Focusrite Scarlett Direct Monitor question - tone

I am noticing lately (as I get more and more into tone) that what I hear while I record the bass part (using Abelton) and the Focusrite Scarlett sounds very different tonally/level wise than what is played back (through the same headphones. A guitar player friend of mine seconded this today when we were chatting.

Is this a function of the Focusrite 2i2 and its more low end status?
Is there a ‘level’ of DI that gets you to an equal representation of recorded/direct monitored sound/tone, or is this just a thing? If just a thing, how do you compensate, if at all, for this?

When I am recording, I always listen to the playback to insure its the tone I want but is frustrating as when I go to record it it can sound quite different.

So when you are recording you are listening to input signal and it sounds differently to what is then played back by your DAW? Even when direct monitoring you hear sound after-preamp and all the coloring happens at preamps and not lately during AD conversion. I know that earlier generations of smaller Scarletts had really colored preamps, but nothing like you describe. Any effects on the channel you record to?

No difference in channels.
I was under the assumption that the Headphone out on the Focusrite was pumping out from the DAW (since the music track comes through), which would make me think that what’s coming out is the output track of the DAW. Is this correct or not?

It depends. If you have Direct monitor switch Scarlett (or mixer M-Audio etc. ) then you have selection between direct (Straight from preamp to headphone amp without even leaving the audio interface) on the other side there’s “not-direct” which routes preamp - AD convertor - USB bus - PC - DAW - Master - back to the DAI - headphones. When you have mix between direct / processed then more you listen to direct -> processed looses gain. But when you have binary switch, then the first applies. Can you try to download Audacity and record to that and then to Ableton and see if there’s a difference?

Isn’t it by any chance 2nd gen 2i2?

Yes it is

There’s two things that make a big difference here - the direct monitoring setting on the DAI and the monitoring setting on the DAW.

The Direct Monitor setting on the DAI (blend knob if you’re lucky, a switch if not) controls how much sound comes directly off the DAI 0-latency post-preamp versus how much out of the DAW playback.

Track Monitor settings in the DAW control whether or not the DAW plays the sound back to the DAI while recording or idling, not playback. This has some latency.

Generally you want DAW Track Monitoring OFF and Direct Monitoring on the DAI ON - mine I bias a bit towards the Direct and away from the DAW.

If both are ON, you will get both through the monitors, with a few milleseconds of latency from the DAW monitoring - leading to a doubled bass sound with phasing.

That’s generally not what you want. Though if you like that sound, buy a phaser or chorus effect :slight_smile:

But they do sound different, and that might explain what you saw. The recorded track will not be doubled with phasing.

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I quickly plugged in my old 2nd gen Scarlett Solo and it colors a lot. I don’t know about the level, but the sound can be inherent coloring of the interface. The issue is that this coloring would be both in direct and monitor signal because it’s happening on preamp. Maybe it’s something what Howard has in mind.

The monitor in abelton on all tracks was off.
The direct monitor switch only effects the monitor out on the back (which I have going to monitors). Maybe the issue is what the headphone out is actually sending.

I assume it was all coming from the DAW since that’s the only place the backing track is, but per Howard, if the monitors are off in abelton, then howbis the backing track coming through as well?

Track Monitors only affect it while recording that track, not playing back.

Here’s the Ableton help article. See “When should the monitor be set to “Off”?”

But “off” is what you want so you should be good there.

Hmm, silly question but are there any effects or amp sims on the track in Ableton? Any plugins in use at all? Obviously direct monitoring on the DAI will be the dry bass with nothing processed from the DAW.

No effects whatsoever.

Here is a sample.
Recorded on my iPhone in front of one of my monitors connected to the Focusrite monitor output.
All sound is from the Focusrite direct monitor.
I hit record in Abelton, monitor OFF on the track.
First pass is me playing, second pass is the recording I just made playing back.
Excuse the crappy playing, just started learning this tune.
The static is the amp sim ('59 Bassman) from my Studio 40.

Look at the waveforms my iPhone captured, they are different.

Definitely different. And I would hesitate to blame Ableton here. Very odd.

I don’t know Ableton very well but I would check to make sure there is no EQ or compressor on by default on the master track. That would be weird though.

Wait, how does that come in to the picture at all? I thought this was all through the monitors? Or are you going DI out from it to the DAI or something?


Nothing on master track at all.
The track that I export out of Abelton matches the playback vs. the live monitoring from my experience. Which leads me to think it is how the Focusrite is doing something, but why it would do different things in record vs. playback is odd unless it has to do with their ASIO driver.

That definitely seems odd.

What is the sampling rate? 96KHz? Shouldn’t matter (48 vs 96 vs 192 should not have nearly this kind of effect) but if it is less than 48 that might be an issue.

44100, the default in the driver config.
There is another ‘switch’ in the Sample Rate area of the Focusrite driver config called "Default SR & Pitch Conversion with two settings, Normal and High Quality…High Quality is selected.

This is Abelton’s help box on this setting…

Shouldn’t be an issue.

Here it is again with the High Quality switch off…

You tell me what you think before I tell you what I think…

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Sounds much closer. I wonder if the interpolation is adding some kind of compression effect.

Yes I agree it sounds much closer as well.
So it is either the driver or Abelton, depending on where that setting lives.

Try going to 96KHz or higher.