Auditions: Snapshot Product Reviews

Jul 1, 2008 12:00 PM


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Desktop I/O for Apple Logic

The Apogee Duet is a $495 FireWire bus-powered, stereo I/O audio interface with dual mic preamps. Capable of sample rates up to 96 kHz, and exclusively designed to work with Apple's OS 10.4.10 or 10.5.x, Duet takes its sound and styling cues from Apogee's rackmountable Ensemble interface, but shrinks it into a sleek aluminum package a bit smaller than a VHS videotape. With one large endless encoder knob, you can control the preamps' input gain or output volume, or even generate MIDI continuous controller commands. Pressing the encoder switches between the settings, and LEDs indicate Duet's current functionality. Dedicated seven-segment stereo meters above the control knob show input or output levels.

After installing the drivers and restarting my MacBook, getting started required little more than plugging the included FireWire cable between my computer and Duet. I confirmed a message asking if I wanted Duet as my main system audio output. Connecting my beyerdynamic DT-770 headphones into the unit's integrated ¼-inch headphone jack, I fired up iTunes and was impressed with what I heard. While listening to my usual reference mixes, it was immediately apparent that high-frequency detail, transient articulation, low-frequency definition and positional imaging were greatly improved in comparison to the MacBook's direct headphone out.

Unfortunately, to gain access to I/O beyond the headphones, you must dangle a 20-inch breakout cable with plastic-molded cables and wiring that reminded me of something made by Radio Shack. A 15-pin, VGA-style connector connects to Duet; the other end sports four ¼-inch (two inputs/two outputs) and two XLR input connectors. The ¼-inch, unbalanced -10dBV line outs can also be configured for instrument level output. I really wanted to see balanced +4dBu outputs for driving long lines in live situations.

Making settings such as choosing the balanced/unbalanced inputs, applying phantom power and inverting input polarity is handled using the included Maestro software. Maestro launches when Duet is plugged in, but Logic users will appreciate that they can directly access most of the same features within Logic.

As Duet fits so nicely into my laptop bag, I always had it with me and ended up using it in more applications than I expected to. I tracked percussion overdubs, recorded voice-overs and played soft synths through it, and it always sounded great. I did however, have one problem: On unplugging the FireWire cable, my computer locked up. Apogee tech support was quick in responding and said that they were aware of an issue with FireWire interfaces causing problems in computers with more than 2 GB of RAM. I hope this gets resolved because other than this issue, I loved Duet. (At press time, Apple released a software update and Apple FireWire audio driver, Version 242, which fixed the problem.)

The bottom line? Duet truly delivers great sound in a portable package. Certainly, Mac laptop owners will love Duet, but even desktop users who just want great stereo sound produced through two exceptional mic pre's and converters should take a listen to this little powerhouse.

Apogee Electronics, 310/584-9394,
— Robert Brock


DS-V10 Dynamic Vocal Microphone

Equation Audio is a relative newcomer to the microphone market, having been established approximately five years ago. The company offers a complete line of dynamic and condenser mics, including its popular handheld, the Dominion Series DS-V10 ($179 list). This dynamic, supercardioid vocal model employs Neodymium magnetic materials and has a 40 to 17k Hz response. Its zinc body is coated with a rubberized, matte-black finish intended to reduce handling noise. A steel-mesh grille protects the capsule from harm while reducing plosives. Maximum SPL is rated at 140 dB.

I used the DS-V10 on vocals in a number of live sound situations, and took it for a quick spin in the studio. Without saying anything, I put DS-V10s onstage for Richie Castellano (keyboard and guitar player for Blue Öyster Cult) in his two mic positions. It was comical to watch him sing into the mic while trying to read the brand and model of the mic. Castellano fell in love with the sound of his voice on the DS-V10, and so did I. It's clear that someone on Equation Audio's engineering team did their homework. The mic is voiced such that it requires little (if any) EQ to get presence in the mix without harshness. The DS-V10 produced a smooth response yet maintained clear articulation across the frequency range.

The DS-V10's off-axis rejection was outstanding and I noticed a significant drop in leakage of keyboard and guitar amps into his vocal mic. In fact, the pattern of the DS-V10 is so tight that if you're speaking into the mic on-axis and turn your head, your voice all but disappears. This could be a double-edged sword: The mic rejects stage spill very effectively, but a singer who doesn't stay on-mic will experience drastic dropouts when he/she moves off-axis.

Proximity effect on the DS-V10 is gentle. When Castellano sings a falsetto part, he gets right up on the mic, and if there's too much proximity effect, his voice can become muddy. Not so with the DS-V10, which maintained clarity under these circumstances. The DS-V10's pop filter works extremely well when a singer's mouth is right on the grille, but (surprisingly) less so when the mic is pulled back around six or eight inches, where plosives are still audible.

When you add solid construction and a finish that helps minimize handling noise to the DS-V10's sonic attributes, you come up with a vocal mic that's a clear winner.

Equation Audio, 800/575-4607,
— Steve La Cerra

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