Out of the box, this unit is easy to set up and to use.
On my Macbook Pro it was simply plug and play. I already had several core audio applications onboard, and all of them found and accessed the features of the 18i20 immediately. Although there is no driver to download, it is recommended that you download and install the Focusrite Control app to take best advantage of the units many signal routing options! If you have a Windows computer, you’ll have to download and install the audio driver from the Focusrite website before using.
Ten minutes after opening the box, I had used the 18i20 to record a short acoustic guitar piece using a pickup and two microphones. Signals were strong from all input devices, even at moderate gain settings. Monitoring was crystal clear, with no noticeable latency. There was also no unwanted noise - no hisses or buzzing, even though the guitar pickup I used often produces a hum.
For output on this first outing, I used the two main outputs on the rear of the unit connected to a pair of small amplified speakers - I also used one of the two front headphone jacks for monitoring. Both output sources worked fine - strong, steady output, clear sound, no lag.
If you don’t have any audio software on your computer, this unit bundles with Ableton Live Lite software for live performance, and ProTools First (downloadable via provided links) for recording. I did my tests using Apple’s Garageband, MainStage and Logic Pro and all three worked perfectly. The 18i20 also bundles with the Focusrite Red 2&3 Plug-in Suite, LoopMasters sample library, and the Novation Bass Station, for a broad range of enhancements.
There are two monitor outlets on the back panel and eight line outputs for a wide variety of sound routing options!
The 18i20 also works as a standalone mixer. Keep in mind that it is only a mixer, so there is no EQ, and although the mic preamps are rock solid, if you want additional signal processing it will have to be pre, or post mix. Also keep in mind that this is not an amplified mixer, so you’ll either need a power amp or powered speakers for your sound output.
Physically the device is ruggedly built. The movement of the knobs is smooth and easy. Visually, everything on the front panel is clear in bright light. You’ll need a lamp for working on dark stages! The eight LED bar-graph meters are small, but they light brightly and are easy to read in most settings. The on/off switch is conveniently located on the front panel. This is a great feature - several other computer interfaces I’ve had have no on/off options (although most rack mount mixers do!) There are wings on the unit for attachment to a rack.
Pros: sturdy construction, inputs on both front and back of unit, full featured control surface, easy interface with computer, ample assignable channels, multiple output options including two dedicated headphone jacks, two monitor out and eight configurable output plugs on the rear panel. LED barograph indicators on front panel, 48v phantom power available and assignable (two buttons, each controlling 4 inputs!) PAD and Instrument settings. Excellent rack mount layout - also terrific for desktop use! There are also midi and optical ins and outs on the rear panel.
Cons: No onboard equalizer - only an issue when using as a standalone mixer.