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Old 12-11-2010, 12:04 AM
drumster drumster is offline
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Default Avid Mbox vs. Apogee Duet - Mini Review

For the past several weeks, I've been testing out both the new Avid Mbox and the Apogee Duet as potential candidates for my portable writing and editing rig. My local dealer was kind enough to allow me to take both units home for testing in order to gain insight into how well each functions within Protools 9. As you can imagine, I was extremely keen to compare the sound quality and functionality of both interfaces, especially since the new MBox has been touted as a Duet competitor.

First of all, I want to say that Avid's done a remarkable job in re-designing the new Mbox. In fact, it's worlds better than the previous generation Mbox 2. So much so that I think they should have considered renaming it entirely. I still own an Mbox 2, so I set it up along side the other two interfaces in order to form a baseline comparison. As expected, I was immediately reminded of it's poor sound quality and sub par stereo imaging. Thankfully for Avid, those days are long behind them along with the Digidesign name, so what's on offer here is quite an improvement.

IMHO, the strong point of the new Mbox is the monitoring stage of it's converters. I found the monitoring stage to be transparent and detailed when listening to the PT9 demo track, "The Legion", as well as some of my own songs and several commercial tracks. The Duet by comparison possessed a more coloured sound akin to subtle tape saturation and sounded more smeared to my ears. I slightly preferred the Mbox to the Duet in this regard, but that's just my personal taste. I felt that what I was hearing through the Mbox was quite accurate.

Both the Duet and Mbox have their own cue mixing software of which I found very easy to use. The included effects on the Mbox aren't unbelievable, but are more than adequate for monitoring purposes. When a colleague of mine asked me today about the sound quality of the built in reverb I compared it to Dverb because it's similar to that. The Apogee Maestro software doesn't include any built in effects, but that wasn't an issue for me as I don't mind tracking vocals without effects for quick demos. For others this might be a consideration, but I was quite happy to record dry. Another thing I found was that it was easier to get a good monitoring balance with Maestro compared to the MBox software. In general, Maestro was seamless and easy to use. Some people have reported problems with it and PT9, but I didn't run into any issues with either my MacBook Pro (Core 2 Duo) or Mac Pro (8 Core).

For the purpose of testing the pre-amps, I recorded vocals through both interfaces using the following microphones: Shure SM57, Shure SM7B, AT 3060 and Josephson C42. This is where the real difference between the two units became apparent. When recording through the Mbox, I really had to crank the gain up to get a decent signal going in (at least 85%). I also didn't find it very elegant or responsive to small increments in gain adjustments. Perhaps it was just my unit, but the gain knob sounded quite noisy. With the Duet, this was not the case at all. I was able to turn the gain up to halfway and get a nice, clean signal. It was sensitive to gain adjustments and seemed to handle every task with ease. The resulting output from the Duet was detailed and crisp and had a smooth definition. The Mbox sounded darker, less detailed and 2D in comparison, making the Duet the clear winner in this category.

Unfortunately, today was the last day of my loan period for both units, so I had to return them back to the store. I was actually a little sad to part with the Duet because I was enjoying using it so much. The good news is that I have an RME Babyface on order, and that should arrive any day now. I have no idea how it will stack up against the Mbox or the Duet, so I'm waiting until after it arrives and I get a chance to try it out before making my final decision. My dealer has generously offered to allow me to take the Duet out again when the Babyface arrives, so I can compare both units. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to that!

In conclusion, although the new Mbox is a substantial leap forward for Avid, I would still choose the Apogee Duet. YMMV, but for it's excellent price point, small footprint and quality sound within this range, the Duet is a classy little box. Don't get me wrong, it's not up to the level of a Lynx Aurora but still very impressive for a $500 interface. I could actually see myself recording some keeper tracks through the Duet without the need to re-record them through a more expensive signal chain, and that to me is a real advantage.
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