Last month, we covered Propellerheads’ rather sweet-looking Balance audio card and declared it to be probably the most stylish soundcard we’ve ever seen. The bold design and slick look made this a fair boast, but then what turns up on our testing bench, but Apogee’s Duet 2 soundcard? Now, for a second time in successive months, we have to declare that this is the most stylish piece of soundcard technology we’ve seen, and definitely challenges the Balance for the top accolade of best-looking soundcard. The Apogee Duet 2 is a minimalistic slab of audio genius that just oozes beauty and style, and hidden behind the basic, unassuming look is a powerhouse of pure sonic magic.
Style and Substance
Apogee’s Duet 2, at first glance, is very similar in looks to the original Duet audio card — a slightly larger than handheld unit with a large single silver control knob dominating the front panel. But the new upgrades are apparent. Gone is the all-silver look of the original Duet, now replaced by a black front panel. It disguises the rather neat colour OLED screen that visually feedbacks audio information (such as the levels of the audio) that is passing through or coming into the unit. There are two user-assignable touch-pads on either side of the central knob that the user can harness to control various elements of the Duet 2 soundcard, like muting the inputs or clearing the meter view: very slick. These can be manual assigned by the user via the supplied Maestro software (which allows even more detailed control of the unit).The various inputs/outputs can be selected by pushing down on the silver knob, whilst the volume levels can be tweaked by simply rotating it — a very simple and intuitive procedure.
However, as they saw, it’s not all about the looks, and inside the Duet 2 can be found the new improved preamps and analogue-to-digital converters.
Apogee are well-known in high-end studio circles as providing pretty amazing sound quality, and their soundcards can be found in some of the most prestigious studios in the world, so it goes without saying that what the Duet 2 delivers can be considered world-class. In fact, the internal wizardry that is found in the device is the same that can be found in their high-end boxes; the only difference is that the Duet 2 is a two-input, four-output configuration, and not 18 like some of their other top-end soundcards.
Top Draw Performance
The Duet 2 in use delivers the highest possible audio performance; it is simply miles apart from the competition. The difference in sound is truly unbelievable. DJ Mag pulled up an old track we’d been working on, and revisited the mix using the Duet 2. The first thing that was so noticeable was the difference between the audio quality that was coming through our speakers before we even started to look at the mix. Needless to say, by simply changing one element in our set-up, the results were infinitely improved. Secondly, the detail of sound made the mixing process far easier as DJ Mag could hear all the elements of the mix that had been previously blurred.
Apogee may not be a name that many DJs recognise, as most have probably been using soundcards from companies like Native Instruments, but as mentioned, studio boffins will be at home with them. So in a swoop of pure marketing genius, by making the Duet 2 available as a portable high-end soundcard at a decent price, it opens up the market place to DJs who want serious studio grade sound quality. The Duet 2 can be used with DJing software like Serato’s Itch, Traktor or Ableton Live — actually anything — and being simple to install and use means it won’t take a degree to get top-end sound at gigs.
The Duet 2’s OLED screen is a thing of beauty, simplistic and functional. The graphic display is clear and easy to read. Connecting the Duet 2 to equipment and speakers is done via a breakout cable, which is supplied. An alternative breakout box will be available soon.
The Duet 2 is a breeze to use, looks good and sounds amazing. What’s not to like? Nothing for Mac users — note, this is for Macs only. PC-based DJs or producers looking for a world-class portable audio card will have to feast their eyes elsewhere, which is a shame, but hey, that’s life.
|Ease of Use||10|
|Value for Money||8.0|
Most probably the best performing portable soundcard we’ve seen and by far the easiest to use without compromising the excellent sound quality.
None, other than PC users are not included in this party.
Apogee’s original Duet soundcard was welcomed into the recording world with open arms, due to the pro performance it delivered. The Duet 2 surpasses this and takes it to a new level. A must for DJs and producers who require the best quality sound for their portable or even home set-ups.