The Apogee Duet for iPad & Mac audio interface ($595 direct) brings stellar recording and playback capability to your iPad, iPhone, or Mac. Unlike the previous Duet 2, the new Duet has built-in iPad compatibility, which required some internal hardware changes. Granted, our Editors’ Choice, the Focusrite iTrack Solo, which does the same thing, is much less expensive. But the Duet for iPad & Mac gives you your money’s worth, thanks to its beautifully detailed audio quality, software integration, and ease of operation; you almost can’t put a price tag on this level of performance.
Design and iPad Integration
I’ve already outlined the details in my review of the nearly identical Duet 2. Hit that review for a basic overview. Here, though, I’ll focus on what makes the Apogee Duet for iPad & Mac different—and it’s more than it appears, considering that the all-aluminum and glass enclosure, front panel, OLED display, and controls are exactly the same.
The iOS device integration is noteworthy in that it’s a direct digital connection certified by Apple, without the need for the Camera Connection Kit, which only works with iPads, not iPhones or iPod touches. When connected, the Duet also charges iOS devices (although you’ll need to plug in the bundled AC adapter), and offers iPad software control with Maestro, the company’s low-latency mixer that works the same way on both iPads and Macs. In the hardware, iPad certification requires certain chips inside the peripheral device; it’s more than just a firmware change, which is why existing Duet 2 owners can’t add iPad connectivity without buying a whole new unit.
The Duet for iPad and Mac comes bundled with a cable loom with combination XLR and 1/4-inch instrument inputs and a pair of stereo 1/4-inch outputs, a usefully long 8-foot USB cable, an AC adapter, and an iPad cable. Unfortunately, the bundled iPad cable out of the box only works with older iPads, iPhones, and iPod touch devices with 30-pin connectors, not the newer Lightning Connector-equipped models; you’ll need to pick up Apple’s $29 Lightning-to-30-pin Adapter, which you can get at any Apple Store or online.
For this review, I tested the Apogee Duet for iPad & Mac with a 1st-generation Apple iPad, an Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch running OS X 10.8.2 (Mountain Lion), and a quad-core Xeon-based Mac Pro running OS X 10.7.5 (Lion), with a variety of programs including Avid Pro Tools 10 on the Mac and Apple GarageBand on the iPad.
Performance and Conclusions
Because the instrument and XLR cables are combined, you can’t, say, leave a pair of stereo microphones connected while plugging in a guitar, the way you can with the Focusrite Forte. You also need the Duet’s cable loom attached when driving a pair of studio monitor speakers, since the outputs aren’t built into the enclosure like on the Forte.
That said, I’d rather have all of this than the Forte’s key limitation, which is that you need the AC adapter plugged in whenever you’re recording with phantom power, or whenever you need more headroom out of the headphone amp; the Duet doesn’t have those limitations, and is much more of a portable audio interface for remote recording as a result, since you can run it from a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air’s USB port.
The built-in mic preamps offer 75dB of gain range; Apogee says the company optimizes the mic pre circuit at each stepped gain setting to capture more dynamics and frequency bandwidth. Just as with the Duet 2, the Duet for iPad & Mac sounds incredible, during both playback and recording. Apogee makes a big point of the Duet’s exceptional total harmonic distortion (THD) and noise floor figures, which mean a lot more here than they do in, say, the consumer electronics world, where stereo equipment manufacturers have been known to play with those numbers rather liberally.
In the real world, if you listen carefully, you can really hear the difference between the Duet and other interfaces—even against a direct competitor like the Focusrite Forte. The Forte sounds great, mind you; it records and plays back clean, pristine audio. But with the Duet, you get another level of midrange and high-end detail, both through the mic preamps, when tested with a Rode NT-1A large diaphragm condenser mic, and during playback, where you pick up a little more stereo separation and detail on individual instruments. You can make, mix, and monitor excellent recordings on either interface, but the Duet sounds just a bit better overall, in a variety of situations.
Recording on the iPad was also as easy as I expected; I installed the free Apogee Maestro app, which offers a similar interface to the desktop version. I plugged in the same mic, made sure phantom power was enabled, dialed in an appropriate level of gain, and recorded audio with GarageBand on top of MIDI virtual instrument tracks without a problem. Reliability was also rock solid throughout, on both test machines. I ran into some trouble with the earlier Duet 2, which may have been indicative of something up with my test systems, but the Duet for iPad & Mac ran flawlessly during the review—mimicking the behavior of the original FireWire-based Duet.
At the moment, the Apogee Duet for iPad & Mac is the best recording interface you can buy for the iPad. As far as computer recording is concerned, it’s a little less clear, thanks to the host of competitors that have rushed to the scene since the original Apogee Duet proved a success following its launch in 2008. The Forte is an obvious choice if you’re recording on the PC platform, thanks to its Windows compatibility, and it sounds really good in its own right, if slightly different than the Apogee Duet. Propellerhead Reason fans should have a look at the Propellerhead Balance, which offers clean sound and tight integration with Reason. Finally, if you’re on a strict budget, you’ll do well with the Editors’ Choice Focusrite iTrack Solo which brings clear recording to PCs, Macs, and iPads at a low price, even if it lacks the level of detail and transparency that both the Duet and Forte offer.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc