Focusrite Scarlett Gain Problems? 4 Issues (Solved)

The Focusrite Scarlett is an affordable, yet powerful audio interface that has become a mainstay in the music production world.

However, some users have unfortunately experienced gain problems with their Scarlett.

If that’s you, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll dive into 4 issues you might be facing, and get you some solutions to get you back to making music!

Your Gain Might be Too Loud

When it comes to recording audio, finding the right gain control settings on your audio interface is crucial.

In the past, with analog recording, setting levels as high as possible was necessary to compensate for tape hiss and the limited signal-to-noise ratio.

However, with digital recording and advancements in technology, the approach to gain control has evolved.

In this article, we will explore the ideal gain settings for your interface and how it impacts the quality of your recordings.

Loud is Not Always Good

Like most things in the music production world, gain levels need care and attention. Finding the sweet spot is key!

In the digital realm of music making, recording at excessively high levels is unnecessary and can even introduce distortion and clipping.

This is because, unlike analog tape machines, which had a lower signal-to-noise ratio, modern audio interfaces offer superior dynamic range and low noise floor.

For instance, Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2 2nd Generation interface boasts an impressive dynamic range of 106dB (A-weighted) and an Equivalent Input Noise measurement of -128dB (A-weighted).

What all this technical jargon means is that recording “hot” is no longer necessary to overcome noise issues.

Determining the Right Gain Level

So we’re in the digital age and audio interfaces have evolved, so how do we now get the best results from our Scarlett’s gain levels?

The gain required for the best input levels depends on various factors, including the source’s loudness, the type of microphone used, and the microphone’s distance from the sound source.

Louder signals, such as those from drums or guitar amplifiers, often require minimal amplification, while quieter signals like vocals or acoustic guitars need more amplification.

The sensitivity of the microphone also plays a role in determining the appropriate gain level.

Dynamic microphones for instance require a much higher gain level, whereas condenser microphones (which are traditionally louder and in need of phantom power) require a much lower gain level.

RELATED: Focusrite Scarlett Too Quiet? 4 Quick Fixes

It’s All in the Mix

Once you’ve recorded your audio at the right level, it’s time to move onto the mixing stage.

To achieve a balanced and dynamic mix, it’s best to record at more conservative levels, peaking around -12dBFS. ‘Peaking’ refers to the highest level your recorded audio lands at – the loudest it gets.

This approach allows for headroom (space or ‘room’ until the audio gets too loud and starts to peak) in case of sudden loud notes or passages during recording.

Similarly, during mixing, aim for a similar peak level on the master bus to maintain headroom for adjustments.

By avoiding excessive levels during recording and mixing, you have more flexibility and control over the final mix.

You Need To Master Your Audio

If you’ve made sure to record audio with the correct gain staging and enough headroom, you’re probably wondering why it’s still softer than commercially produced mixes.

This is something called ‘perceived loudness’ in the industry. Commercial mixes often have a more pronounced and impactful sound, appearing louder than their individual counterparts.

This boost in loudness is primarily achieved during the mastering stage of the audio production process.

Mastering is the final step in the production chain, where a mastering engineer applies specialized techniques to enhance the overall sonic quality of a recording.

While recording and mixing stages play crucial roles in shaping the sound, loudness is not solely determined during those phases. Mastering engineers have specific tools and methods at their disposal to maximize the perceived loudness of a mix without compromising its overall quality.

So that’s mastering! But how do we do it?

Techniques to Getting a Good Master

During the mastering stage, one of the key techniques used is the application of compressors and limiters.

  • Compressors: Compressors are used to control the dynamic range of the audio, reducing the difference between the loudest and softest parts. By compressing the dynamic range, the overall volume can be increased, making the mix sound louder.
  • Limiters: Limiters are often employed alongside compressors to prevent any peaks from exceeding a certain threshold, ensuring that the mix remains within a specific loudness range without clipping or distortion (remember peaking).

The goal of using compressors and limiters in mastering is to reduce the dynamic range of the mix, resulting in a higher average volume level.

This increase in average volume creates a sense of loudness, making the mix stand out and compete with other commercially released tracks.

It’s About Quality

With this in mind, it’s important to note that achieving loudness through mastering is not solely dependent on the mastering engineer.

The quality of the recording and mixing stages plays a significant role in how well a mix can be mastered for loudness.

A well-recorded and well-mixed track provides a solid foundation for the mastering engineer to work with, allowing them to enhance the overall sound while maintaining clarity and fidelity.

If you’re stuck comparing your tracks to some of your favorite artists worldwide, you’re bound to be disappointed with the volume!

But don’t stress, the role of mastering is essential in maximizing the perceived loudness while maintaining the quality and balance of the mix.

Once you learn how to use compressors, limiters, and other mastering techniques, you’ll be able to get your recordings to a competitive level!

You’re Having Gain Trouble with Your Microphone

Having trouble with low microphone input levels on your Focusrite Scarlett audio interface? Don’t worry, we’re here to help you troubleshoot the problem.

If your Scarlett interface isn’t picking up the microphone signal unless the gain is maxed out, follow these troubleshooting steps to resolve the issue:

Phantom Power: Make sure that the phantom power (labeled “48V”) is engaged. Many condenser microphones require phantom power to function correctly.

Input Selection: Also make sure that you have selected the correct input (mic or line) on your Scarlett interface. Check that the input matches the type of microphone you are using.

Input Pad: Check if there is a pad switch on the input of your interface. If enabled, it can reduce the input level and cause low signal pickup. Disable the pad if it’s engaged.

Mic Pad: Some microphones have their own pad switch. Ensure that the pad switch on your microphone is not activated, as it can also affect the input level.

Cable Check: Inspect your microphone cable for any faults or damages. A faulty cable can cause intermittent or weak connections, resulting in low input levels. Try using a different XLR cable to rule out this possibility.

Mic Troubleshooting: Test your microphone with another audio interface or recording device to see if it functions properly. This will help identify whether the issue lies with the microphone itself.

Each microphone has its own individual qualities, so it’s important to research your mics’ specific characteristics in your user manual.

Your Scarlett’s Preamps Might Not Be Powerful Enough

Affordable audio interfaces like the Scarlett Solo and 2i2, unfortunately, do not offer powerful preamps, especially since they’re USB powered.

So if you’ve been struggling with insufficient volume levels from your microphone, even after maximizing the gain on your audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, there’s a helpful solution you can try: external mic preamps.

These specialized devices, such as the Cloudlifter or Triton FetHead, are designed specifically to amplify the signal from your microphone.

The main purpose of an external mic preamp is to provide clean and transparent amplification of the microphone signal before it reaches your audio interface.

Setting it up is quite straightforward, here’s how:

  1. First, connect your microphone to the input of the external mic preamp.
  2. Then, connect the output of the preamp to one of the input channels on your audio interface, such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
  3. To avoid any distortion or clipping, make sure to adjust the gain settings on both the preamp and the audio interface until you achieve the desired signal levels.
  4. By placing the external mic preamp between your microphone and the audio interface, it acts as a helpful intermediary device that takes the low-level signal from the microphone, boosts it to an appropriate level, and delivers it to the audio interface.

This allows your audio interface to capture the signal with improved clarity and sufficient volume.

Microphone preamps are specifically designed to preserve the integrity and fidelity of your microphone’s sound while offering the necessary signal boost.

This can be particularly beneficial when working with dynamic microphones, especially when you need to capture accurately low-level audio sources.

It’s important to note that external mic preamps are not always necessary for every recording setup.

Many audio interfaces, including the Focusrite Scarlett series, already have built-in mic preamps that provide sufficient gain for a wide range of microphones.

However, if you consistently find yourself needing more gain or if you often work with particularly low-output microphones, adding external mic preamps to your recording chain can be a valuable addition.

General Pros and Cons of the Focusrite Scarlett Gain

Here are some general Pros and Cons of using Focusrite Scarlett’s Gain.

Pros

The Focusrite Scarlett offers high-quality preamps with clean and transparent signal, along with a wide gain range which allows for flexible usage with different types of microphones.

The Scarlett also offers a low-noise floor, which means it’s designed to keep added noise or interference to a minimum.

The inclusion of direct monitoring is also a great perk, allowing for real-time monitoring with zero latency.

Cons

  • The Focusrite Scarlett can’t be pushed loudly when recording.
  • It can be finicky with different microphones.
  • The audio needs mastering to reach adequate volume levels.
  • The Scarlett’s preamps might be powerful enough for your needs.

Final Thoughts

Remember that louder isn’t always better!

It’s actually beneficial to leave some room for your audio to breathe and maintain clarity throughout the production process.

Now that you have a better grasp of how to record and manipulate audio effectively, go ahead, unleash your creativity, and enjoy bringing your musical ideas to life.

Sources

How high should I set the gain control on my interface?