Building on the success of the original Duet, while taking into consideration customer feedback, Apogee has set a new standard in A/D conversion for home and project studio with the Duet 2. Simply put, after several years of working at home with an original Mbox, opening my first session with the Duet 2 was akin to listening to the song with brand-new ears.
The Duet 2 is housed in a handsome aluminum body, with a full-color OLED screen for metering and menu navigation. The controls consist of one big, all-purpose knob, and two touchpads that are assignable to a number of functions (mute, dim, sum-to-mono, meter clear, and a headphone source toggle) via the included Maestro 2 software. The Duet 2 has the same understated, simple design aesthetic of recent Apple products, and it looks quite nice on my desk at home.
I currently work all over NYC in a number of different studios, with projects dictated by extremely varied budgets. I do a considerable amount of work from home, and prior to my purchase of the Duet 2, my home studio was always the weakest link in my city-wide signal chain. I'm of the belief that one can work with just about any realistic monitoring configuration, as long as you learn how your setup translates to the real world. But with my Mbox, I could never trust that what I was hearing at home is what I would hear when I took my tracks out into the world. With the Duet 2, I can now track and mix with the confidence that my audio will hold up under close scrutiny once it leaves my apartment. On my first few mixes done with the Duet 2, I was concerned that the converters were a touch glassy, with a noticeable boost around the 15-17 kHz area. But after rigorous testing, listening to my tracks in a number of different locations, I think that really what's happening is the Duet 2 is actually just letting me hear the upper frequencies in a way that I never could before. But that openness doesn't just apply to the top end of the frequency spectrum; I can hear well- defined mids and a clear bottom-end that were previously unattainable. I'm now able to apply EQ and other processing at home in a way that makes sense to me, and I would even posit that the Duet 2 has increased the value of my plug-in collection infinitely.
Tracking with the Duet 2 is also a pleasure. Apogee has included their well-known and gently-effective soft limiter (selectable via the Maestro 2 software), and the two preamps are uncolored and wide-open, with a gain of up to 75 dB. I love to use Neve and API preamps and SSL compressors on my big-studio sessions, but my home studio is a meager one, anchored by a Groove Tubes Brick preamp,
my workhorse iMac, and my Duet 2. The fact that I no longer have to make excuses for my home-recorded tracks is not insignificant, and while I would never claim that this signal chain could compete with the aforementioned big-money items, I would argue that any lacking in fidelity is certainly not coming from the A/D converters in the Duet 2.
Audio quality aside, there's still more to love about the Duet 2. It's remarkably stable - I can disconnect and reconnect from my computer, while running any number of audio programs at will, and the Duet 2 audio driver takes over effortlessly. I should note that I'm still using Pro Tools 7 at home, so I can't verify that this holds true for PT 9 or PT 10, though the Apogee rep with whom I spoke claims that it should work, and one would simply need to reselect the Duet 2 as Pro Tools' audio device. And those touchpads are wonderful! Both the sum-to-mono and mute features prove useful to me on a daily basis and are so effortlessly integrated into my workflow.
If at this point you're considering looking into purchasing a Duet 2, I would strongly recommend you resist the urge to find an aftermarket original Duet for a cheaper cost. Apogee has completely redesigned the converters for the Duet 2, and they are modeled on the bigger, badder, Symphony I/O (Tape Op #87), though they are not the same. There are other changes from the original as well. Where the Duet utilized a FireWire 400 connection, the Duet 2 will connect via USB 2.0 (with an optional DC power supply included). There's lower latency in the newer model, and the speaker outputs are now balanced. Finally, the Duet 2 is capable of sample rates up to 24 bit, 192 kHz; the first model could only go up to 96 kHz. And those touchpads, new to the Duet 2, are pretty dreamy.
My complaints are nitpicky. I had spent some time with the M-Audio Fast Track Pro prior to my purchase of the Duet 2, and I could conceivably find myself missing both the MIDI and S/PDIF connections that had come in useful on several occasions. The included breakout cable (featuring two Neutrik Combo inputs and two speaker outputs) adds to the clutter of my desk, though there is an optional Breakout Box available for purchase if you really want something cleaner. And finally, despite my praise of the Duet 2's plug-and-play stability, I do find that sometimes when I connect it to my computer, it won't ever get past the "initializing" logo on the OLED screen. But when that does occur, I simply disconnect the device, then plug it in again, and the problem is usually solved. (Apogee claims a new driver solves this problem.)
Perhaps the best bit of praise I can give is the following. I've recently begun pitching my own music to major label A&R reps, and those pitch meetings have been stress- inducing events for me. But with the Duet 2, I don't get any nasty surprises in the office - no muddy lows that weren't there before, no unexplained drop of 5 kHz on my snare hits, and no undesirable glass on a female vocal. I just hear what I heard at home, and the Duet 2 has established itself as a completely trustworthy part of my home studio signal chain. If you're serious about your audio work, but don't need a whole rack of top-line conversion in your home or project studio, the Duet 2 should be one of the first options you consider. ($595; www.apogeedigital.com)