Apogee Duet 3 Review: Professional Grade

Photo from Apogee

The Apogee Duet 3 is the most recent audio interface in the Duet series. Portable and optimized for Mac, if you are using Apple products and need this interface for travel, you can stop reading the review and buy the Apogee Duet 3 now. This is the best interface for you, if its approximately ~$600 price tag is within your budget. The quality is entry-level professional grade, and it is very portable. It would be ideal for touring musicians or podcasters who want an audio interface with them at all times. If you want to learn more, keep reading the rest of the review!

What is the Apogee Duet 3?

The Apogee Duet 3 is a portable audio interface, meaning it is a device that helps you connect guitars, microphones, or other audio instruments to a computer.

It is probably accurately described as a ‘prosumer’ audio interface, meaning it is good enough quality to use on professional recordings, but still (just) affordable for consumer budgets.

If you are just podcasting, you can probably get away with a Focusrite Scarlett, which is cheaper, a little lower quality, and slightly bulkier, but comes in a beautiful shade of red. But if you do this, be sure you invest in a great microphone like an MV7 or SM7.

Upsides:

The Duet is cheap for its level of quality. It is simply another level or two above interfaces like the Scarlett.

The Duet is optimized for Mac and Logic Pro, so if you are an Apple user, it is a breeze to use.

The Duet is very portable, and pretty handsome to keep on your table. (The breakout cable is another story).

The Duet only supports two simultaneous inputs (you could, for example, record guitar on one microphone and vocals on another) but it has 4 input cables (two XLR for microphones, and two instrument cables) so you can leave your microphones plugged in while you record guitars, or vice-versa.

Image from Apogee

Downsides:

The infamous breakout cable. Because this unit is so portable, you are stuck with a host of wires outside the unit to connect to guitars, pianos, or microphones. You can buy the dock (pictured above) which helps organize things, but that adds another $179 or so. One small advantage of the breakout cable is that I didn’t have to buy an extra XLR cable to plug in my Shure SM7b microphone. So, the cable does have its advantages. Also, the dock does not fit in the included Apogee Duet 3 travel case, so that is something to be aware of.

At ~$600, the Duet is not cheap. You are paying for higher quality, but if you are just starting out, or more budget conscious, you may want to go for the Scarlett.

The Apogee Duet 3 is essentially optimized for Mac, even though it is compatible with Windows, I have found several reviews complaining about its performance on Microsoft’s operating system. I use an M1 iMac so I haven’t experienced these problems.

Next to an Apple mouse for size comparisons.

 

Life with the breakout cable.

Sound Quality:

How good is the Apogee Duet 3’s sound quality?

It is entry-level professional grade. It has been used on hits including  “Your Love” by Nicki Minaj, Alessia Cara’s “Here,” and Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry (check this article for more), and Skylar Grey has used the Duet 2 for vocals.

There are higher-grade audio interfaces, including Apogee’s own Symphony ($1500), but the Duet series has been good enough to be used on releases by major labels, which by definition makes it professional-grade. Some sticklers will claim this interface isn’t “true” professional grade, but the reality is is that audio products have a huge amount of declining marginal return after a certain price point. And, many classic albums have been recorded using equipment that today might seem cheap. For example, Michael Jackson used a Shure SM7 microphone for Thriller (the best-selling record of all time), and Lana Del Rey used it for her album Lust for Life. (Lana even called the SM7 her ‘favorite microphone‘). That microphone is no slouch, but it costs a mere $400 or so. Both Lana and Michael could’ve chosen any mic, but they went with an SM7.

(Note, today if you try to buy an SM7, you will see that it is called an SM7b. So what is with the name change? This microphone is functionally identical to the one used by Michael Jackson to record Thriller, with the exception of a larger foam windscreen and other minor changes.)

This principle is even more extreme when you consider some of the classic rock and roll records. Think of early Elvis, when they were recording using now antiquated technology, had no digital editing capabilities, no autotune. Some early rock and blues records have hissing or audio artifacts. Yet these are classics. Ultimately, it’s more important to record great content on “good enough” equipment rather than assuming a $10,000 microphone will save your sound (it won’t).

Long story short, if the Duet series has been used on releases for Nicki Minaj and Skylar Grey, it is professional grade.

Most importantly, if you’ve made it to the end of this review and simply can’t afford a Duet 3, don’t worry too much about settling for a cheaper interface. Yes, it might not sound quite as good. But what matters most is creating your art. Everyone starts somewhere.

Image from Apogee

Simple Recommendations:

If you want the cheapest possible audio interface that can still deliver, get the Focusrite Scarlett. ($180) This is a great entry level option, but is a step below professional-grade.

If your budget is around $500+ and you have a Mac, or do a lot of traveling, you want the Duet 3. The Duet series is entry-level professional-grade. It’s a tremendous value for what you get. If you use Windows it is still worth a look–the interface should work the same on both operating systems, after all–but read some other reviews from Windows users to be sure.

If you have an even larger budget and are an experienced audio pro, or are just very rich, get an Apogee Symphony, which has been used by many artists for home studio sessions during Covid.

Learn more about the Apogee Duet 3 on Apogee’s official website. 

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