APOGEE QUARTET AUDIO INTERFACE
Apogee raises the bar with an extremely competent audio interface not only for your Mac, but for your iThing too!
Review: Brad Watts
Apogee. The company’s been doing a darn good job for a bloody long time. Since 1985 in fact. Apogee Electronics was kicked off by Australia’s own Bruce Jackson(R.I.P.), Christ of Heidelberger, and the then Soundcraft USA president, Betty Bennett. The company made its name with its antialiasing filters which put the company streets ahead of the competition in the field of digital audio conversion. At the time, digital audio was still in its infancy, and Apogee came to the rescue, capturing audio digitally without the harsh and brittle aspects encountered in competing systems. In the early 1990s I recall heading to a nearby studio to use the AD-1000 converters (20-bit) to transfer some jazz recordings from 1/4-inch tape to DAT for mastering and compiling to CD. My lowly Digidesign converters simply weren’t up to the task, but the Apogees tackled the job with aplomb, capturing all that magnetic tape goodness and corralling it onto such a despicable medium as 16-bit digital audio tape. Apogee gear has been executing fabulous conversion tricks such as this for 28 years now. Like I was saying; not a bad effort.
In more recent years, the company has filtered its technology (see what I did there?) to both professional conversion equipment and audio gear aimed at the prosumer/enthusiast gang — in other words; the gear has become cheaper (and better). Along the way we’ve seen the professional Symphony system become a mainstay for many studios and composers, and ‘bedroom’ systems such as the Apogee Ensemble become revered interface choices. Apogee knows many would appreciate its brand of audio digitalisation sitting in their racks, and came to the party with affordable units such as the Apogee One and Duet — both aimed at the hobbyist, yet still offering pristine audio capture and reproduction. Joining this happy throng, and slightly upmarket from the aforementioned ‘hobbyist’ audio interfaces, is the Apogee Quartet. But enough of the background, let’s see where the Apogee Quartet fits into the recording scheme.
APOGEE OF YOUR ‘i’
Sporting the same aesthetic witnessed with the Ensemble, Duet 2, and One, the Apogee Quartet is designed to look fabulous sitting beside your Apple computer, be it MacBook, iMac, or Mac Pro (and iPad for that matter— but I’ll get to this news shortly). This may seem a little odd at first, until you realize Apogee designs audio interfaces strictly for the Apple computer market — to run Apogee gear you need an Apple computer. It’s as simple as that. So what’s the iPad news I speak of? Well, in the spirit of innovation Apogee is known for, the Quartet is its first professional style audio interface to function in cahoots with your iPad, or indeed, iPhone. It’s even been given the MFI tick of approval (Made Fori-Stuff), which means, unlike most other interfaces, it will also charge your iOS device, and enable software control of the hardware via the Apogee Maestro app.
So far the Quartet will run with iOS applications such as GarageBand, the somewhat incredible Auria, MultiTrack or any Core Audio compliant application. Apparently all that’s required is the iOS DAW application and a Lightning to 30-pin adaptor if you’re using more recent Lightning endowed iOS devices. After a degree of research and head scratching, I realised the cable required was not included with the Quartet I had for review. Unfortunate, as I really wanted to give the unit a try on my iPad mini, and even rushed out to get a 30-pin to Lightning adaptor (paying the extortionate OTC price for it as well I might add). I tried various gender changers and cable adaptor doo-dats, all to no avail. Existing Quartet owners will need to contact their local Apogee distributor for the 30-pin to mini USB ‘iOS cable’, which, I’m told, should be available in about six weeks time — along with the Apogee Maestro app for iOS. That said, compatibility with iOS devices is reasonably broad, and includes all Lighting style models, along with the iPod touch (4th generation), iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPad (3rd generation), iPad 2 and original iPad. All memory configurations get a guernsey.
CONNECT ME UP
Getting back to the Quartet unit, Apogee has continued with its bulletproof build ethic, using a solid steel enclosure with all connectors firmly bolted into the rear panel. these include four combo XLR/jack inputs to the unit’s microphone preamps/line inputs, with a further eight inputs possible via the two ADAT optical inputs — two are provided for SMUX functionality for up to 96k recordings (you can record at up to 192k via the analogue inputs). There’s also a word clock output, mini USB 2.0 for connecting to the host machine be that an iOS device or Mac, and a standard USB port for MIDI. Outputs are all analogue, which is a mild disappointment— an S/PDIF or optical output would have been nice. As it stands the only way for audio to escape the Quartet is via the six jack outputs, which can be configured in a few ways; either as a six-channel surround set, as separate feeds to headphone or stage monitoring, or as three sets of outputs to multiple pairs of speakers.
Control of the I/O is via the top panel which sports rather flashy OLED displays and a single, large aluminium knob. Above the knob are three buttons for instigating any of the three sets of stereo outputs, and to the left are four buttons for selecting any of the four mic preamps/line inputs. The displays do look very nice, and provide input and output level meters, headphone levels, etc. My only niggle is they are perhaps a little dull — they’re difficult to read under bright lighting. Integration with OS X is positively seamless — of course you’ll need an Intel-based Mac.
As for the sound quality there is nothing to complain about at all. Apogee wrote much of the book on ‘musical’ sounding A/D and D/A conversion and the Quartet upholds this tradition. With A/D conversion offering a dynamic range of 114dB (A-weighted) and D/A providing an extremely healthy 123dB of dynamic range, the Quartet’s vital statistics are certainly worthy of the ‘professional’ tag. In a nutshell, this could be the nerve centre of a very capable recording system when combined with extra ADAT connected I/O, or indeed, piggybacked with an Apogee Duet or One device. Use it with your desktop machine at home, and take it on the road with your iPad or iPhone. With its stunning innovation, and superb recording and reproduction attributes, the Quartet is worthy of your immediate inspection. Well done Apogee.