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Author Topic: Review of the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and 18i6 USB 2.0 Interfaces  (Read 10686 times)

MikeRivers

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I've just posted a review of the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and 18i6 USB 2.0 interfaces. Visit the Reviews section of my web page or jump right to it here.

I liked them.
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Today's production equipment is IT based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledege of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio
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Randyman...

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Re: Review of the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and 18i6 USB 2.0 Interfaces
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2011, 03:14:23 pm »

Great review - but this part seems a bit odd (but seems like Focusrite's standard "M.O." - Presonus as well  ;) ):

Quote
At the 10 ms (installed default) setting which Id been using for testing and straightforward audio recording where
record-play latency is irrelevant, it takes a healthy 52 ms from the input source to reach the output. Setting the ASIO buffer to 2 ms yielded a Its a more reasonable 12 ms latency, and with a 1 ms buffer, the latency was a perfectly respectable 7 ms.

Doesn't seem "reasonable" to me.  A 2ms buffer should net you a 4ms digital round trip plus AD/DA oversampling delays (generally around 1ms each way) - that *should* be around 6ms round trip analog-to-analog.  So where is the extra 6ms coming from?  Answer?  Hidden buffers...

An RME setup will be closer to 4ms Analog-to-Analog round trip at 32-Samples (0.75ms) of ASIO latency (a Multiface is like 3.15ms analog-to-analog @ 32 Samples), and closer to 4.7ms Analog-to-Analog round trip at 64 Samples (1.5ms) of ASIO Latency (all at 44.1K).

Not only that, but if Focusrite is still using "off the shelf" DICE chips along with the standard "off the shelf" drivers (with some monitor mixing add-ons plus GUI eye-candy placed on top) then the RME will actually perform way better at 32-Samples of ASIO than the Focusrite would at 128-samples or even 256-Samples of ASIO Latency (and the RME would obviously clobber the round trip latency in the same breath - win-win)...

Granted those who don't monitor "wet" won't care much about the latency (aside from scaling performance which can also show HUGE discrepancies between interfaces/drivers) - but monitoing "wet" at 32-Samples of ASIO is the basis for my entire setup...

Just thought that should be mentioned when comparing interfaces as it can make a HUGE difference for those in my kinds of shoes (tracking + monitoring "through the DAW")...

See here for more benchmark details from the lovely Daw-Bench forum:  http://forum.dawbench.com/showthread.php?1548-Audio-Interface-Low-Latency-Performance-Data-Base&p=14145#post14145

 8)
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Randy Visentine
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MikeRivers

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Re: Review of the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and 18i6 USB 2.0 Interfaces
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2011, 10:51:06 am »

Great review - but this part seems a bit odd (but seems like Focusrite's standard "M.O." - Presonus as well  ;) ):

Doesn't seem "reasonable" to me.  A 2ms buffer should net you a 4ms digital round trip plus AD/DA oversampling delays (generally around 1ms each way) - that *should* be around 6ms round trip analog-to-analog.  So where is the extra 6ms coming from?  Answer?  Hidden buffers...

I suppose if you have to call it something, that's as good a thing to call it. Or maybe non-adjustable buffers?  It looks (from one of the manuals) that they may have intended to have, like the Saffire (Firewire) series, two buffer adjustments, one for ASIO and the other for the hardware stream, but only the ASIO buffer is actually available from the Settings menu.

Quote
An RME setup will be closer to 4ms Analog-to-Analog round trip at 32-Samples (0.75ms) of ASIO latency (a Multiface is like 3.15ms analog-to-analog @ 32 Samples), and closer to 4.7ms Analog-to-Analog round trip at 64 Samples (1.5ms) of ASIO Latency (all at 44.1K).

The Scarlett is, let's face it, a near entry level device, and it's important that a user is able to get sound in and out of it as soon as he plugs it in. Tweaking comes later, sometimes, for some, I suppose, with disappointing results.

Quote
Not only that, but if Focusrite is still using "off the shelf" DICE chips  along with the standard "off the shelf" drivers (with some monitor mixing add-ons plus GUI eye-candy placed on top) then the RME will actually perform way better at 32-Samples of ASIO than the Focusrite would at 128-samples or even 256-Samples of ASIO Latency (and the RME would obviously clobber the round trip latency in the same breath - win-win)...

RME does their own thing (or at least that's the reputation they have), writing their own drivers to optimize performance and still give reliable operation. But then, where are the $250 and $300 RME interfaces?  ;) 

Is there a DICE USB chip and driver? I know a lot of gear (including Focusrite's Saffires) use a DICE Firewire chip and driver but I wasn't aware of any work they were doing with USB. I didn't see any chips with their trademark when I looked inside.

Quote
Granted those who don't monitor "wet" won't care much about the latency (aside from scaling performance which can also show HUGE discrepancies between interfaces/drivers)

What  do you mean here? I'm not familiar with the term "scaling performance" at least not in this context?  Are you talking about what it could do, or what it actually does? Or something else?

Quote
monitoing "wet" at 32-Samples of ASIO is the basis for my entire setup...

Just thought that should be mentioned when comparing interfaces as it can make a HUGE difference for those in my kinds of shoes (tracking + monitoring "through the DAW")...

Though I don't work in that mode myself, this is just why I address latency at all in my reviews of this sort of gear. People use virtual instruments that they play live when tracking, and use amplifier simulator plug-ins to get some inspiration when playing in guitar parts, and for that, being able to monitor what's coming back from the computer is essential. Many people judge whether they can work or not simply by the latency numbers that they can get away with, I've read comments on forums along the lines that something is absolutely useless because they can't get reliable operation with buffer sizes smaller than 64 (for example) samples but don't know how much the actual source-to-monitor latency actually is. Surely you've heard the old "Well, you can play your electric guitar when you're ten feet away from the amplifier and that's 10 ms of latency" argument. So if that's all the latency there actually was, nobody would complain.

I noticed your comment on dawbench about the Lynx card. I have an L22 and I expect I'll probably have to keep an old computer alive in order to continue using it, but that's OK with me. But I'm currently in a friendly discussion on another forum with someone about a comment I made (someone was wondering about keeping his Delta 66 interface or getting a new PreSonus USB 2 interface) that he should try the Delta in his new computer first - that in my experience internal bus cards tended to be more predictable than those using an external (Firewire or USB) interface. But my personal experience is pretty much limited to trailing edge technology. He said that with this generation's computers, externally interfaced devices are likely to work better than those that plug directly into the motherboard bus. Of course when the day comes that you have a computer with no PCI slots, that will be the end of the line. But until then, do you have any experience that leans one way or the other?

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Today's production equipment is IT based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledege of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio
--John Watkinson

For a good time, call http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com

Randyman...

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Re: Review of the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and 18i6 USB 2.0 Interfaces
« Reply #3 on: October 09, 2011, 09:56:22 pm »

Good point about the USB - Maybe they've gone "in-house" with their chips now?  I kind of doubt it, but as long as the performance is better than the old DICE stuff with the old drivers they were using, then they should show an overall improvement (but the real-world latency seems to be much worse on the newer models???).

I do run PCI/PCIe exclusively - I started with a used RME Multiface back in 2003 or so and haven't looked back (now on RME PCIe MADI cards).  It does seem that the USB interfaces are catching up, but PCI/PCIe has my vote as I have yet to be let down by a PCI/PCIe based system (performance/scaling, latency, and the peace of mind).

The "Scaling" comment just means how much can you do with an interface at specific ASIO settings.  Some interfaces (probably more driver related) will allow a DAW to run oodles of plug-ins before choking, while another interface might drastically limit the same PC's DAW performance.  This is generally seen in lower latency ASIO settings (where an RME can literally make 2x as much use of the same PC while also allowing lower analog-to-analog latencies), but as the Daw-Bench forms show, the Focusrite/Presonus DICE based units still fall behind stuff like M-Audio and RME even at higher ASIO settings (@256 samples, the RME system still runs 2x as many plug-in instances as the Sapphire @ 256 Samples, but the RME's actual Analog-to-Analog latency is still way lower on top of that)...

In a nutshell, your PC would literally be capable of running 1/2 the number of plug-ins due to nothing more than the driver and interface.  If you factor in latency (Sapphire and/or Scarlett needs to be set lower to match the RME which further exacerbates the issue), then it is more like 1/4 the DSP power out of the same PC...  That is pretty huge IMO.

Yes, RME leans towards the expensive end, and I'd say you get what you pay for.  I'd say M-Audio is rather cheap by comparison, but their DAW performance numbers are not far behind RME (leaves the old FF/Presonus DICE stuff in the dust).  The fact that RME develops their own drivers "in-house" speaks volumes to me (and I'd be willing to bet that Avid is doing M-Audio stuff in-house now, too?).  Everyone else seems to pick one of the "off the shelf" chips and base "developer" drivers and run with it (plus some GUI enhancements).  That's fine for some...

I just wanted to make sure when noobs (or even seasoned veterans) go shopping for an interface, that price and latency alone are not the only specs they should consider.  It seems the DAW-Bench forum is the only place that actually compares the relative DAW performance across interfaces - and the results are all over the map.  For people that track and monitor natively "Through the DAW" - these specs are crucially important and can be loosely likened to PT-HD2 vs PT-HD3 capabilities etc (and that's not a cheap upgrade  ;) )...

PS - Great write up!

 8)
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timhandproduction

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Re: Review of the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and 18i6 USB 2.0 Interfaces
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2011, 06:38:13 pm »

I've just bought a Scarlet 8i6 which seems great. One problem which is probably me being dense is that I can't get my Software to recognise anything but inputs one and two.

I'm running Windows 7 and using either Audacity or Adobe Audition. Neither of these bits of software or the "control panel" show any of the other inputs in any of the drop down boxes (even when the unit is powered from the mains).

I have the most recent version of the driver and am running Scarlet Mix control.

Any ideas/ advice greatly appreciated.
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MikeRivers

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Re: Review of the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and 18i6 USB 2.0 Interfaces
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2011, 07:13:36 pm »

I've just bought a Scarlet 8i6 which seems great. One problem which is probably me being dense is that I can't get my Software to recognise anything but inputs one and two.

I'm running Windows 7 and using either Audacity or Adobe Audition.

Audacity doesn't support ASIO, so it's using the WDM driver when you select the Scarlett, and that allows only two channels. I don't know Audition but I suspect that there's someplace in it's "Audio Devices" setup that lets you tell it that you want to use an ASIO driver. Then when you select the Scarlett, it should give you a range of inputs. It may default to two and you 'll have to open a pulldown list to select all six, or four.

This is a Reaper setup screen, but it'll give you an idea of what to look for in Audition. This screen shot is left over from showing someone how to set up to use ASIO4ALL so that's what's selected (and I didn't have the Scarlett connected at the time) but use your imagination. See where it says First and Last? That's where you tell it you want to use inputs between Mic 1 and S/PDIF R on the Scarlett.



Surely there's someone around here using Audition who can chime in, but you might have better luck if you make a new post asking how to set up an ASIO audio device with multichannel inputs. Someone will probably tell you RTFM, but there are always polite folks who will tell you what you need to know.

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Today's production equipment is IT based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledege of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio
--John Watkinson

For a good time, call http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com

timhandproduction

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Re: Review of the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and 18i6 USB 2.0 Interfaces
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2011, 02:45:19 am »

Mike, thanks so much for all that, it's solved the mystery. I'm using Audition 1.5 which doesn't support ASIO, time for an upgrade,

thanks again,

Tim


Audacity doesn't support ASIO, so it's using the WDM driver when you select the Scarlett, and that allows only two channels. I don't know Audition but I suspect that there's someplace in it's "Audio Devices" setup that lets you tell it that you want to use an ASIO driver. Then when you select the Scarlett, it should give you a range of inputs. It may default to two and you 'll have to open a pulldown list to select all six, or four.

This is a Reaper setup screen, but it'll give you an idea of what to look for in Audition. This screen shot is left over from showing someone how to set up to use ASIO4ALL so that's what's selected (and I didn't have the Scarlett connected at the time) but use your imagination. See where it says First and Last? That's where you tell it you want to use inputs between Mic 1 and S/PDIF R on the Scarlett.



Surely there's someone around here using Audition who can chime in, but you might have better luck if you make a new post asking how to set up an ASIO audio device with multichannel inputs. Someone will probably tell you RTFM, but there are always polite folks who will tell you what you need to know.
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