The Apogee Duet 3 and Other Portable Interfaces to Consider

Say you've been recording at home throughout the pandemic, and now that you're making summer travel plans, you want an easy, portable interface that lets you continue to record while on the road. Apogee just announced a serious contender for the best portable audio interface, but there are still many other options to consider.

Apogee's new interface is the Duet 3, the latest in its Duet series. The new model is just about the smallest, fully featured two-input interface one could hope to see.

The company launched the Duet line back in 2007, establishing a sleek aesthetic for a portable, professional-grade recording device. The Duet (featuring a Firewire port) and Duet 2 (USB 2.0) became a standard for hobbyists, bedroom musicians, and professionals alike. With the new Duet 3, the series receives an update to both the function and form, with an ultra-slim, futuristic-looking interface and USB-C connectivity.

Apogee Duet 3

Like previous models, the Duet 3 is powered via its connection to your computer, so there's no separate power supply necessary. And because Apogee includes a breakout cable for all of the audio inputs and outputs (like mic/line ins and monitor outs), there are no bulky ports on the body itself. You can also swap the breakout cable for a Duet 3 Dock, for an additional cost.

What sets the Duet 3 apart from its predecessors is mainly its USB-C connectivity, its compatibility with Windows PCs, and the inclusion of onboard DSP. Similar in function to the processors in Universal Audio's Apollo line, the Duet 3 now gives you the ability to use the company's Symphony ECS Channel Strip or Apogee FX while recording or mixing, without taxing your computer's own CPU. However, the Symphony ECS Channel Strip will be sold separately, though Duet 3 buyers will get a 50% discount.

More features, according to Apogee, include:

  • Best-in-class Apogee conversion and mic preamps
  • 2x4 USB Type C audio interface
  • Scratch resistant top
  • Precision balanced back lit knob
  • Input and output connections via breakout cable: 2x 1/4" Instrument inputs, 2x Mic/line inputs, 2x 1/4" Balanced outputs, 1/8" Headphone output, 2 USB Type C ports
  • Bus powered / External power optional via second USB Type C port as needed
  • On-board hardware DSP for low-latency recording with Apogee FX
  • Symphony ECS Channel Strip - Hardware DSP FX included
  • macOS, Windows 10 compatible

The Duet 3 will be available in July 2021 for $599 USD.

Deals on Last-Generation Duets

The Duet 3 may be the latest and greatest, but the Duet 2 is by no means outdated. And now might be the best time to get a deal.

When Universal Audio updated its Apollo Twin interfaces in October 2019 to the X series, new and used prices on the MKII Apollo Solos, Duos, and Quads dropped. We expect a similar price savings to hit the Duet 2s as the Duet 3 becomes available in July.

Duet 2 interfaces are still very powerful, and depending on your computer, their USB 2.0 connectivity may even make more sense for your needs. High-speed AD/DA conversion, independent headphone monitoring, and plenty of preamp gain on tap—these features and more are included in both the Duet 2 and Duet 3. So unless you need the 3's USB-C connectivity, PC compatibility, or ultra-slim profile, you owe it to your wallet to check out the Duet 2.

Other Portable Interfaces to Consider

Maybe the capabilities of the Apogee Duet, impressive as they are, exceed your needs. Luckily, there are many other interfaces that are simpler and less expensive but still great for on-the-go recording.

IK Multimedia iRig 2

At its core, the iRig 2 is an entry-level device that allows you to record a guitar or bass directly to your Mac or iOS device. Simply plug in and play.

The iRig 2 has some secondary functions that make it even more useful. It allows players to use the device live thanks to its 1/4" output jack. If you're practicing at home, you can use regular 1/8" headphones to hear yourself. When paired with IK Multimedia's AmpliTube software, you can choose between any number of virtual amps, cabinets, effects, and mic placements.

For a list price of $39, the iRig 2 provides more features than the price tag might lead you to believe, and you're bound to find steals here on Reverb. If you like the form factor but need something with different I/O or a bit more versatility, the company makes the iRig HD 2 Guitar Interface, the Pro Duo 2-Channel Mobile Audio/MIDI Interface, the iRig Pre Microphone Preamp, or the iRig Pro.

M-Audio M-Track Duo

For a modest price, the M-Audio M-Track Duo can record up to two channels at once—whether you are plugging in microphones, guitars, digital drums, or keyboards. And you'd be hard-pressed to find another two-input interface with this many features for the same price.

While the interface can connect to a Mac, it is optimized for PCs and requires a power adapter and connectivity kit for use with Mac devices, which does add extra expense and hassle.

The M-Track Duo features two preamp-equipped mic/line inputs that are switchable to instrument levels, and it includes 20 effects plugins made by Avid. So if you're looking to capture any audio, whether it's for a podcast or for your next album, the M-Track Duo can be a solid, entry-level option.

The downsides can be found not only in the Mac connectivity, but also in the low AD/DA sample rate and limited dynamic range, when compared to more expensive devices. But for a lightweight two-channel interface that you can bring wherever you want to go, you more than get what you pay for, especially if you stick to a PC.

Fender Mustang Micro

Marketed as a headphone or personal amplifier, Fender's Mustang Micro offers a dozen amp models and a dozen more effects as selectable presets. But it's also an easy-to-use recording interface. Just plug into a computer through its USB-C port and you can integrate the Mustang amps and effects into your recorded tracks.

If you were reading above, you'll know the iRig 2 pairs well with the AmpliTube software, which can offer hundreds of effects, amps, cabs, rooms, and virtual mic placements, along with decision fatigue. The Mustang Micro by comparison is like a small but packed virtual amp room, curated by Fender.

At just about $100 new, the Mustang Micro is a nice travel interface for guitarists or bassists. And, of course, it still doubles as the headphone amp it was made to be.

Audient EVO 4

Like the size of a thick Twinkie, the Audient EVO 4 is a two-input, two-output audio interface that puts practicality and ease-of-use at the forefront of its design.

Built with musicians, vocalists, and podcasters in mind, the EVO 4 connects via USB 2.0. It has two mic preamp inputs, 48V phantom power at the press of a button, and a transistor-based instrument-level input. Its "Smartgain" LED light cues you immediately if your signal's coming in too hot.

Besides that, there's not much to this interface, so if your must-have features list includes everything you need and nothing you don't, check out the EVO 4, which is available new for around $129.

If you want more inputs and outputs, Audient's EVO 8 is a 4X4 interface not much larger than the EVO 4.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo

If you're looking to record at home, something from the Focusrite Scarlett line is a logical first purchase, and one that can keep you going for many years. The 2i2 desktop interface has been a mainstay of bedroom producers' rigs for nearly a decade. Though larger than other portable interfaces on this list, the 2i2—or, for that matter, the 4i4, 8i6, 18i8, and others—are all small enough to toss in a backpack. The 2i2 and 4i4 are even bus-powered, meaning they're powered from their USB connection and don't need additional power supplies.

But the smallest and simplest of them all is the Scarlett Solo. With one mic pre and one instrument input, it has just enough to record your vocals and accompaniment. And it has a few of the perks you can find across the Scarlett line: Focusrite's high-performance preamp, the collar-lit encoder knobs that turn red when clipping, and (on the 3rd generation solo) the Air button that adds some higher frequencies when desired.

The latest, 3rd gen Scarlett Solo and older 2nd gen Solos are both USB 2.0 devices, though the 3rd gen has a smaller port and uses a different USB-C to USB-A cable.

Audient iD4 Mkii

The Audient iD4 Mkii features a premium Audient Console Mic Preamp for its XLR input, which is designed to deliver ultra low-noise and low distortion. The interface is powered via USB-C and conveniently has both 1/4" and a 1/8" headphone jacks, so if you're constantly losing your headphone adaptor, or don't have one, you're in luck.

The iD4’s virtual scroll wheel is signature to the device: It allows you to control all on-screen parameters with the interface’s knob–so if you’re adjusting the volume of a track in your DAW, you can control the level with interface. These convenient bells and whistles make this an easy-to-use device. The premium preamp separates this interface from the EVO 4, but if your priority is to have two XLR inputs and you're drawn to Audient products, the EVO 4 is a good option.

Universal Audio Apollo Solo/Arrow

In late 2020, Universal Audio rebranded its smallest interface, the Arrow, to make it part of the Apollo series. Now called the Apollo Solo, it's available with the Arrow's same Thunderbolt 3 connectivity or, for the first time, as a separate USB 3 interface for Windows users.

Any of these interfaces will bring you into Universal Audio's premier hardware-software world. That includes powerful Unison preamps and UA's plugin emulations of classic studio gears, such as the UA 610-B pre, Marshall Plexi Classic Amplifier, Ampeg SVT-VR Classic Bass Amp, and more. The hallmark feature of the Apollo line is that the interfaces can process the UAD plugins independently of a computer's CPU, meaning you'll achieve an optimal sound quality with near-zero latency. Thanks to this technology, your computer's processing power is freed for recording in your DAW, or for other plugins.

For Mac users, the Arrow—which you can find here on Reverb for reasonable used prices—and Apollo Solo Thunderbolt 3 are powered via the Thunderbolt connection, so you won’t have to use a dedicated power supply. If you’re using a Windows computer, the Apollo Solo USB connects via USB-C and requires a 12V power supply.

If you plan to use many UAD plugins at once, you’ll want to check out the Apollo Twin X interfaces—like the Duo and Quad—which have larger processors onboard. While these will require an additional power supply, making them not quite as portable as other interfaces on this list, they are great for impromptu studios in hotel rooms, rented houses, or similar spots, and have been used by many pros for those purposes.

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