovation.

But now, I can confidently recommend that they make a decent product for a great price and the U-Phoria UMC202HD is a worthy alternative to the Scarlett 2i2. Behringer’s interface has essentially the same feature set, with a price that’s very easy on the budget. It also sounds pretty comparable too and this video shows a side-by-side comparison of the same song produced with the two different interfaces:

It comes with a pad button for each channel, unlike most alternatives. This button simply lowers the input signal by a set amount, useful if you are recording something loud. But 24 bit, 192 kHz interfaces like this one have massive volume headroom by design, meaning you could simply turn the input volume down and get the same effect. So it’s a bit of a mixed selling point for me.

However, when you’re focused on budget above all else, which is really what this alternative option is all about, then you should expect some downsides. While the U-Phoria is durable it’s not ready to be tossed around between gigs like a more premium product might be. There are some minor driver issues based on the fact that there aren’t proprietary drivers but I challenge you to find an audio interface review section that doesn’t have someone mentioning drivers.

But as a producer, the biggest concern is the unbalanced outputs, a baffling choice that I can only assume was a cost-cutting measure. This difference is undetectable for most users, but if your house is old, your monitors may be very noisy as a result.

Still, this interface will do what you need it to do at a very affordable price point which makes it a reasonable alternative to the Scarlett 2i2. Despite Behringer’s mixed history, the more than 13,000 five-star reviews on Amazon can help producers relax a little. You can read those reviews, take a closer look at the specs and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Premium Pick: Universal Audio Apollo Twin

Premium Pick
Universal Audio Apollo Twin
  • Professional quality with pristine sound
  • Comes with bundled plugins that are above and beyond the industry standard
  • Premium pricing for a truly premium product

If you’re looking to graduate from an entry-level audio interface like the Scarlett 2i2 to something that’s professional producer quality then a premium audio interface like the Apollo Twin could be the right move.

This is a premium product that comes with premium pricing but the fact that pros buy it at all should tell you what you need to know. In terms of pure sound quality, the UA Apollo Twin is second to none. The pre-amps are first in class, praised as pristine. Honestly, it’s not even fair to compare the Scarlett 2i2 to the Apollo Twin- they’re just too different in terms of build quality.

This video does a great job comparing these two without blowing the Focusrite out of the water but just sticking to a sound comparison:

This interface also comes with fabulous bundled plugins that only sweeten the deal. Most of the interfaces on this list come with bundled software, but there’s a reason I have not bothered to mention it until now.

Let me put it this way. The bundled VSTs with the other interfaces will not be making it to any “best-of” lists, and are probably no better than the stock plugins on any modern DAW. They are a selling point only if you haven’t bought a DAW; they are a fun starting point.

By comparison, UA is an industry leader in plugins, and its bundled VSTs are worth owning even if you don’t use the interface. If the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is the Toyota Camry of interfaces- simple, dependable, common- the UA Apollo Twin is the Rolls Royce. Understood to be the best money can buy and a good alternative for the producer with professional aspirations.

Overall, it’s hard to really compare the UA Apollo Twin to any other audio interface (even though we just did) and it’s really in a league of its own. Still, the experienced producer who cut their teeth with the Scarlett 2i2 may be ready for a premium upgrade. You can read more reviews, check out all the specs, and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Most Portable Alternative: Izotope Spire Studio

Most Portable Alternative
Izotope Spire Studio
  • Perfect for getting songs recorded on the go
  • An entry-level audio interface that focuses on portability
  • More than 200 five-star reviews on Amazon

If your biggest concern is finding a super-portable, intuitive, musician-friendly audio interface, consider the new Izotope Spire Studio. This little guy is small and is riding a brand new wave: audio interfaces for phones and tablets. We’ve discussed this a few times before but the Spire Studio is the only one that realistically competes as a general audio interface so far.

The Spire Studio is battery-powered and has an onboard omnidirectional condenser mic, as well as two XLR or instrument inputs. It uses WiFi to connect to a compatible iPad, iPhone, or Android phone (check that your device is supported before picking this up.) It comes bundled with proprietary recording software. A simple, immediate philosophy permeates the hardware and software design which you can see in this quick video review:

This interface is not going to take the place of a traditional interface in a pro’s studio. But if you are starting out with producing, or you need something with extreme portability, consider this route. With its feature set, the only limit to the quality of recordings will be the environment you are recording in!

This is a great option for producers that really value portability, even if it means a decrease in quality. That’s not going to be ideal for everyone, but if you’re always on the go and don’t want to miss out on a great song idea, you can read more reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Conclusion

And there you have it!

While it’s not a comprehensive or exhaustive list, these are the best alternative options to the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 as far as I’m concerned. I really tried to cover everything: from budget, to premium to a super close and comparable product.

Happy producing, and feel the joy of the music!