The Apogee Duet – Review

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By Michael Liang

Ask any self-proclaimed audiophile and they will likely tell you they would love to take their entire Hi-Fi system with them when traveling for business or for leisure.  Today I’m going share a gem of a product with you that should appeal to anyone who loves good sound, at home or even on the go.

Professional audio company Apogee is renowned for their high-performance digital and analog convertors. They have recently released a compact magical box called Duet.  Although the official name is “Duet for iPad and Mac”, it does support iPhone and iPod Touch running iOS 7 and above.  If you’re rocking a Windows PC or an Android device and have no plans to play in Apple’s walled garden, this is probably where you could stop reading as the Apogee Duet is for Apple setups only.

Like every Apogee product, Duet for iPad and Mac was designed for audio professionals and musicians.  The full range of pro features it offers can often look intimidating for even seasoned audiophiles.  What’s important to audiophiles, of course, is the sound.  At the heart of Duet are an audiophile’s favorite ESS Sabre32 32-bit Hyperstream DAC with Time Domain Jitter Eliminator.  The Duet offers a powerful headphone amplifier with 1/4” output capable of driving renowned headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800, AKG K702, Beyerdynamic T1 and Audeze LCDx headphones.  Did I mention Duet’s main power source is from a single USB cable?  For additional oomph when rocking out, connect the included power supply to an AC outlet and Duet will kick into high gear.  And as a bonus, it can even charge the battery of a connected iOS device.  How cool is that?

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Upon unboxing the Duet you get a quick start guide, custom Apogee Duet Break-out cable with IN/OUT XLR and TRS connectors, a Mini-USB to Type-A cable and an universal global voltage power supply with an array of adaptors for various countries.  Mini-USB to Lightening and mini-USB to 30-Pin cable for Apple iOS devices are sold separately ($29 ea.).  Apogee also includes a courtesy USB cable.  Naturally, the audiophile in me prefers to use a higher-grade cable like the Audioquest Diamond.

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Setting up the Duet was easy with the help of Apogee’s Maestro 2 app from the Mac AppStore or iOS AppStore.  The app allows you to assign inputs and set the output bit depth/sample rate.

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Once set up, you can quit Maestro 2 app and not touch it again until you want to re-assign the in and outs.  From here on the OLED screen and the centrally located knob is your friend.

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I turned to my trusty (and now a familiar face among headphonephiles) Sennheiser HD800 to do initial sound check on Duet.  Referencephiles rejoice!  Duet equals the garbage in, garbage out characteristics of the HD800.  I was not at all surprised by my initial reaction to this because Apogee converters are found in nearly every respectable recording/mixing studios.  Another exercise I almost always do to test for background noise on an amplifier.  I put on a zero bit (total silence) track with the volume set at MAX.  With my reference IEM (in-ear monitor) the Sony XBA-4 (8 Ohms quad drivers, balanced armature), I listen for hiss.  Many solid-state amplifiers have walked this path and fallen hard.  Although Duet’s 10 Ohms output impedance doesn’t ideally suit my reference IEM.  I am happy to report that Duet is dead silent.

Playing Pink Floyd’s The Wall album though the current darling of portable headphones the Beyerdynamic DT-1350 can be summed up with the word “immersive”.  The music comes through with depth, focus and energy.  What impresses me the most is the well-defined imaging.  Stereo separation is unbelievable on a product at this price point.  You can get completely lost in the music and lose track of time.  I’ve lost sleep staying up late on a workweek revisiting albums and tracks I love.  Apogee should to slap a “you might lose sleep” warning label on the Duet!

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Duet is not only fantastic for the avid traveler; it is great for the bedside as well.  Connect your favorite iOS device (I recommend the iPad Air for the task) to Duet on a nightstand and you’ve got a HiFi listening system.  For the $649 retail price, Duet is hard to beat in features and sound quality.  I highly recommend it.

On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BB2QBLI/

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  • David C. Snyder

    Great review. Folks with headphones that are a bit easier to drive (eg, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and similar) should consider the ifi nano iDSD DAC. It does not do recording, but the included battery makes it more mobile friendly and it converts a crazy list of formats (PCM, DXD, and DSD) natively. I’ve not had a chance to A/B the sound with the Apogee, but a good friend has both, and now that he has the nano, he takes it everywhere he goes. For bigger cans, the ifi micro iDSD is worth considering also.