Useful Stuff to Know » article » Apogee Duet 2 Review » Jun 24, 11:34 PM

Apogee Duet 2 Review

This is an informal review of the Apogee Duet 2 audio interface, which I have been using for two weeks now. I’ll go through each feature and share my observations.

Key Features

  • Cast aluminum body with black glossy plastic top. The aluminum looks brushed (but is actually cast) and matches the aluminum finish on Apple products. Plastic top is very shiny and picks up dust and fingerprints easily.
  • Large aluminum wheel button. Rotates with gentle clicks, with each click increasing the volume/gain level by one unit. Button itself can be pushed, which switches between settings for the 2 inputs and 2 outputs. Push is sturdy feeling. The button has very slight wobble on some Duet 2s, which is within manufacturing tolerances.
  • OLED screen, measures 2.5 by 3 cm. Resolution seems around 110 dpi, pretty basic but does the job. Looks to be situated about 2mm beneath the surface of the plastic top. Screen is not too visible in direct sunlight, but easily visible in regular room electric lighting. The contrast is lower than shown in the promo pictures, and you can see the black background of the screen as a dark gray against the surrounding black plastic. These are minor cosmetic observations.
  • Meters on the screen. These are very useable and respond accurately to the input/output signals.
  • Headphone out. Apogee is revered for its DAC (digital-to-analog-converters). Compared to the Mac Mini line out, or Focusrite Saffire Pro headphone out, the Duet 2 is like going to 320kbps MP3 from a 128kbps MP3. The difference is that noticeable. It’s remarkably smooth and balanced sounding without any harshness anywhere, and yet without rolling off any highs or lows. An incredibly honest and true sound without color. Unlike harsher sounding DACs, these won’t give you (as much) ear fatigue. Also has very good image separation among various layers in music, so that you can hear each thing clearly. The DAC on the Duet 2 will reveal any flaws in a mix. Also, the Duet 2 has more power to drive headphones, despite being USB instead of Firewire; I doubt there are any headphones it lacks juice to drive to loud volumes.
  • Balanced Out. These are 1/4” outputs for studio monitors. Balanced means the signal is less prone to noise over longer cable lengths. The DAC is the same as for the headphones, just as clear and detailed and smooth yet accurate.
  • Maestro 2. This is the software app used to route Duet 2 signals and set functions internally. Straightforward to use, not much to it. Single window and slicker looking design compared to Maestro 1. Should be mentioned that if you change the headphone volume on the Duet, on the computer a headphone volume icon comes up with the volume bar showing.
  • Breakout cables. Just four output wires this time with the mic and instrument inputs shared on the same connector. The cables are pretty sturdy.
  • Preamps. Just as good as the DAC. Does 75dB of gain without hiss. An SM7B sounds very crisp and clear on this. Phantom power is activated via Maestro 2 setting. I would imagine that two SM7B’s plus a power-hungry headphone might require use of the external AC power supply (included) but I haven’t tested or encountered such a situation yet.
  • Touch buttons. Two buttons, outlined as faint gray circles between the wheel and the screen. Each can be assigned a function: mute, clear meters, sum stereo to mono, and dim (turn volume down). Stereo to mono is convenient if you like mixing in mono. Very easy to just tap the button instead of having to navigate to that function in your DAW. The buttons do work with the protective film that the Duet 2 comes with, even though the instruction manual says to remove the film for best results. The film, by the way, is a soft transparent vinyl-like “sticks to glass without glue” kind of film, and not that milky thin film you see on certain cheap electronics. Long story short, you can leave it on if you wish, although there are some bubbles in it.
  • Sample Rate goes up to 192 kHz. I never go above 44.1kHz so haven’t tested this yet, but it’s there.
  • Overall form factor. Measures 6.25 × 4 × 7/8 inches and seems rather handy, like a pocket field manual. Due to the plastic top I wouldn’t just throw it in a bag though…would maybe get a small padded case or wrap a hand towel around it.

Subjective Impressions

It is absolute worth the money if you want maximum quality in the smallest package with the best design. That’s basically Apple philosophy, which Apogee shares. This, versus other similar or cheaper priced interfaces which may have many more ins and outs and bells and whistles, but which are clunky and don’t do any one thing extremely well. If all you need are two inputs, if you’re on a Mac, and if you can afford the $595, then the Duet 2 is a sure choice. The next best thing in terms of portable interfaces is either an RME Babyface ($100 more, does some things better and some things worse than the Duet 2) and the Metric Halo ULN-2 Expanded ($2200, truly a step up from the Duet 2).

How does it compare to a $200-$300 interface? Well, the latter is “pretty decent” compared to the Duet 2 which is “amazingly excellent.” The difference is large enough that you can and will hear it, and other producers and artists will hear a difference in the result, but the difference is not so large that the average listener who casually hears your tracks without A/B’ing between them will notice.

In other words, you can do pretty well with, say, a Focusrite Saffire Pro unit. Just if you want a step up, increased portability, faster workflow, and the comfort of knowing you have pro level quality converters, then the Duet 2 won’t disappoint. Personally I value the DAC the most, both for regular listening and especially for tracking and mixing, because what good are accurate monitors or accurate headphones if the DAC is inaccurate?

Audio pros know that $595 is actually on the low end of the scale for equipment since single-channel preamps can run up to a couple thousand bucks! So everyone seems to agree the Duet 2 is one of the biggest bangs for your buck out there right now.