Apogee's Duet (US$495) and Quartet ($1395) are the respective steps up from Apogee's ONE, a single input interface with a built-in condenser mic. You can check out the review of the ONE here, but suffice to say it's a high-quality interface for those looking for a compact and portable recording solution.
With Apogee's premium reputation and price, I wanted to put the Duet and Quartet through a real-world recording environment test, with people who really know what to expect when it comes to recording audio. To help me do this I enlisted the help of three professionals who work in the music business day-in and day-out.
Jonathan McMillan, a Canadian born, London-based mix and mastering engineer based at Blue Pro Mastering. Matt Weeks, London-based session musician and producer at WeeksWeeksWeeks. And finally, Paul Evans, a London-based session drummer, producer and programmer. With these three guys, there are years of professional recording experience in hand. The four of us spent the morning at Smokehouse Studios to see just what the Duet and Quartet have to offer.
Where the ONE is a sturdy and solid piece of kit, there's no doubt that the Duet and Quartet take things to the next level. Both interfaces look and feel professional and premium. Where the ONE is made from plastic, the Duet and Quartet are encased in aluminum akin to Apple's Mac lineup.
Via breakout cable, the Duet has 2 inputs (XLR and 1/4") and left and right (1/4") outputs. The inputs operate at 24-bit/192kHz recording. There's also a headphones output directly on the Duet interface, totaling 4 outputs with independent speaker and headphone outs. This multitude of outputs can be controlled and customized in Apogee's Maestro App. For example, a drummer could send himself a click track while sending the backing track to the front-of-house. All the spec details on the Duet can be found on Apogee's website, here.
The Quartet has 4 inputs ((XLR and 1/4") and an additional 8 channels of digital input via optical connection (ADAT/SMUX), if you have an additional analog-to-digital converter kicking around. The Quartet has 6 balanced (1/4" TRS) outputs, which means you could hook up three different stereo monitor sets. All the spec details on the Quartet can be found at Apogee's website, here.
Both interfaces have MIDI input via USB -- which the ONE missed out on -- high resolution OLED displays, assignable touch pads to speed up your workflow, and USB 2.0 connectivity, which Apogee says provides more than enough bandwidth to handle the talk between interface and Mac.
Both interfaces use Apgoee's ESS Sabre32 32-bit Hyperstream DAC with Time Domain Jitter Eliminator technology, which Apogee says "offers unequalled dynamic range, ultra low distortion, and unmatched audio clarity free from input jitter." You can learn more about the technology here
Finally, as with the ONE, both interfaces are iOS compatible, bringing Apogee's high-fidelity recording to the world of iOS. Both interfaces come with the required connectors and adaptors to connect to older and newer iPads and iPhones.
The goal of our test was to see how well the preamps and converters of the Duet and Quartet faired against a reference benchmark, which was Smokehouse Studio's Cadac E-Type console preamp running into a Radar iZ Corp. We ran the Duet and Quartet directly into Macs and the Cadac preamp went into the Radar converter. We recorded a vocal and guitar take through each of the interfaces using a Nuemann u47 for the vocal and a Nuemann u87 on the acoustic guitar. We then listened to and compared the results through the studio's monitors.
At times it felt like we were splitting hairs, but we could all agree on the following conclusions: We found that while the Duet held up well as a 2-input interface in its price range, the Quartet produced noticeably better results. We found the Quartet had a clearer and more detailed quality than the Duet. Of course, the Quartet is more than double the price of the Duet, so in some respects that makes sense. However, we were disappointed to find that the Duet wasn't simply a 2-input version of what the Quartet has to offer. That being said, in no way did the Duet produce a sub-par sound. It's just that the Quartet had more to offer when it came to audio fidelity.
As expected, against the studio's Radar converters and Cadac preamps, the Quartet didn't quite match up. However, there was discussion at length as to just how much of a difference there was and the different kinds of sounds that were produced. Naturally, the Cadac and Radar are world-class hardware, where as, as Apogee states, the Quartet is a class-leading product.
There's no doubt that the Duet and Quartet are fantastic recording interfaces that work seamlessly with OS X (and iOS). Both Matt and Paul said they'd happily use either on a recording project, where as Jonathan was a little more picky. However, out of the two we all agreed that we'd go for the Quartet on a project if we had the choice.
If you're in the market for a 2-input interface, the Duet is a fantastic sounding and beautiful looking interface that produces high-quality results. It's super easy to use and has a wonderful on-board control and metering system.
For those looking for two extra inputs and three stereo outputs for monitoring, the Quartet is steep in price, but worth every penny. We were truly impressed by the sound produced by the preamps and converters found in the Quartet. Coupled with the enhanced on-board control and metering option, the Quartet is a stand out interface. Honestly, you could get more inputs for less, but you'd likely struggle to match the quality the Quartet offers.