Apogee Electronics Ensemble by Convectuoso
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.