A BIT OF SOFTWARE
By the time you’ve got the breakout cable, USB, and headphones connected, the ONE will have become somewhat less stylish, as well as less mobile. Moreover, a glance at one of the pictures will reveal a potential issue with setting up the ONE in such a way as to make the internal mic accessible. If you want to use the mic, then you’ll definitely want to budget another twenty bucks for the mic mount, a clip that will allow the ONE to be mounted on a mic stand and angled appropriately for internal mic use, and for including a pop filter in the rig.
It’s too bad that the ONE’s connectors aren’t all mounted either on the top panel, or all on the bottom panel -- preferably on top panel for desktop use -- to make cable management a little cleaner. On the other hand, if one were simply going to use the ONE as a mic-and-interface combo when traveling, it probably wouldn’t make much difference since the breakout would be superfluous in that situation anyway.
Having connected the ONE to a MacBook Pro laptop, I installed the Maestro software package from the included disc. After the required reboot, I launched it and was presented with the Maestro Control and Maestro Mixer pages. Given that the unit is a mono-in, stereo-out device the pages are simple enough. The Mixer displays a meter, fader and mute/solo buttons for the single input and “From Software” channels, with a slightly larger meter displaying the overall “To Hardware” output level. The Control page has gain controls for both the input and output levels, and the input is selectable between Internal Mic, External Mic, External 48V Mic and Inst, which of course selects the quarter phone input. Setting the input lights the appropriate icon on the top of the ONE as expected. In addition, engaging phantom power setting in software lights the red LED directly above the external mic indicator.
The knob on the top panel controls the level of either the currently selected input, or the output. Pressing the knob briefly will cycle through the various input and output options, allowing you to change gain settings. A display, similar to the built-in Mac OS volume display, appears on the computer screen when you make changes, and shows which input or output is being changed. If the knob is pressed and held for one second, then the output it muted.
As soon as input signal is applied, the three-LED column for level does its thing. Note that Apogee is quick to explain that the meters on the top panel, and in the software mixer, display the signal at different points in the signal path, and may not match. Here’s the difference: When the knob is set to an input, the LEDs show the signal level after gain but before the A/D conversion. The software meters show the level after the A/D conversion. When the knob is set to the output, the top panel meter displays the analog signal after output level gain has been applied. This means that as your monitoring level is decreased, the level displayed on the top panel meters decreases as well. The output meters in the software display the signal before the conversion from digital back to analog. The top panel meter’s red Over LED only lights when the input level is selected, and won’t display overs at the output. Digital overs are only displayed in the software meters, so it’s best to check them during monitoring and adjust your workstation’s output level accordingly.
Got all that? It’s actually a lot simpler in use than in the above description. In fact, once you have the levels set up in the software, using the ONE is a simple matter. So how does it sound?
GOING FOR THE ONE
In a word, fabulous. I compared the ONE with both an Mbox 2 and with an M-Audio Firewire 1814 (granted, both are older units). The overall audio quality of the ONE is surprisingly good, especially at its price point. Using an RE-20 and Harlan Hogan’s MXL mics both yielded a sound that was noticeably more open than with either of the other interfaces.
Even more surprising was the performance of the built-in electret condenser microphone. As you might expect, no one will ever mistake it for a Neumann, but it’s darned good... easily good enough for a remote VO recording session. Crisp and clean, with enough low end response to get the job done. I didn’t work it closely -- the design of the ONE really precludes that -- but at eight inches or so away I got what I consider to be a very acceptable voiceover track, with no noise.
According to Apogee, the ONE works well with any Core Audio-compliant software package, and I tried it with three of them -- Audiofile Engineering’s Wave Editor, Amadeus, and TwistedWave. All worked as expected, and delivered no surprises.
The only downside I encountered was the manual. Apogee includes a QuickStart guide in the box, but the more detailed User’s Guide is only available online at the company website, and only as one page per webpage with no navigation. After you’ve read a page, you have to hit the back button to get to the table of contents so you can read the next page... a complete pain. There’s also no downloadable version of the entire manual, but they do offer a downloadable PDF of each page, which can be found on -- you guessed it -- each online web page. An unfortunate situation, I’m afraid. Thank goodness the thing sounds good as good as it does.
The only other nit I’ll pick is with Apogee’s pricing. I don’t know whether it’s the cache of the Apogee name or distribution rules or what, but Apogee products tend to not be discounted by retailers. Come to think of it, it can’t have much to do with distribution, since the best price I could find was via Amazon.com, which featured the ONE at a hefty two percent discount through one of their partner retailers.
If it’s available through Amazon, then it’s available all over the place, right? In any case, expect to pay full clip for the ONE.
But for a mobile rig that rocks a MacBook Pro, it’s worth it. The ONE lives up to Apogee’s reputation; that much is certain. Steve sez check it out. On a Mac, unfortunately, but check it out anyway.
The Apogee ONE is shipping now at a suggested US retail of $249. For more information worldwide, visit www.apogeedigital.com.