Review: Apogee Quartet Desktop Audio
Are you a performing songwriter and Apple devotee looking to upgrade your recording setup? Perhaps you have a one or two input recording interface and would like to capture your duo or band in a more organic live setting? Or maybe you simply have outdated gear. If so, make the new Apogee Quartet your command central and don’t look back.
Apogee Digital has been at the forefront of digital recording for the last 25 years, and is always at the top of its game with high-end studio products, from the AD-8000 converter to the Symphony I/O interface. The release of the Duet audio interface in 2007, a small unit with a two-input configuration designed for home and project studios, brought Apogee’s quality and reputation to all budding singer/songwriters at a modest price. Since then, the company has introduced other products geared towards this market, including JAM (electric guitar input) and MiC (condenser mic).
The new Apogee Quartet falls somewhere between the company’s Duet and Ensemble units. It features four XLR or ¼” inputs, six balanced outputs and a stereo headphone output, along with Word clock, USB, Midi and optical connectors. The high-quality inputs are built using Apogee’s mic preamps and their renowned AD/DA converters. The six outputs work in several different configurations. In addition to a standard L/R mix, you can opt to run three different stereo mixes in a live setting, or compare mixes on three different sets of speakers, or run a full surround mix. The unit is compatible with all Core audio applications, including Pro Tools 9 and up, Garageband, Logic and Ableton Live.
Let’s talk Feng Shui. This is one mighty fine-looking piece of hardware! Its sleek design and die-cast aluminum will provide an aesthetic appeal that will look great next to your Macbook Pro. It’s also portable, so you can take it out on the road to record live shows. You’ll want to give it extra TLC though – it’s so pristine looking you may not want to subject it to the rigors of setup and teardown. There’s no need for a breakout box of dangling wires as in the Duet 2, as the Quartet’s raised height places all the connections within the unit itself. A big plus goes out to Apogee for angling the unit for easy viewing of the meters. Not having to lean over to read levels and thus create user fatigue (which in turn lessens your musical mojo) makes this functional design decision a nice bonus.
The Quartet features the same AD/DA converters as the Duet 2, so if you’re a solo artist or just record by yourself, the Duet 2 (or any two input unit) may be enough for you. However, when pricing the Duet 2 and its optional breakout box versus the Quartet, the extra inputs, outputs and general flexibility of the Quartet make it an easy decision. Especially for those times when your buddy comes over, inspiration hits, and you’re left dangling a cord with nowhere to go.
For our test purposes, we wanted to see how easy it would be for a singer/songwriter to record a demo with more than two inputs used simultaneously. And more importantly, how good would it sound? We opted to go straight from the Quartet into Garageband, which is bundled on any Mac computer (in our case, a Macbook Pro, Version 10.7.5, 2.4 ghz Intel Core iP5, 4 GB ram).
Before you start, you’ll need to download Apogee’s free Maestro 2 software, which acts as your mixer and I/O control center for setting levels. If you’ve had any experience with computer recording, Maestro 2 is very intuitive with only a slight learning curve.
In my opinion, any DAW, whether it’s Pro Tools, Garageband or Logic, is not the barometer of what makes a good recording. Great sound emanates from the AD/DA converters, preamps and clock stability- all crucial in getting a pristine recording. And at this price point, you’d be hard-pressed to find better hardware than the Quartet.
For our demo, we ran a Taylor 814ce direct into the Quartet’s preamps and played the guitar using different dynamics- hard strumming, soft strumming, fingerpicking and single-line riffs. Our second guitar was a Gibson J-100 with the LR Baggs Anthem pickup system playing open-E bluesy licks. The Quartet brought out a true and natural representation of each guitar. It’s often hard to get a great acoustic sound without taking the time to either mic or EQ the guitar using outboard gear. However, getting a great acoustic sound (with no jitter) using the Quartet was immediate and effortless, and that’s almost worth the price alone. In both instances, the tone was rich with ample low end, with the high register notes ringing through clearly. Getting a good low end when recording acoustic guitar can sometimes be problematic so it was a joy to get the sound so quickly. On top of that, all the nuances of your playing are accurately captured, which is a testament to Apogee’s famed converters. Our bass player used his 1983 Fender Precision and was very happy with his tight, punchy tone. Our vocals, sung through a Shure SM-7, were clean, round and full with a lot of headroom.
Ten years ago you would have spent an enormous amount of money getting a sound as good as what you can accomplish with the Quartet as your centerpiece. The bottom line is, Apogee’s Quartet provides you with a recording interface at an amazing, unparalleled sonic price to quality ratio.