BASIC AUDIO INTERFACE SETUP [with Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen]

Written By Kyle Mathias  |  Audio Basics, Recording 

In this post, I’m going to walk you step-by-step through the process of setting up your audio interface for the very first time.

I’ll show you how to connect your interface to the DAW in your computer, I’ll show you how to connect speakers to your interface, and I’ll demonstrate how to record a microphone and a guitar.

I’ll use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface for this demonstration, but the steps in this video will apply to nearly every interface on the market.

Step 1 – Connect Audio Interface to Computer & Install Drivers

The first step is to unbox your audio interface, connect it to your computer, and install the latest drivers.

Unbox & Connect Audio Interface to Computer

When you open the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, you find the interface itself and the USB cable for connecting it to your computer.

The first step is to connect the interface to your computer using the included cable.

Download Latest Audio Interface Driver Software

You may need to download the most up-to-date driver for your interface. You can find this easily with a quick search.

In this case, I’ll search “Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 drivers”. The first result is a link to the manufacturer’s ‘Downloads’ page that lets me easily search for software related to my interface.

The Focusrite Control app is the only download available for the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. However, some interfaces will require the most up-to-date driver to work properly with your computer.

If you’re using a new interface or picking up an old interface for the first time in a long time, it’s worth a quick search to see if there are any updates to the current driver on your computer.

Step 2 – Configure Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) with Audio Interface

Now that the audio interface has been connected to your computer and your drivers are up-to-date, it’s time to select the audio interface as the input and output device for your system so that audio will play out of the interface rather than your computer speakers.

Select Audio Interface as Operating System Audio Device

If you want all of the programs on your computer to play audio out through the interface, select the speaker symbol in the corner of your screen. For mac users, search “Sound” in System Preferences.

This will allow you to control which speakers are used for audio from web browsers or music applications.

Select your interface as the audio output device.

Select Audio Interface as Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Audio Device

You may need to additionally select the audio interface as the input and output device of the software on your computer called a digital audio workstation, or DAW.

This process is very similar in most DAWs. I’m going to show you in Reaper, but it’s probably a similar process no matter which software you’re using.

In Reaper, I choose ‘Options’ in the top menu bar and then ‘Preferences’. In some software, ‘Preferences’ can be found in the ‘Edit’ drop down menu. You want to set the audio hardware for the DAW to the audio interface you’re using.

Create Tracks in Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

The next step is to create two tracks in your DAW. You can usually find this option under ‘Track’ or ‘Add’ in the menu bar.

I’m adding two mono tracks so that the inputs to the audio interface will be recorded separately. On one of the mono tracks, I’ll select Input 1 and on the other mono track, I’ll select Input 2.

If I configured it so that both physical inputs – Input 1 and 2 – on the audio interface recorded to a single stereo track, I would probably end up with one input on the left and one input on the right and I don’t want that. That’s why I’m choosing to select two mono tracks and configure it so that Input 1 is routed to Track 1 and Input 2 is routed to Track 2.

Step 3 – Connect Audio Interface to Studio Monitors (or Headphones)

Now that we’ve connected the audio interface to the computer, it’s time to get audio in and out of the audio interface. The first thing I’ll do is configure the output devices – my headphones and my speakers.

Connect Headphones to Audio Interface

If you just want to use headphones, simply plug them into the headphone jack on the front panel.

This small knob controls the output level of the headphones.

Connect Studio Monitors to Audio Interface

This larger ‘Monitor’ knob controls the output level of the quarter inch outputs on the back panel.

I can use a quarter inch TRS cable to make a balanced connection to both of my speakers.

Test Audio Output through Audio Interface

At this stage, you can test the audio output by playing audio from the web browser or another program on your computer, such as a YouTube video.

Step 4 – Record Microphones with Audio Interface

Now it’s time to record. First, I want to make a basic recording of vocals and guitar.

Connect Microphones to Audio Interface

I’ll use Input 1 to record a Shure SM58 as a vocal microphone and I’ll connect a condenser microphone to Input 2 for recording acoustic guitar.

If your interface has a ‘Mic Level / Line Level’ switch, switch it to “Mic Level”.

Engage Phantom Power (If Needed)

The condenser microphone needs phantom power, but the SM58 doesn’t need phantom power.

There is only one switch on the 2i2 that turns on phantom power to both inputs, but don’t worry – phantom power won’t damage a dynamic microphone like the SM58.

Before recording a microphone, make sure to turn the ‘Monitor’ knob all the way down to prevent a feedback loop from forming between the microphone and your speakers. You’ll want to use headphones for this step.

Set Record Arm on Tracks in Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

Inside your DAW, you’ll need to arm the tracks that you plan to record. This can be done by selecting the red circle next to the track.

When you arm a track, you’re telling the software which track (or tracks) you want to record to. You can record to a single track or multiple tracks. In some software (especially ‘Lite’ or ‘Limited’ versions), you won’t have the option to record more than one track simultaneously.

If you’re looking for a good DAW on a budget, check out Audacity or Reaper. Both of these can be used for free and offer multitrack recording.

Set Preamp Gain Levels

Once both circles are illuminated, start to increase the preamp gain knob on each microphone while singing or playing the guitar.

Turn it up until the meters on the screen peak at no higher than -12 dB Full Scale or dBFS. Aim for the signal level to average at about -18 dBFS.

Turn On Direct Monitoring

You may notice a significant delay when listening through the DAW. This can make playing impossible.

The 2i2 has a cool feature called ‘Direct Monitor’, which routes the microphones directly to the headphones with very low latency. I’ll switch this function on so that I can hear the microphones through the headphones.

If you’re using the direct monitor feature on your interface, mute the tracks within the DAW so that you don’t hear an echo.

Press Record & Playback

Once you’ve set your levels and you see the signal on each channel meter in the DAW, it’s time to press record.

After you record, you should see waveforms like this. Rewind the track, turn off the record arm on each channel, and press play.

If your audio device settings in the DAW are correct, you should hear the recording playing through your speakers. If you don’t hear your recording playing through your speakers at this point, you should go back to Step 2 and make sure that the audio output device for your DAW is set properly.

Step 5 – Record Electric Guitar Overdub with Audio Interface

Okay, so I’ve got a basic guitar and vocal recording. Let’s say I want to go back and overdub an electric guitar on top of these two tracks.

Create a New Track

First, I’ll make a new track. Let’s select the input of this track as Input 1 on the interface.

I’ll unplug the old microphones and turn off phantom power, plug in my electric guitar directly into Input 1 with a quarter inch TS instrument cable. I’ll make sure to set the line instrument switch to “Instrument”.

Set Record Arm on Track and Set Preamp Gain Level

The process is the same as recording a microphone from this point. This time, I’ll only arm the track I’m recording, which is Track 3.

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