This here is my main interface, I will not only review it but also compare to other units.
- Sound quality
Preamps: Completely transparent, noisefree, plenty of gain, enough head room for almost anything. But pretty boring. No real electronics in this puppy, jus the Texas Instruments PGA2500 chip, digitally controllable too (which is awesome if you need to retrack something and want to match gains); same chip that's in the old Duet (and possibly the Duet2, but unconfirmed). Same chip they even use in the RME Micstasy. Difference is the Micstasy has like 80 or db of gain and will have other sorts of electronics wizardry going on to make it a much more expensive unit. It'd be cool if someone came out with an interface like this one, but two of the eight preamps had a transformer or two in them.
A-D Conversion: Now, I'm not one of those guy's who freaks the **** out at A-D. At a certain point in quality, you are just splitting hairs trying to compare converters. There are so many different things that affect a recording more than A-D conversion. Case in point, the A-D on this puppy is a **** load better than the old blue 192's. How many records have been made and recorded on those hunks of junk? This is the first interface I've trust with A-D, like outright not needed to worry about. And I've tried an old Tascam, a Firepod, and Echo Audiofire 8, a Duet, and a Motu HD896mkIII (of which both the firewire ports died on me and I have not had a reply in 4 months from Tech Support @Motu, DON'T BUY MOTU GEAR). I also had a Rosetta 200, which I bought before the Ensemble. I subsequently sold it as I could not hear a justifiable difference in conversion between that and the Ensemble. I would rather put my money elsewhere. The Soft limits are great also. While I don't think you should track anything near what it starts kicking in at, sometimes you might wanna push your preamps a little harder than usual on drums for an effect, or the vocalist suddenly scream a line out of no where and it's the perfect take. The soft limits definitely help in these scenarios.
D-A Conversion: As I just mentioned, on par with the 200. Maybe not spec wise. But doing an A/B and I could see why I would keep it at this point in my career. I did love it. And I will probably pick another one up to fill my SPDIF gap I currently have, but for now, the Ensemble is had amazing conversion and will not stop me from making a record, plain and simple. I'm not going to use generic Gearslutty words like **** or open or lush. All I know is that when I put my favourite records on, they sound amazing. Downright orgasmic. And that's all that matters to me. It also reveals to me indiscrepancies in music I've been listening to for years.
- Reliability / Durability
Thing is built like a brick son. Brushed steel face. Connectors that are as tight as a nuns...wallet. Weighs a ton. In fact it weighs the same as the 200 roughly (only 2 channels!). I'd say most of the weight is in the chassis and not the components. Like the 200, it is much longer than the average interface. I equate this to either componentry or airflow. Either of which I am happy with, and weight almost always = high standard of build quality. When it turns on you get a flurry of pretty LED's which is also comforting. The only times I've had problems with it was if I've not got the most up to date driver, and if I'm daisy chaining a firewire harddrive (not something I recommend doing during any critical session no matter what interface you are using). Works flawlessly and is a great companion to PT10. I almost always use it at 1024 buffer size as I use the Maestro software for Low latency monitoring, and only ever have buffer issues if I'm running my system to it's max.
The only downside to this puppy is lack of digital I/O. No AES/EBU, and only 1 ADAT port. If it had 2 ADAT port, this would last me probably a lifetime. But I can see somewhere down the track, I may need more than 10 digital I/O for more converters for outboard gear. At this point it is fine as I don't use that much. But 16 channel ADAT surely wouldn't have bumped the cost up for Apogee a hell of a lot and would've meant probably the best interface this sort of money can buy. I guess it's quite an expensive unit, but you get what you pay for in interfaces TBQH, so a moot point for me. That's why I gave it a 10, to get this amount of channels of great conversion and some awesome preamps chucked in, at this price it's still a bargain. People may complain about only 4 preamps. Me, I'm out buying better preamps that any interface can give you. So again, moot point.
- Features that stand out
Conversion, better than average preamps for interfaces, looks (yes, I want my interface to look amazing, which this does), solid build. I love the Low Latency Monitoring. I really got the whole concept when I tracked a few people using it. Everyone was tighter with their performances, no getting distracted, no buffer errors halfway through a take. It's very simple to use. I've heard a lot of people compare this with RME's software routing and say it's not as good, whilst not having used RME's, I don't see how much simpler and more effective it can get? RTFM? Not that you even need to.
- Would you buy this again if it were stolen
Well, as long as I had contents insurance. Which I do. This thing ain't cheap. But money provided, in a heartbeat. It was a long search for the interface that fit my needs at this stage in my life. It may even last me the rest of my life. Anyone thinking of putting down some serious money on an interface should consider the Ensemble.
I got this after buying a Motu MK III. I hated that motu, not because it was shit, but because I never was able to use it; it's so freaking complicated.
I just said 'screw it, I'm going to go all the way'. So I got myself the best of the best.
I'm a songwriter and producer. I was searching for an all-in-one hi end interface that would last me for the next, say, twenty years (unless I get very rich). One that works very stable and will just let me make my music without giving me hell.
I got everything I was hoping for.
Everything that's on this baby is 100% useable. Nothing is crappy/for show, even if you want to do a pro-sounding recording. I wanted good pre-amps on the interface. After a lot of research (mainly on GS) I found out that this is pretty much the only interface that has really decent sounding ones.
The four pre's are enough for my home recording. I've recorded vocals, E-guitar, Acoustic guitar, Cello, Percussion and drums (4 mics) and it's been great.
I like stuff that looks good. I'm a tidy guy and I don't want stuff on my desk if it looks bad. It's a bit vain, but that's just who I am. This thing looks beautiful. Gives me some peace somehow. Makes it easier to be less chaotic.
It's really easy to use. 2 buttons on the front that control most of the functions.
It has never-never-never-never given me even a slight hint of a problem (touch wood).
Only downside is connecting outboard gear. Could have done with a few Inserts
If you have the money and want to get creative without having endless gear problems, then go for it, you won't regret it.
I love the Ensemble. It's a superb unit for the small scale / project / home studio. I've heard spectacular recording made on these. I've made recordings with all 18 inputs, and I've made them with only one of them. It just always sounds great. Routing is easy too, which is a huge plus.
I recently dig a live sound/recording gig with all 18 inputs used, and 8 of those channels sent direct out to a mixer for sound reinforcement. It was in a large house with great acoustics and a small crowd, and I worked out perfectly all thanks to the Ensemble.
My complaints are that of others'; needs more ADAT, and I would love to have some inserts. AES would be nice but S/PDIF works too. The meters are kinda lame IMHO though. I would rather have some nice LED meters honestly. The plasma meters are kinda showy and don't tell you THAT much about what's actually coming in or going out.
That being said, the lights are pretty freakin' cool! And the mixer software is pretty self explanatory. And yes, it sounds great. I probably would have bought one of these before the Fireface UFX, or the new UAD Apollo came out (they're all around the same price).
I actually own two Apogee Ensembles. I use them in standalone mode with a PCIe card, but only because I need more IO than a single Ensemble offers.
The Ensemble is what I consider a "no excuses" device. It sounds great, therefore if you are not making great records with it, IT is not the problem.
I use all 4 preamps on each of my Ensembles, as well as all of the line inputs are being feed with API, Vintech, and UA preamps. The Ensemble pres hold their own. They are definitely more transparent, but I am not afraid to use them.
During mixdown, I use all 16 line outputs (8 from each box) to feed my summing mixer.
I highly recommend this box. Great value IMO. I may actually get another.
Like many, I needed to upgrade from my MOTU 896. I was getting tired of the cloudy, flat sound, and MOTU's terrible customer service when the FW chip burned out. I took the plunge for a real convertor and bought an Apogee Ensemble. Other than my Pearlman TM-1, this is the best studio investment I have made thus far. I chose the Ensemble because I am a Logic user, and needed some mic pres. The Ensemble was designed with Logic in mind, and it couldn't be easier to use. The mic pres are very nice, transparent, full and warm. Whatever you plug into them, that's what you get. Zero coloration, just very accurate. The conversion is not quite at the level of the Symphony, Lynx or Prism. But it is light years ahead of MOTU, Presonus, M-Audio and all the other low end, cheapo converters out there. I would say that the Ensemble is an entry-level, high end converter. Great value for a project studio. It is also very well made. I bought mine used in early 2008 and have used it for four years with zero issues.
My only quibble with the Ensemble is the lack of dedicated monitor outs. It would be nice to have a couple more analog outs, as well.
In any case, the Ensemble is a great all-in-one unit.
I've had this baby for a few years now, and man, am I impressed!
Yes, the pre-amps are clean, the A-D more than good enough, technical spec's are good, but the thing that really impressed me is the flexibility. Every time I think of something the unit should be able to do I read up a bit about it and "wam-bang", I've got it. For example Low Latency Monitoring (a breeze) and recently using the same mix for both built in headphone outputs.
I've used the unit on a variety of sources from Drums to Strings, even using the built in pre-amps on vocals with high-end mics and it shines! It is clean, so don't expect character on vocals, but that you can get from stand-alone pre-amps.
Build quality is great. I've never had the slightest issue with it in the years I've had it, and believe me, it does see a fair bit of action.
Well, any down-sides?
Maybe just one or two personal preferences. I personally prefer to have separate physical gain pods for the four mic pre-amp channels and for the mains and headphone outputs. Having said that, I love the fact that you can control the main volume from the computer keyboard.
I would have liked to see more adat inputs to allow 8 channels at higher sample rates from being added (currently it only supports 4 channels for 88.2kHz, which is my preferred sample rate).
The bottom line: the Apogee Ensemble is a good quality piece of equipment that has stood the test of times for me. I have some serious "gas" (gear acquisition syndrome) sometimes, but the Ensemble has not been one of the items I have been meaning to upgrade. In fact, I am considering buying a second unit and will definitely replace it if stolen.
I've had my Ensemble for 4 years and the longer I have it, the more I appreciate it. The A/D and D/A converters are excellent. It integrates well with Logic.
What I think are outstanding are the mic pres. I kid you not, the included mic preamps are excellent and worth 2K alone. I had 2 external preamps (Great River and Neve Portico) and the Ensemble Pres are about 90% the quality of both. I have a good set of ears and it was hard to distinguish the quality of the Ensmeble from the other pres. In a mix, you can't tell and also it's easier to use than an external pre because it's built in and digitally controlled.
When I first got it, I was upgrading from an RME Fireface 800 (another great unit) and it revealed things in mixes (and many of my favorite records) I hadn't heard before.
The only downside is Maestro can be a pain sometimes, but still usable.
My nephew's Fisher-Price Police car has better quality buttons.
Tons of compatibility issues with OSX ( which is mind boggling given its "exclusively" made for OSX???)
Be ready to force quit and restart occasionally. It can cause problems with ANY USB or FW, be it HD's or any controller.
On top occasional clicks and pops on your recordings some times constantly, rendering them absolutely unusable and your session musicians pissed off their heads!
Manual is an absolute joke.
Did you say Customer Support?? You are not a Customer nor you can get any support.....Forget about it: All they do is repeat trouble-shooting procedures over and over ( the very same that are written on your manual by the way).
I had a full studio stopped for almost a month waiting for them to point me a direction. And then they unilaterally gave up on me and start ignoring my contacts ( email, phone). Its cheaper that way!
After uninstalling and reinstalling SEVERAL times all the software on my brand new studio computers everything is the same.
Apogee doesn't even have the latest MAC machines to test they MAC ONLY products!?!
The Mac compatibility blurb on their website is a hoax. They promised they would remove such info if they couldn't find a solution for me, end they never did either and then stopped responding....
This is not an honest company. They don't respect the customers.
All they want is your money.
OK, maybe the sound is perhaps a big leap from you entry level motu 828, but i must say i feel its extremely average middle-of-the-road kind of sound. Waste of your money, and worse... your time!
Sure the pres are clean... as an hospital floor.. if that sounds exciting to you!
There are some items in my studio that I adore and the apogee ensemble is one of them. Not only does the ensemble look slick, it's also built like a tank. Everything feels solid and of high quality. It got that winning combination of features that make it a great device. I bought mine used years ago and have had zero issues with both hardware and drivers. Digital audio can be frustrating when issue arise because there are so many variables due to the nature of computers. I can honestly say the drivers have been rock solid for me. I do recall quite a few problems early on when they first released the ensemble but since then its been smooth sailing.
Converters ad/da = The ensemble has that apogee sound I really love. Its colored in a very pleasing way that make monitoring enjoyable. Compared to my m-audio 2626 the ensemble sounds clearer and more accurate. The 2626 can get ear fatiguing at times. I would say the apogee ensemble is on par with rme products in general, just a different flavor.
Preamp = I think the preamps are the ensembles greatest asset. The preamps have a nice clear and slightly colored(warm) tone. They are on par with my higher end preamps and fit well in the mix on any source.
Software/drivers = I like the Maestro software. Its flexible and does the job. Although Rme might have a leg up on the ensemble in this department. I have to say that apogees drivers are superior to m-audio drivers which have been disappointing for me in the past.
What don't I like?
I dont like the multi function big knobs. For preamp gain adjustments they work o.k. but I dislike them for monitoring purposes. Its a pain to adjust headphones that way.
To sum it up I think the ensemble is a great device that has a winner combination of features. It strengths are in its preamps, converters and build quality. The ensemble is a great buy for any home studio who wants to get a taste of the big leagues.