The Duet measures 16-by-10-2.3 cm with a matte aluminum finish. The controller/selector knob, two eight-segment LEDs and a single output indicator decorate the top. The front side hosts a 1/4-inch headphone jack and phantom power indicators for each input.
Although Apogee made inroads into project studios with the Mini-Me, Mini-DAC and Ensemble, it is not normally associated with entry-level recording. Its AD-16x, DA-16x, Big Ben and Rosetta series have been go-to tools for high-end studios. However, on the heels of the Ensemble, a very professional interface that began Apogee's close partnership with Apple, Apogee has released the diminutive and affordable Duet.
The Duet is an elegantly designed 2-in, 2-out FireWire audio interface/controller with very tight integration with Apple's audio production software. That “Apple” design ethos of sublime simplicity is at the core of the Duet. It provides two channels of pristine I/O at sampling rates as high as 96 kHz and not much else. Considering the multitude of products that promise the world, there is something to be said for one that does only a few things but does them very well.
Hooking up the Duet is a breeze. It ships with a single installation disc that includes the Maestro mixer/router application. Setup is a simple matter of installing the software, connecting the hardware and getting to it. I tested the unit with Mac OS 10.4.11, and it also supports the latest revision of 10.5 Leopard.
On the back, a single FireWire port joins the main connector for a breakout cable that includes the majority of the unit's connections. For inputs, there are two ¼-inch/hi-Z jacks as well as a pair of XLRs. The breakout cable also includes two ¼-inch unbalanced outputs, and each of the connectors is clearly labeled with raised lettering that is molded into the protective coating of each plug.
Since the unit is primarily controlled through software, it's possible to leave two mics and two line-level sources or instruments connected at all times and simply toggle between them with the software. Users of Apple GarageBand, Logic, Soundtrack, etc. can also control a number of features within the host app, and the main control knob can be mapped to as many as four MIDI controllers. Once you have the knob mapped, you can simply press it and step through the main parameters (volume, input gain, etc.) and make adjustments accordingly.
THE POWER OF TWO
I used the Duet as my main audio interface for several weeks. It was an absolute pleasure. Logic Studio is my main DAW, and the two play together extremely well. Duet's simplified interface and the ability to quickly access various input/output parameters proved to be a huge workflow enhancement. I tried it on guitars, basses and line-level sources, and the sound quality was excellent. The Maestro application made monitoring quick and easy; it was a breeze to jump between instruments, to throw Logic into loop record and to overdub parts.
The preamps also proved to be well worth the price of admission. I've used a Mini-Me and Mini-DAC to track and mix the majority of an album, and fell in love with the warm mic pres and pristine converters. Those attributes are alive and well in the Duet. I tested the pres with Blue Bluebird and M-Audio Solaris mics on male vocals with excellent results. My recordings were clear, punchy and uncolored — exactly what you want from an all-in-one unit. Serious recordists will still want a dedicated preamp or a channel strip for critical recordings, but for portable use, you'd be hard pressed to find a better sound.
Overall, the Duet is fabulous and does exactly what it claims to do. My only qualm is the breakout cable, which I can't see surviving the rigors of a tour. The white-on-white labeling of the inputs and outputs could also prove frustrating in a dark club. This is unfortunate, especially for Apple MainStage users.
Logic and GarageBand users who need a low-profile interface with boutique-quality audio will love the Duet. The software/hardware integration makes it feel like an extension of the software. Reason and Abelton Live users should enjoy its superior sound quality. Although there is only one FireWire port, which limits daisy chaining; it supports only 96 kHz audio; and its limited number of outputs makes surround work impossible, the Duet is a stellar piece that could serve the needs of most Mac-based musicians. Its ease of use and sound quality make it one of the best out there.
DUET > $495
Pros: Pristine sound quality. Low-profile, bus-powered design. Controllable with Apple music production apps.
Cons: Flimsy breakout cable. Mac only.
Mac: G4, G5 or Intel/1 GHz; 1 GB RAM (2 GB recommended); OS 10.4.10 or later