Most players looking for a quality, low cost, portable USB interface for their home studio – or recording on the go – have traditionally leaned towards Focusrite and their Scarlett range of desktop interfaces.
However, things are changing, and more and more new models from different manufacturers keep surfacing on the market – case in point, the Universal Audio Volt 2 (full review here).
Those involved in home recording will already have heard of Universal Audio due to their universally acclaimed Apollo series interfaces which typically target the $500 to pro range of the market, but in 2021 they released the Volt 2 – what many are billing as direct competitor to one of the most popular interfaces on the market, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Gen 3 (full review here).
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’ll be putting these 2 titans head to head to see which one comes out on top. If you’re looking for a new interface, you’re definitely not going to want to miss this (and check out our full rundown of the best low latency interfaces).
As the name suggests, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 comes with a deep red aluminum body. The font panel is all black, with a few flashes of green and red around the knobs. At first glance it looks absolutely like a premium device, although the red may not be to everybody’s taste.
The Universal Audio Volt 2 has a much more contemporary black and white finish, with about 1/3 of the front panel in white, and the other 2/3 in black. The buttons are actually colored lights, resulting in a much brighter appearance on a desktop.
The Volt 2 and the 2i2 are actually very similar in terms of construction quality. Both units are clad in aluminum all the way around the top, bottom, and sides, with plastic on the front and back panels. In both cases, the fit and finish is excellent, with no loose fitting or wobbly buttons or dials on either unit. Comparing the two by build quality is tough owing to the fact that they’re both made like tanks.
Both the 2i2 and the Volt 2 are compact devices. They’ll both fit on a desktop with ease, and should have no issues slipping into a gig bag pocket or a backpack should you want to take your interface out and about with you.
There is a fairly significant difference in how these 2 interfaces get their power. The Volt 2 can either run on bus power via the USB-C port, or using a 5v DC input, and features a physical power on/off switch.
The Scarlett 2i2 on the other hand is only bus powered, so the USB-C cable takes care of both the data and the power. By plugging straight into your laptop, the unit is ready to go.
The downside to being solely bus powered, of course, is that it can’t be used as a standalone device without a laptop, and there are many engineers who believe using USB as a power source results in a weakened signal flow, putting the fidelity of your recordings at risk.
There are further differences between the two interfaces when it comes to their inputs and outputs:
|Features||Focusrite Scarlett 2i2||Universal Audio Volt 2|
|Inputs||2 x XLR – ¼” Neutrik combo inputs for mics, line in, and Hi-Z||2 x XLR – ¼” Neutrik combo inputs for mics, line in, and Hi-Z
|Outputs||2 x ¼” TRS (L/R)|
1 x ¼” Headphone out
|2 x ¼” TRS (L/R)
1 x ¼” Headphone out
If you’re looking for only one input, check out the Focusrite Scarlett Solo.
Both the 2i2 and the volt 2 feature 2 preamps. On the Focusrite, they come with an “Air” mode, which helps to increase the brightness and openness of your recordings.
On the other hand, the Volt 2’s preamps feature “Vintage” mode, which uses a really clever analog circuit to give an all tube vintage preamp sound. It adds warmth and real analog sizzle to recordings, and we found ourselves using this mode a lot during testing.
If you’re a midi user, the choice is going to be incredibly easy for you to make. The 2i2 has no MIDI in or out, whereas the Volt 2 does feature MIDI in/out, giving you the option to run controllers or synths directly into the interface.
Without a doubt, the most important thing to consider when buying an interface is the latency, or hopefully lack thereof.
Latency, in a nutshell, is the elapsed time between creating an input, and being able to hear the input through your speakers or headphones. The delay is caused due to the processing time taken for the interface to transform the electrical signal from your guitar to an electronic signal that a computer can understand.
Latency isn’t something that was ever a problem on analog interfaces, however, the introduction of digital technology created problems as well as solved them. Early USB interfaces suffered quite badly with latency, particularly entry level models, with high end, rack mounted low latency models costing significantly more money.
The Focusrite Scarlett offers near zero latency when using the direct monitor function, and when running audio through your computer, it’s as low as 2.74ms.
The Universal Audio Digial Volt 2 also features zero latency direct monitoring, and slightly pips the 2i2 at just 2.6ms when running audio through a laptop.
After ensuring low latency, one of the next most important things to consider about an interface is whether it features phantom power. Phantom power is the process of powering a microphone with direct current in order to run active circuitry. This is common on condenser mics, which are staples for recording instruments and vocals.
Both the 2i2 and the Volt 2 feature 48v phantom power, allowing users to run almost any condenser mic without batteries or additional external power supplies.
Final Thoughts on the Universal Audio Volt 2 vs the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is into its third generation, and until now, has remained virtually unchallenged. The Universal Audio Volt 2 has come in and changed the game, though. The differences aren’t so vast that 2i2 owners will abandon their gear and make the switch, but when it comes time to replace or upgrade, they’ll have some serious decisions to make.
The Volt 2 does everything the 2i2 does, plus just a little bit more. Yes, it’s a touch more expensive, but we think there’s definitely enough in the way of extra features in there to justify the additional cost.