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Apogee Duet vs. Mbox 2 Pro DEATHMATCH! Audio Interfaces
Old 11th August 2008
  #1
Gear Maniac
 

Apogee Duet vs. Mbox 2 Pro DEATHMATCH!

I was shopping for a new interface, picked up an Mbox 2 Pro. Then I read lots of forums and chat channels with some people saying that the Mbox 2 Pro is trash. On the other hand, most other people seem to be praising the Apogee Duet. I always wonder how many people speak from personal experience, or just talk based off of what they read, or were told. I decided to find out for myself, so I bought an Apogee Duet. Here is the double blind shootout between the two boxes. I'll post my thoughts, opinions, and the answers to the test after everyone (including myself) have had sufficient time to listen. Please post your answers, don't be shy! =)

Which files are the Duet, and which are the Mbox?

simultaneous pair 1 = A, B
simultaneous pair 2 = G, L

The other recordings were not simultaneous, were different takes, using either the Mbox 2 Pro, or the Duet.


Test setup:

Machine: mac mini
DAW: Logic Pro 8
Hardware: Mbox 2 Pro, Apogee Duet
Mics: Rode NT5 (matched pair), B.L.U.E. Baby Bottle
Guitars: low end martin dx series, G&L asat classic, elixr strings.
Talent: none
Room: Open, 40 ft ceilings, carpeted.

NT5s were stacked right on top of each other, difference of distance to guitar measured to the millimeter. Positioning 2.5FT distance from the sound hole, pointed directly at it at.

Baby Bottle was placed 1 ft away from guitar, pointed at an angle towards the 12th fret, looking towards the hole.

Baby Bottle was placed too close to the amazing singer (happened to be in the same room) at about 1.5 feet away, nose height angled downward slightly. A Blue pop filter (that falls off due to shoddy construction) was used.

The onboard Duet preamps were used in the Duet recordings, and the onboard Mbox 2 Pro preamps were used for the Mbox 2 Pro recordings. Most of the files were made using each respective units internal clock. There are a couple files that were recorded simultaneously by aggregating in OSX the Mbox 2 Pro, and the Duet, with both units clocking to the Mbox 2 Pro (it won't slave wordclock, without a spdif connection, and forces it being the master), with one microphone feeding the Duet, and the other feeding the Mbox 2 Pro. For the DI electric guitar recordings, each box was running its own clock, using its own DI input. All recordings have input gain measured within .2 dB, and were simultaneously checked with digital/peak meters, and an analog SPL meter.

Apologies in advance for the spaces at the head of the tracks, but I didn't want to alter them in any way. The space also gives your ears a chance to rest.

There is absolutely no processing on the files, no normalization, or file conversion. These are the absolute original recordings, horribly performed, unaltered.


-Freq

EDIT: scroll to my subsequent post to get the answers.


shootout files
Old 11th August 2008
  #2
Lives for gear
 
C Heat's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freq18Hz View Post
Talent: none
This had me laughing.

I'm gonna have a listen
Old 11th August 2008
  #3
Gear Maniac
 

just trying to disclose all pertinent info.




-Freq
Old 11th August 2008
  #4
Gear Maniac
 

51 views but no one is listening? Don't be shy to go on record. Let's get some posts before I paste the answers.


-Freq
Old 11th August 2008
  #5
Here for the gear
 

i don't have either mbox 2 or duet. just interested in this thread.
i own a mbox 1, and i'm just guessing that the first set is the duet, and the second set is mbox 2.

i am a fan of Set 1: A, B, C, F, H, K
and not of Set 2: D, E, G, I, J, L

e and j were the electric guitar recordings. and i know they're supposed to be recorded with different interfaces, but i thought they both blew.

can't wait to see the results.
Old 11th August 2008
  #6
Gear Maniac
 

Partially right. Any other takers? I don't want to post the answers until plenty of people have had a chance to listen...


-Freq
Old 11th August 2008
  #7
Gear Maniac
 

Hmm kind of confused by the order of the files. Im just going to compare the first two files A and B. I think A seems to have a bit more depth and width and therefore think its the duet. I have an MBOX 2 Pro, so this is an interesting test for me. It would be nice to compare a drum machine or even a DI Bass, so as there are less variables.
Old 11th August 2008
  #8
Gear Maniac
 
virtualsamana's Avatar
 

Of the files I listened to I am going to say B, C. and G were the Apogee. A, D Mbox. Nice guitar playing by the way.
Old 11th August 2008
  #9
Here for the gear
 

I came up with this:

Duet: A, C, D, J, I, F
MBox: B, H, L, E, G, K
Old 11th August 2008
  #10
Lives for gear
 
Bhang's Avatar
 

Could you list which file pairs go together.

So far I'm for C being the Duet
Old 11th August 2008
  #11
Gear Maniac
 

I'll list all the answers once more people have a chance to listen. There aren't matched up pairs, because its a double blind test.

So far I find it interesting that people only seem to be able to partially differentiate between the two boxes.




-Freq
Old 11th August 2008
  #12
Lives for gear
 
Bhang's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freq18Hz View Post
I'll list all the answers once more people have a chance to listen. There aren't matched up pairs, because its a double blind test.

So far I find it interesting that people only seem to be able to partially differentiate between the two boxes.

-Freq
I don't mean which gear, I mean that the files are not in order. For instance the two vocal takes are c and h but I had to scan through the takes to find it.
Old 11th August 2008
  #13
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bhang View Post
I don't mean which gear, I mean that the files are not in order. For instance the two vocal takes are c and h but I had to scan through the takes to find it.
Again, this is a blind test. In the real world, you aren't comparing gear back to back with the same talent, unless you love multing patch bays, and the band wants to sit around spending dollars while you do A/B listening tests. In my opinion, real world, you throw the mics up, and they either sound good or they don't. So in this instance, the files are jumbled up, and you can either organize them with your ears, or listen to them one by one, judging each one individually.

Also, I am lazy, and didn't put the files in a particular order.


With all the strong opinions I here people on here, other forums, and engineers/reviewers in general give, I would think that the differences should be very easy to spot, given the generally poor reviews on the Mbox 2 Pro, and the resounding accolades the Duet has gotten.
Old 11th August 2008
  #14
Lives for gear
 
Bhang's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freq18Hz View Post
Again, this is a blind test. In the real world, you aren't comparing gear back to back with the same talent, unless you love multing patch bays, and the band wants to sit around spending dollars while you do A/B listening tests. In my opinion, real world, you throw the mics up, and they either sound good or they don't. So in this instance, the files are jumbled up, and you can either organize them with your ears, or listen to them one by one, judging each one individually.

Also, I am lazy, and didn't put the files in a particular order.


With all the strong opinions I here people on here, other forums, and engineers/reviewers in general give, I would think that the differences should be very easy to spot, given the generally poor reviews on the Mbox 2 Pro, and the resounding accolades the Duet has gotten.
touchy
Old 11th August 2008
  #15
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bhang View Post
touchy
no touchiness meant, actually I was trying to be silly wit the larger text to hide my smaller admission, I didn't group them together. I will list the matching pairs.
Old 11th August 2008
  #16
Lives for gear
 
Bhang's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freq18Hz View Post
actually I was trying to be silly, I didn't group them together. I will list the matching pairs.
Sweet !
Old 11th August 2008
  #17
Gear Addict
 

Here is my take on the files that had a match, unless I did something wrong downloading them

Duet : A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H......

Mbox : were the others that were matched files

I didn't listen to the electric guitars, and again I didn't find the other matching files for some of the tracks.

G and L were very close because of the lite strumming
Old 11th August 2008
  #18
Gear Maniac
 

Answers/My Review

Answers are as follows.


A = Duet left channel
B = Duet Right channel
C = Duet
D = Duet
E = Duet DI
F = Duet
G = Duet aggregated and clocked to Mbox 2 Pro
H = Mbox 2 Pro
I = Mbox 2 Pro
J = Mbox 2 Pro DI
K = Mboxx 2 Pro
L = Mbox 2 Pro aggregated and clocked to Mbox 2 Pro


FYI this was not really a subjective test, just a blind test to see if people were able to pick out the differences between the two. I think the test proves that both units sound very similar, and even when comparing recordings of both, it is highly subjective as to which sounds "best".


Opnions/ personal review:

I am going to buck the trend to trash the Mbox, and praise the Duet endlessly here so bear with me. If you disagree, don't flame me, just post your own test. I'm always willing to change/modify my opinion.

Both pieces of gear sound fantastic, especially for the money. Both have a distinct sound, yet the differences between the preamps/converters are incredibly subtle. You would be hard pressed to hear the difference between the two, even if you A/B knowing what you are listening to, and even in a mix.

Duet - The Duet has a nice top end sheen to it. It definitely brings out the gliss of the guitar strings, and seems to capture fast transients slightly better. Unfortunately, it also lacks a lot of lower mid range detail, and in my opinion on this guitar, in this room, sounds a tad thin. I can see that were I to be recording a whole mix worth of tracks, the apogee would probably have less "build up" of low mids, and sound brighter than the Mbox, yet would to my tastes sound a bit sterile. The Duet might excel at capturing early reflections and reverberation while recording a source like a choir or symphonic band, in a very large live room, say the london philharmonic in the sistine chapel. The preamps provide a lot of gain, and I think would work well for field recording, and with ribbon microphones. Also the ability to flip the input phase is quite cool. The big issue for me with the duet, is the amount of nasty and extremely audible hiss I hear from my speakers due to the unbalanced outputs. While this may be nitpicky for some, I find I can very audibly hear the hiss, even when playing back program material at a reasonable volume. The only other glaring cons I notice with the Duet are the lack of fine adjustment with the preamps (they move in digital steps, which also can be a plus, in that you can set them reliably to the same value session after session), and the glitchyness of the software (faders not moving, gain knobs not refreshing in the maestro software).

Mbox 2 Pro - The Mbox 2 Pro sounds very slightly 'warmer' than Duet, and has better low mid detail. It doesn't add the high end sheen that the Duet does. It happens to in my opinion, more faithfully reproduce my guitar in my room, with my mics, than the Duet does. While it doesn't quite have the top end of the Duet, it doesn't sound thin either. I definitely wouldn't call the Mbox 2 Pro's preamps/converters colored sounding at all. In fact to my ears, it brings out the natural sound qualities of my microphones better. The only con I can give, is that the preamps don't provide as much gain as the Duet's, and +48v cannot be toggled on/off individually for each microphone channel. Also no phase inversion is available.

Both of the units preamps sound worse to me than my grace design preamp. Both DIs sound average as well.

Outputs: not included in my test here, I hear a difference between the output of the Duet and the Mbox 2 Pro. Besides the hiss the Duet sounds fantastic, very flat and balanced. However I hear what I feel is an imitation of that "famous" apogee sound where everything sounds expensive, and has a sheen to it. While It sounds clearer than the Mbox 2 Pro on output, I also hear less separation between instruments, and less definition. The Duet does seem to output low mids slightly better than the Mbox 2 Pro, overall resulting in a very balanced and 'warm' yet accurate reproduction. The best way to describe it is "natural".

The Mbox 2 Pro on the other hand, seems to have better separation than the Duet. On my monitors I hear better separation between sounds, and no hiss from the output. The high mids on the Mbox 2 Pro are slightly more present than the Duet, and perhaps could to some people sound more "harsh". I also hear slightly less low mids reproduced. Overall I slightly prefer the Duet's outputs for Listening to music, as it gives everything a finished, smooth sound. Basically everything played through it sounds good. However, due to the enhanced separation, I think I prefer mixing on the Mbox 2 Pro better, as it seems to point out faults more readily than the Duet. Again the differences are very slight, yet able to be heard when A/B-ing the two. Both sound infinitely better than my Motu 828, or my O1v.


Conclusion: It is my personal opinion that both of these pieces of gear are fantastic values. If you can't make a world class high fidelity recording, with either of these devices, then you have a larger problem than what piece of gear to choose. On one hand with the Duet, you get great sound, in a small package, for not a lot of money. The unit itself feels sturdy and looks nice, until you connect the chintzy breakout cables. The connectivity however is limited, and it is mac only. The Mbox 2 Pro however is more expensive, yet it has more connectivity, and features. It does come with Pro Tools, but this might not be a bonus to people who don't care, like myself. I can see why people who have been previously burned by digi would be weary to try this box. However, the sound quality makes it a great value IMHO, and night/day difference between any other mbox I have heard previously. The unit itself looks tacky in blue, and feels light when you pick it up. However in usage, the knobs feel actually pretty nice, and after using it you get the sense that it is well built for the price point, and is designed well for its intended home studio recording purpose.

In the end, the differences between these two are not night and day. Having spent time with lots of ultra high end gear, I do not think the Duet is on the same playing field with other high end converters/preamps I have heard, nor is it a cut above the rest of gear available within a few hundred dollars of its price point, assuming memory serves me correctly. It is still a fantastic value. Likewise, I don't believe the Mbox 2 Pro to be the bargain bin trash everyone slams it for. While less of a value if you don't need Pro Tools, it hangs with the Duet on sound quality, and in most ways exceeds it in terms of usage/workflow.

Both sound worse to me than something like an SSL G/E desk into a nice studer/otari 2 inch.

I am still on the fence on which one to keep, given that the Duet is substantially cheaper, and I don't need to use Pro Tools. I do however prefer the Mbox 2 Pro's workflow and features better, and no hiss out of the speakers rocks!


-Freq
Old 11th August 2008
  #19
Gear Addict
 

Thank you very much Freq for all the test recordings.
This is why i dig GS. This is a big test for me as well
as i plan to upgrade. I will also do some of my own tests
in the future but its nice to hear someone do this beforehand.
I appreciated your frankness about the whole thing.

I listened to all the files and wrote down my guesses. I came
out about 60% right.

>Conclusion: It is my personal opinion that both of these pieces of gear are >fantastic values. If you can't make a world class high fidelity recording, with >either of these devices, then you have a larger problem than what piece of gear >to choose.

This says it all. With the Digi interface, you will be able to use PT and Logic. Duet is Logic only so i think its 'good enough' to stick with the Digi interface if you are running both. So, i will go with something like an API A2D/Apogee DAC combo instead for 'higher-end' upgrade.
Old 12th August 2008
  #20
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by gracejames View Post
Thank you very much Freq for all the test recordings.
This is why i dig GS. This is a big test for me as well
as i plan to upgrade. I will also do some of my own tests
in the future but its nice to hear someone do this beforehand.
I appreciated your frankness about the whole thing.

I listened to all the files and wrote down my guesses. I came
out about 60% right.

>Conclusion: It is my personal opinion that both of these pieces of gear are >fantastic values. If you can't make a world class high fidelity recording, with >either of these devices, then you have a larger problem than what piece of gear >to choose.

This says it all. With the Digi interface, you will be able to use PT and Logic. Duet is Logic only so i think its 'good enough' to stick with the Digi interface if you are running both. So, i will go with something like an API A2D/Apogee DAC combo instead for 'higher-end' upgrade.
This to me also sounds like the best option, given that there are higher end converters available than Apogee. Also the SSL mic pre/converter combo unit looks cool, but hah now we are not talking low end theory!


-Freq
Old 12th August 2008
  #21
Gear Maniac
 

This test is silly, How were we supposed to know that some of the files were stereo pairs. Thanks for the effort, but I dont see how you can use these files to A/B or test how one sounds compared to the other.
Old 12th August 2008
  #22
Gear Maniac
 

Sorry you find it silly.

You weren't able to hear that the stereo pairs were the same recording, same preamp?

I think the bigger point of the test is that unless directly comparing the sound quality of the two units, no one can tell a definitive difference between the two, and even then it is so close that it becomes highly subjective. Also, subjective tests are not scientific in themselves, in that every source is different, not to mention things like mics, positioning etc.

People like to praise or trash gear, but usually its coming from baseless opinions, or opinions not based on direct personal experience.


-Freq
Old 12th August 2008
  #23
Lives for gear
 
dobz's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freq18Hz View Post
Again, this is a blind test. In the real world, you aren't comparing gear back to back with the same talent, unless you love multing patch bays, and the band wants to sit around spending dollars while you do A/B listening tests. In my opinion, real world, you throw the mics up, and they either sound good or they don't. So in this instance, the files are jumbled up, and you can either organize them with your ears, or listen to them one by one, judging each one individually.

Mate,

Sorry but in my studio for most recordings we do blind tests for everything. Every snare, kick, vocal and guitar we try different Pre's, mic and mic placement. Then we compare and find the best. Thats what seperates average recordings from the good ones (not saying that mine are good).
Old 12th August 2008
  #24
Gear Maniac
 

again, I think great recordings can be had from either of these devices.


-Freq
Old 12th August 2008
  #25
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freq18Hz View Post
Sorry you find it silly.

You weren't able to hear that the stereo pairs were the same recording, same preamp?

I think the bigger point of the test is that unless directly comparing the sound quality of the two units, no one can tell a definitive difference between the two, and even then it is so close that it becomes highly subjective. Also, subjective tests are not scientific in themselves, in that every source is different, not to mention things like mics, positioning etc.

People like to praise or trash gear, but usually its coming from baseless opinions, or opinions not based on direct personal experience.


-Freq
Haha just realized i should have read it better. Didn't notice you stated there were stereo pairs (unless you edited it afterwards). When listening I just heard that they sounded different and judged them on that. I appreciate your effort though, thanks for doing this. I think I'll go back and analyze these closer.
Old 13th August 2008
  #26
Lives for gear
 

I hear painfully obvious differences. That "warmer" thing might refer to mud when you start stacking tracks. And I'm not sure what you mean by the apogee sound? I think most people are talking about the apogee soft limit adding color. The duet is pretty flat and transparent to me. I've never had an mbox but I've had a konnekt which is as good if not better. Gee, don't wanna sound like a fanboy but duet is clearly the better choice.
Old 13th August 2008
  #27
Lives for gear
 
staudio's Avatar
 

I have used both a Duet and an Mbox 2 Pro side by side many times and in my opinion these files do not accurately represent the sonic differences between the units. The tests also do not take into account the DAC differences which are significant. I do believe though that skill has a lot to do with quality, not just the tools, so both units are usable, but one is better. Thank you for posting the examples though.
Old 13th August 2008
  #28
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by staudio View Post
I have used both a Duet and an Mbox 2 Pro side by side many times and in my opinion these files do not accurately represent the sonic differences between the units. The tests also do not take into account the DAC differences which are significant. I do believe though that skill has a lot to do with quality, not just the tools, so both units are usable, but one is better. Thank you for posting the examples though.
So I take it you favor the duet? Hard to hear the quality of those dacs with all that hiss...


-freq
Old 13th August 2008
  #29
Lives for gear
 
staudio's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Freq18Hz View Post
So I take it you favor the duet? Hard to hear the quality of those dacs with all that hiss...


-freq
Yeah I do prefer the Duet. I have never noticed any hiss under any monitoring conditions. I have used several sets of high end cans, monitors, and monitor controllers with the unit and no hiss here. I keep the output cables very short, six feet.
Old 13th August 2008
  #30
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by staudio View Post
Yeah I do prefer the Duet. I have never noticed any hiss under any monitoring conditions. I have used several sets of high end cans, monitors, and monitor controllers with the unit and no hiss here. I keep the output cables very short, six feet.
ST, appreciate your comments/feedback. And i believe you. I would expect the Duet to be better but i am guessing that the difference will not justify buying it for me. I will do my own tests in the future to make sure. I think it may be better to go to the next level of converter quality (ie...AD16X/UA2192,Aurora, etc). Even though, i think the Duet is at a phenom price point and is so handy being small for portable and others uses. I wish i could hear some files from you too.
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