Thoughts on the Apogee Duet

Apogee Duet FireWire Interface

My Apogee Duet Firewire audio interface arrived.


  • It looks great. It’s bigger than I thought it would be, but still a nice size. With it’s simple controls and silver, rounded body, it looks right at home with my MacBook Pro.
  • Ease of set up. No problems. Downloaded the latest software package from Apogee’s site, installed it, rebooted, and then plugged in the Duet. A dialog came right up asking whether to use it as the default audio device and Logic Express found it with no problems either.
  • Ease of use. I worried about it only having one knob, but it seems like that’s all I need. Pressing the knob toggle between the two inputs and the outputs which is quick and easy. Having meters and clip indicators on the unit is really nice when adjusting levels. Another nice feature is that adjustments on the unit are mirrored in a transparent popup on the Mac display, which is a nice touch.
  • Sound. Very pleased. Being the pessimist that I am and not being a person with “golden ears”, I wasn’t expecting to hear anything really noticeable, but I was pleasantly surprised. The most noticeable thing was the lack of apparent noise when there’s no signal and listening with headphones. It’s so dead quiet that I wondered several times if it was still in the signal path. And music played through it sounds great too.
  • Crashes. Unfortunately, OS X did crash once when I plugged it in, but in fairness, this is almost certainly Apple’s fault, since it also happened with a PreSonus Firebox (see this post) (and I’ve seen reports of it happening with the Inspire 1394 as well). C’mon Apple – fix this. This is OS X; not Windows. This reminds me of Windows 98 crashing on Bill Gates when he plugged in a scanner at Comdex 1998.

Audio interfaces

Ah, what audio interface to buy for doing some simple 2 channel recordings into my MacBook Pro?

There’s the Presonus Firebox ($300), which I borrowed from a friend. Sounds pretty good, although the preamp gain (45 dB) is not stellar and no inserts for sticking something like a compressor. It seems to work pretty well in Leopard, although it sometimes disappears and I’ve had to replug it or reboot the computer to get it to show up again. Bus-powered, but you have to plug it in when you first connect it; otherwise it flashes and makes a loud, disturbing clicking sound. No meters; just clip LEDs. Most annoyingly, sometimes when I plug it into my MacBook Pro with OS X 10.5.2, I get a kernel panic:

      Kernel loadable modules in backtrace (with dependencies):>0x5b493fff

Presonus has a higher-end model called the FireStudio Project, which looks nice on paper. Goes for $500. More channels (more than I need). Better preamp gain (60 dB vs. 45 dB for the Firebox) and dynamic range on the A/D converters (114 dB vs. 108 dB for the Firebox). Has inserts and meters and an interesting-sounding software bundle. Unfortunately, it seems to have a lot of problems with Leopard and/or the new Firewire chipset on newer Macs:

Another option is the Apogee Duet ($500). I can’t find reliable-looking specs on the preamps or A/D converters (BSW claims the preamps have 75 dB of gain), but there seems to be a favorable impression of the sound quality (similar to its big brother, the $1900+ Ensemble) and the usability and aesthetics. Haven’t heard any complaints about Leopard or general stability. It looks pretty nice and even has meters with 7 LEDs. No inserts though. And it’s Mac only and Core Audio only. I have a Mac, so that’s not too bad, though it might be nice to have something that works with a PC in case I’m out of the house and jamming with other folks.