UPDATED Review: Apogee Quartet Audio Interface

The Quartet stood out in terms of design, it wasn’t rack mount last most of the other audio interfaces. Its certainly pleasing to look at and operate on the desk. Continue reading

Tue 22 Jan 2013

Stefan Stanciu


Background

We recently upgraded our monitoring facilities in our editing studio from stereo to 5.1 surround.  Our stereo rig, an old Citronic amplifier and pair of speakers was showing signs of age and slight distortion, possibly due to dry joints.  Since 5.1 recording was on the cards for this year’s Camp Meeting, we need a method of monitoring in 5.1.  I suddenly realised that our Mac Pro doesn’t have 6 audio outputs so that we can connect all the relevant speakers.  A sound card was needed.

So the minimum spec required was for it to have 6 outputs, sounds pretty simple (and cheap) I thought but suddenly realised most audio interfaces come in with either 4 or 8 outputs.  Not a problem I thought, except for the fact that the majority of 8 channel interfaces were considerably out of our price range.

I looked at Apogee as our head audio technician owns the Duet (two channel interface) and is very pleased with the sound quality.  The Quartet stood out in terms of design, it wasn’t rack mount last most of the other audio interfaces.  Its certainly pleasing to look at and operate on the desk.  I should point out that Apogee work exclusively with Mac.  There is no PC support.

Unboxing was fairly uneventful, just as expected; the main unit together with a power supply and a USB cable.

The unit has 6 outputs via balanced jacks on the rear.  We linked it up to five Genelec 8020B monitors and a Genelec 7050B subwoofer (review here).  The Quartet has no power switch, instead turns on after it is connected via USB.

As a quick side note here – we specifically looked for a USB audio interface and not a Firewire interface.  The reason for this is that we primarily use it to monitor audio while editing video.  Firewire operates at a slight delay by comparison to USB.  When playing video files (with audio) its important there is no delay otherwise the sound and image appear out of sync.

Back to the Quartet.  When powering up the unit emits a range of clicking noises (relays?) from within the unit accompanied with some rather loud popping in the speakers.  Note to self – power up Quartet then power up speakers.  Same applies to power off.  Simple rule really that your amps should be the last thing you switch on and the first thing you switch off.  I did for a minute consider if this rule still applied in the 21st century – apparently it does for Apogee!

After powering up, the next thing is to install the Maestro 2 software.  This is fairly painless and as with most things on a Mac, it just works.  Select the Quartet as the Audio Out hardware in System Preferences and it works.  The patch panel allows choice as to what signal goes to which output and the unit can be configured for 5.1 or stereo operation.  It can also be configured as a speaker switch allowing you to use 3 sets of stereo monitors and switch between them at the touch of a button.

When it comes to inputs, there are 4 XLR/Jack combo connectors as well as two optical inputs.  There is also a midi connector via USB. Needless to say, since we purchased this unit purely for 5.1 monitoring, the inputs have yet to be tested.

Audio quality is excellent and there is minimal background hiss when no signal is present, even when turned to maximum.  Being a Core Audio device, the volume can be adjusted either via the Mac’s keyboard buttons or via the large control knob on the Quartet.  Pushing the knob activates mute.

The Quartet can operate at various sample rates from 44.1kHz all the way up to 192kHz.  However beware of switching sample rates as this causes the unit to reset and the speakers to pop.

Further features include a Word Clock output which is handy for avoiding sync issues when connecting other audio equipment and the unit also has a headphone connector on the side which can operate independently of the speaker outputs.

In conclusion, If you’re Mac based and you’re looking for a desktop audio interface, the Quartet is as elegant as they come.  It looks at home next to any Apple hardware!  The sound quality is excellent especially when connected to good quality speakers and price wise, its fairly competitive considering the features.  Downsides, Maestro 2 software can be a little buggy sometimes and the popping noises can be irritating, other than that its a very nice interface and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with this or similar audio interfaces.

UPDATE Jan 2014: So a year later and many things on my desk have changed.  The first of which is my beloved, trusted, envied 8 Core Mac Pro is no longer here due to a severe stroke causing it to lose its RAID card and SAS Drives and subsequently being retired for being very unstable.  Its been replaced with an ‘all options ticked’ 15″ Retina Macbook Pro which has just 2 USB ports! Yeah shocking i know!  Needless to say a good quality, powered USB 3.0 hub is essential.  A short while later I noticed some erratic behaviour from the Quartet.  Music playback would be jumpy, crackly and exhibited random artefacts.  This got progressively worse and I could only remedy the problem by unplugging the Quartet’s USB cable and replugging again, after which it worked fine for a while.  Last week I was ready to call it quits and throw the Quartet away.  I had tired a variety of different configurations, new cables etc.  The Quartet has its own dedicated PSU so power couldn’t be an issue.  Two days ago I decided to take the Quartet out of the USB hub and plug it directly into the MacBook Pro. Wow!  It felt like I just had my ears syringed!  Night and day difference!  Looking back on the whole problem I don’t know why I didn’t spot it sooner! Never really experienced bandwidth issues with USB just power issues I guess!  So for anyone experiencing similar problems, make sure you’re not repeating my mistakes! Enjoy your Quartet!