The Apogee Duet is an upscale way to get happening with serious audio in places where studios never used to go. The most recent version supports recording on a Mac, it is also compatible with Apple iPhones and iPads.
A word about Duet versions. There are three: the Firewire original and two redesigned Mac versions, without and with iOS support. The current version, reviewed here, is, as stated, the Mac/iOS version. The audio guts are the same as the other Mac device, and these may still be available as trade-ins, used or old stock. If you don’t need the iPad and iPhone support, the same sound quality is available from the older Mac version.
This sound quality is very fine. The Apogee Duet provides everything you need to capture world-class audio into an Apple device. To give you an idea of pedigree, Meghan Trainor, Pink and Dierks Bentley have all used the Duet for released tracks. This is a handy tool for demos, but it has the goods to stand up to the pros.
Setup and Usability
Compared to a typical USB audio interface, the Duet looks and hooks a little differently. Rather than having audio connections built into the body of the Duet itself, it solves input/output by using a breakout cable. This means one connection for I/O on the box, keeping its footprint small. It’s not out of place on a typical desktop setup, beside a mouse. The breakout cable has four connectors: two combination ¼-inch/XLR inputs and two balanced ¼-inch outputs.
Typical setup for the Duet would have powered monitors connected directly to the ¼-inch outputs and then mics or instruments connected as needed to the inputs.
Along with the breakout cable connector, the back panel of the Duet has a power adapter connection and two USB ports. The larger, conventional port is labeled MIDI, and you can attach a USB keyboard through it, for example, to use with soft synths in your computer or iOS device. The small USB port connects the Duet directly to your recording device. It sounds a bit confusing to describe, but if you’ve ever hooked up a USB audio interface, and even if you haven’t, it makes more sense when it’s in front of you.
The top of the Duet is dominated by a big silver wheel, below a cute and informative video screen and two touchpads, the small circles between control knob and display.
Compared to an interface such as the Yahama Steinberg CI1, there are no controls for changing the input impedance or triggering 48V phantom power. That’s handled in Apogee’s Maestro software app, the companion of the Duet, and it’s got much more flexibility than the typical controls of other interfaces. It’s beyond the scope of this review to get into it deeply, but it makes sense and it’s intuitive. I/O details are also reflected on the Duet’s OLED screen, accessed by that control knob. Oh, and there’s a second stereo output set in the form of a headphone jack on the front of the unit. The Duet doesn’t look like it does much, but it does and does it well.
However, the sheer presence of this sample rate usually means the manufacturer is serious about quality. The ultra-high sample rate might be a bit of an Emperor’s new clothes situation, but it’s with a good intent, and when the remaining electronics are usually built to a standard of quality to ensure only the finest audio gets to the detailed sampling. Or so I would hope.
In terms of the Duet’s sound, it’s immediately notable as detailed and rich. Quickly hooking up a number of cheaper mics, they did sound a bit better than through the $120 CI1, as expected. The Duet compares favorably to the sound of a Roland VS-2480 workstation. In fact, one Chinese U87 knockoff mic in my studio had the mojo with the Duet that I haven’t heard out of it anywhere. Other mics showed little, if any difference, but that’s all in its favor. No hint of digital brittleness.
Tracks played back through the Duet held no disappointment either. I could really not tell the difference between playbacks through the Duet or any other routing I could devise. Good sounds, all around.
This is an elegant little box, the Duet is. It’s sleek, it looks purposeful and professional. Due to the nature of lightning connectors, USB cables and the breakout cable, I’d have doubts about the ruggedness of a portable recording rig, but that would apply to any system using those cables. The Duet is nothing but reassuring in its construction and feel.
There is a statistically significant number of complaints regarding the Duet’s reliability, including crashes, gaps in audio and problems with updating OS X software. My current studio setup is PC-based, so all my testing was done with an iPad, and none of these issues were apparent. Users mentioned that USB power from MacBook Pros may be part of the problem.
While there are those who share my concern about the cables, the five-star reviews dominate. There’s much comment on the “Apogee Sound.” I don’t hear anything distinctive, but call it what you want, and it still sounds amazing.
My gut tells me that $600 is a little much for this box. I’d be more comfortable with a $450 price tag, but remember I can only use this with my iPad, so your value equation could be much different if you’re running Macs too. You can’t beat it for size and sound. Take good care of the cables and connectors and the Duet could be a well-loved partner. There’s nothing about its operation that gets in the way of my wholehearted recommendation, though my wallet abstains from voting.
Based on the number of user reviews, there are a lot of Duets out there. Have you got one? How has it worked for you? Drop a note below, and take a minute to sign up for Hear the Music updates, delivered to your inbox.