The Duet is a portable audio interface with control functions built directly into Apple’s Logic Pro and GarageBand software. It works only with Apple computers, mimicking the Mac’s elegant design with its brushed metal housing and “iPod white” breakout cables. The breakout system’s Medusa vibe is somewhat at odds with the box’s elegant looks; still, the unit is compact and FireWire-powered for portability.
The breakout cables include two XLR mic ins (each with phantom power and up to 75dB of gain), two 1/4" high impedance ins, and twin 1/4" outs for powered speakers. The box itself sports inputs for the I/O connector, FireWire cable, and headphones, as well as a large, multifunction encoder knob and tiny LEDs. Two rows of LEDs on top act as input or output level displays, depending on the function chosen by pushing the encoder knob. Other top-mounted lights indicate which level, input gain or output level, is currently controlled by the top panel encoder, and a couple on the side let you know when the phantom power is engaged for each channel.
If you don’t use Logic and your GarageBand is lower than the recommended version 4.0, you can still have an on-screen control panel using Apogee’s included Maestro software. Once installed, anytime you plug in the Duet, Maestro will automatically open its control panel and mixer screens, asking you if you want to choose the Duet for your Mac sound output or retain your current audio settings (you can always choose Duet within your DAW).
On its Level page, Maestro’s control panel provides three virtual encoder knobs that let you choose XLR Line +4dBu, XLR –10dBv, XLR mic, or instrument level for each input, and line out or instrument amp out for the output. Here you can also reverse the phase of the inputs, add phantom power, and mute outputs. The Advanced page lets you specify whether headphones, speakers, or both get muted when you click the mute button, provides four virtual MIDI controller knobs (controlled with the hardware knob), and can send MIDI control data or Song Position data to software applications. A separate Mixer page contains sliders for balancing direct monitoring with the DAW signal, and overall output volume controls. You can also bypass the Maestro Mixer and control the outs directly from your DAW.
The Maestro software and drivers installed easily, and once installed, I just plugged in the Duet, a set of headphones, and was ready to go—simple. First I did an A/B test, listening to iTunes alternately through my M-Audio 1814 interface (used for all comparisons) and the Duet. The 1814 sounds good, but through the Duet the separation and definition of individual parts was distinctly better.
Booting up Ableton Live I recorded a shaker and an acoustic guitar using a Soundelux mic and a Shure SM57, then captured a Danelectro electric guitar overdriving an Orange Tiny Terror head powering a 12" Eminence speaker. I recorded everything first through the 1814 and then through the Duet; the shaker’s transients were less distorted through the Duet, the rhythm was more defined, and more right-hand finger attack on the acoustic guitar was revealed, as well as a tighter low end. Only the distorted electric guitar seemed slightly preferable through the 1814, as it sounded warmer and smoother. Actually, combining the crystalline sound of the Duet with the creamier but murkier M-Audio device produced the ideal electric tone.
The Duet makes the dream of an affordable Apogee come true. Compared to many other interfaces, the Duet is on another sonic level, with its amazing definition and minimal distortion. I would prefer a slightly larger box that accommodated the I/Os, and unlike the 1814’s multiple outputs, the Duet’s single set of stereo outputs won’t work for those requiring separate monitoring ability for live performance. Still, these are quibbles about an interface that offers legendary sound at a real-world price.
Product Type: Portable audio interface for the Macintosh enthusiast.
Target Market: Mobile and home recordists who have lusted after heretofore-expensive Apogee sound.
Strengths: A must for those seeking big studio sound in a small package at a great price.
Limitations: Not optimal for live performance. A few debatable form over function issues.
List Price: $495