Apogee has designed Duet to fit the Apple world. At
first glance, it's just a brushed-aluminum, paperback-sized case with a big knob on top. There's also a 1/4" headphone jack on the front, along with LEDs to indicate phantom power to two microphone inputs. The back includes a FireWire port and a port for Duet's breakout cable. The breakout cable itself has two 1/4" instrument inputs, two XLR microphone inputs, and two 1/4" output jacks.
This device sounds great and couldn't be much easier to set up and use. I began by downloading and running the 8 MB installer kit from Apogee's website. Upon restarting, I plugged Duet into my Mac's FireWire port, and the included Maestro controller software launched. The process probably took two minutes. The only snag I encountered was ultimately no big deal, though it did send me briefly chasing my tail. Duet's straightforward manual recommends use with Logic Pro 7.2.3 (which I'm running) or later. It also describes the Apogee Control Panel, which will be familiar to Ensemble users. This control panel allows convenient manipulation of Duet directly within Logic or GarageBand, without having to go outside the program to visit Maestro or its simple low-latency mixer. Logic's ability to control Duet is only available within Logic 8, however. Once I understood this, I resolved to stop procrastinating and upgrade Logic soon. Apogee promises that the user guide shipping with new Duets will include updated comments regarding Logic compatibility.
In the meantime, I returned to Maestro. In addition to allowing use with other Core Audio-compliant software apps like Nuendo or Digital Performer, Maestro offers more flexibility than Logic's control panel. One Maestro convenience is control of output muting behavior. Users can configure Duet's jog wheel to toggle between headphone output and monitor output with a single tap, while Maestro's heads-up display capability reflects all changes on-screen. Duet can also serve as a shuttle wheel for your song position line and control up to four MIDI parameters. These features are boons to any DIY recordists who engineer their own takes, juggling instruments and computer controls.
Maestro benefits aside, Duet's real selling points are its preamps and converters. These are the same as those included in the larger Ensemble (Tape Op #62), with 75 dB of gain on the mic preamps. Designed with laptop systems and affordable monitor speakers in mind, Duet's output is set to -10 dBV. Duet provides up to 24-bit, 96 kHz I/O.
I'm currently mixing live audio for Ping's first DVD release and have been overdubbing rhythm guitar and background vocal parts. Though I'll hit my Avalon or Manley preamps first for final tracking, for testing purposes, I plugged straight into Duet and then straight into my MOTU 828mkII to compare their raw sound. Duet was superior. Singing through a Neumann SM 2 (I'll dumb down to the trusty Shure SM58 later), my vocal had better presence and was more lifelike at the top end. Results for my Telecaster when plugging in directly were similar, though I'd add that the lows also seemed better defined.
I would prefer that the breakout connector's wires were more robust, and digital I/O would be a plus. However, given Duet's price point and noticeable improvement in sound quality over gear with which I've been reasonably satisfied, it's hard to complain much.
I evaluated Duet at The Happy Club, where my system runs on a Dual 2.3 GHz G5 Mac. Here, the Ensemble is probably better suited. If users want a more budget-conscious solution, however, Duet's a great option for a scaled-down rig. And it's the ideal solution for stereo field recording to a MacBook Pro. I was drooling over one of those already, but now I've really got the itch!
($495 MSRP; www.apogeedigital.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.