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Summary:

It’s not exactly a recording studio, but you can get pretty good recordings of your garage band jam sessions with the $1,395 Apogee Quartet.

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About two years ago, I decided to dust off the collection of guitar gear in my closet and get back into the music scene. Since then, in addition to re-learning to play again (ouch, my fingers), I’ve been upgrading the pickups (I’m a big fan of the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates and DiMarzio Gravity Storm pickups) and getting better tube amplifiers. However, my studio in general wasn’t set up to do recordings. The Apogee Quartet helps change that.

Up until now, I’ve been using the iRig HD as my primary input device. The iRig is fine for most of my recording — especially when I’m using software amps — but I needed something that had multitrack inputs.

What is the Quartet?

The Quartet is a 4-input, 8-output USB audio interface for iOS and OS X. It’s a very well-built device that looks fantastic, The face of the unit is about the same size as an iPad, and it stands slightly taller than an iPad on a Smart Cover. The front face has a touch-sensitive control pad that lets you lets you select the input you want to adjust (choice of four inputs) as well as adjust the levels for the outputs to studio monitors. The Quartet provides a Word Clock out connector for synching an external A/D converter to Apogee’s superior clocking technology. Sweetwater has a nice write-up about Word Clocks here. There are no breakout cables required, and the unit sits high enough off the table, making it very easy to attach cables and keep them organized.

You can connect the Quartet to your iPad (my review unit only supported the 30-pin connector, but Apogee is now shipping a version with a Lighting cable) and the Quartet will also charge the unit. Swapping the cable to a USB cable lets you plug it into your Mac.

It’s also not cheap at $1,395. This is a pro-level piece of gear at pro prices.

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The Maestro app

Before you do much with the Quartet, you’ll need to download the Maestro app (available for Mac and iOS). The four analog inputs on the back are combination inputs (they do both instrument and XLR cables). The Maestro app allows you to set whether each input is a “microphone” or “instrument,” as well as adjust some levels. The app then flashes the settings to the Quartet, so they stay set even if you turn off the unit and connect it to another device.

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Using Quartet with Logic

As I mentioned last month, Apple’s Logic is my primary DAW these days. Using Quartet with Logic is fairly straightforward. In Logic Preferences, go to Audio and set the Quartet as the input device. If you also want to pipe sound out of Quartet, set it as the output device as well.

Then go to the Mixer, select the track you want to set the input for, choose Input and select the corresponding input from the Apogee. If you’re using primarily analog inputs, you will only need to concern yourself with inputs 1-4 (additional digital inputs account for the other 8 inputs you will see). If you’re multitracking, repeat these steps for each input.

After you’re done, just remember to set each track as recordable (click the little R for each track) in the main Logic track screen.

Using the Quartet with Auria

Auria ($49) is a multitrack recording software for the iPad. It allows you to record up to 24 simultaneous tracks on the iPad, and monitor up to 48 tracks. Again, this is on a frickin’ iPad! (Aside: this is the computational power I can’t wait to see when the iPad has the new A7 chip.) I’ve barely had time to do much on it, but getting the Quartet to work with it is was very easy. When I plugged the device into my iPad and launched Auria, it auto-detected the Quartet. Since the input settings I had set on my Mac were still loaded into the Quartet, I just had to tell the tracks in Auria to use the proper Quartets inputs and I was good to go.

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How I use the Quartet

Every now and then, I get together with some friends to jam and I want to record our sessions. It’s nothing fancy, just a mememto of the evening. I wanted it to sound better than just tossing a microphone in the middle of the room and hoping for the best. Instead, I now use the Quartet with Logic. I mike my amp, and use an ABY box (a pedal that lets me send the output to two amps simultaneously) to also get a clean signal into Logic. Other musicians either go direct into the Quartet, or use additional ABY boxes. I’m a gigantic fan of clean signals, especially for bass and vocals. I’m 90 percent happy with my amp sound, but I like to also grab a clean signal for either double tracking an effect, or just just replacing my track with a software amp.

I do something similar when I’m recording my amp. Even if I’m the only one recording, I like to set up a couple of mikes on my amp, but also use the ABY box to get a clean signal.

I’m also starting to use the iPad with Auria more. Right now, people I jam with come to me, but in previous bands I went to the rehearsal space. with the Quartet and my iPad are small enough I can put in my cable bag along with a few microphones and have a nice little way to capture the moment.

Final Thoughts

I really liked the Quartet. Its build quality looks right at home next to my Apple products, and I love how easy it is to record up to four inputs with it. I tend to be pretty rough on my gear, and the Quartet seems like it will survive the inevitable bumps and drops.

I’m not at all close to a pro-level musician, but the Apogee line has been synonymous with pro-level audio quality for a long time. Reviewing items that cost this much money are a little tough because at the back of my mind is always “it costs how much?” With the Quartet, if you need to record more than two inputs (Apogee also makes the two-input Duet that I will be posting a review on soon) and need a portable device that works with your Mac or iOS device that gives you pro-level sound, then yes, the Quartet is worth the hefty price tag.

  1. For significantly less money, you might be impressed by either the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 or the 18i20. One is a very stylish desktop unit with 4 combo inputs along with several line inputs and digital i/o, the other has 8 combo inputs, line inputs and digital i/o. The digital i/o is handy if you are looking for the ability to modularly expand your total number of inputs (with an ADAT or SPDIF compliant 8pre, for instance). Both units also have MIDI in and out. They connect to the iPad, or your Mac, equally well (a USB camera kit adapter is necessary for the iPad. they are each well under a grand. Both list on the Auria website as having been pre-qualified to work with Auria. While I have not used mine with Auria, I can attest to them both working quite well with either my iPad or my Windows 7 laptop. The baby brother of the Scarlett family, the 2i2 is my favorite “external soundcard” for my desktop computer at work.
    If you can stand electronic music, and you want to hear what is possible on the production side of the iPad, check out Vector Lovers’ album “iPhonica”, which was made entirely in iOS with an app called NanoStudio. You can find it on Vector Lovers’ Soundcloud page, as well as the usual outlets for paid downloads.

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