I’ve been recording music professionally since 1996, both independently
and on a variety of record labels. Throughout my journey, I’ve
encountered Apogee converters in studios from New York to New Orleans
and Los Angeles to London. From their Big Ben Master Clock and Rosetta
line to their mobile-oriented One and Duet, Apogee has staked its
reputation on pristine audio conversion. True, Apogee products have
never been called “budget,” but if tracking and listening through them
saves you time in the mixing or mastering phases of a project—as has
happened to me on many occasions—they’ll save you money in the
long run. In fact, I got so tired of hearing the mix engineer I work
with complain about the converters in my previous audio interface that I
started looking for alternatives. Hence, this review.
PROS: Unmatched, world-beating converter quality. Perfect stereo
imaging. Modular, portable, and expandable. Thunderbolt connectivity
via ThunderBridge interface. Maestro 2 software offers seamless control.
CONS: Works on Mac only. Expensive. No onboard DSP. ThunderBridge costs extra.
Bottom Line: The high-end audio interface to want if you value sound quality above all else.
2 x 6 analog: $2,495 | 8 x 8 analog: $2,995 | 16 x 16
analog: $3,995 | 8 x 8 analog with eight mic preamps: $4,490 |
With the Symphony I/O, Apogee has attempted to raise their
own bar, delivering a multi-channel audio interface with unparalleled
audio quality and flexible I/O configurations. How much did I like the
review system that I’ve been testing for the past four months? I bought
it. Here’s why.
The Symphony I/O is a modular multi-channel audio
interface operating at sample rates from 44.1 to 192kHz. The main
hardware consists of a 2U rack unit available in four stock
configurations: 2 x 6 analog plus 8 x 8 optical plus stereo AES/EBU; 8 x
8 analog plus 8 x 8 AES/optical; 16 x 16 analog; and 8 x 8 analog plus 8
x 8 AES/EBU plus optical plus eight mic preamps.
The Symphony I/O contains two slots for I/O cards, letting
you change or augment the system as needed. Being a pianist and
singer-songwriter, I opted for the 8 x 8 analog configuration with the
eight mic preamps.
Unlike recording systems that include onboard DSP and associated plug-ins (i.e.,
the Universal Audio Apollo family), Apogee’s Symphony I/O is an audio
interface only. It does, however, include Apogee’s renowned Soft Limit
feature via Maestro 2, which tames transient peaks before they hit the analog-to-digital converter, all but eliminating the possibility of digital clipping.
The Symphony I/O handles analog inputs, outputs, and
inserts via 25-pin D-sub connectors on its back panel—so you’ll need
appropriate snakes to fan out to XLR and 1/4" balanced connections. The
eight mic preamps on the preamp card features 85dB of gain; the card
also has four 1/4" hi-Z instrument inputs for electric guitars or
passive keyboards such as a Rhodes Stage model. Digital I/O is handled
via D-sub, ADAT lightpipe, and coaxial S/PDIF on RCA jacks.
The front panel is sleek and minimalist, and features two
rotary encoders and 16 ten-segment meters. The encoders have a variety
of functions, from selecting Symphony’s connection and output modes to
changing sample rates and output levels. Also on the front panel are two
loud headphone outputs.
The Symphony I/O works on Mac systems only and connects to
the computer via multiple hardware protocols: the Symphony 64
ThunderBridge (a separately sold box that provides Thunderbolt
connectivity to newer Macs), Apogee Symphony 64 PCIe card; USB 2.0;
directly to Pro Tools HD Core, Accel, HDX, or HD Native cards; or as a
stand-alone converter connected to your sound card with AES/EBU, S/PDIF,
or ADAT lightpipe inputs.
For this review, I connected my Symphony to a Thunderbolt
port on my 2012 Apple MacBook Pro running OS X 10.7.5, via the
My very first test of the Symphony I/O involved listening
to a variety of familiar source material played back through its
digital-to-analog converters. First up was Sting’s “Fortress Around Your
Heart,” from his 1985 album Dream of the Blue Turtles. I’ve been
listening to that song for nearly three decades, so I know it like the
back of my hand—or do I? Played back through the Symphony I/O, I
literally heard instruments I had never noticed before in the
soundscape: “Is that a synth on the tail end of the chorus?” was just
one of the things I was asking myself. Plus, while many audio interfaces
seem to hype certain frequencies, everything coming out of Symphony I/O
sounded full, balanced, and natural. Bass response was huge, yet tight
Next, I listened to a track from a “new age” album I
recently wrote and produced involving synths backing Tibetan singing
bowls. I remembered what that song sounded like through the system I’d
recorded it on, but played back through the Apogee, it sounded
positively gigantic. It made me wonder how much better the album
would’ve sounded had I used a Symphony I/O to record it in the first
Then it was time for some fresh recording. I fired up Pro
Tools 10 and recorded a quick demo with my Nord Stage 2 and vocals
through a Shure SM58 mic. I dialed up a piano/synth/organ combi on the
Nord and plugged its outputs 1 and 2 directly into the instrument inputs
on the Symphony I/O. Then I plugged the XLR output of my microphone
into input 1 on a snake that fed the Symphony’s eight mic inputs. A
quick adjustment on Maestro 2’s input screen was all I needed to get a
beefy mic level, changing the “Analog Level” to “Mic” and adjusting the
Level Trim until I achieved the tone I was looking for. The mic preamp
sounded full, detailed, and natural—just the thing for the track I was
I then swapped the SM58 for an AKG 414 B-ULS condenser
mic, toggled the “48” indicator on Maestro 2’s input screen to engage
phantom power, and suddenly I had an intimate vocal recording channel.
Having eight digitally-controlled mic preamps on board Symphony I/O is
not only a convenience; it’s a mobile engineer’s godsend that could form
the basis of a fierce location recording rig.
Symphony 64 ThunderBridge
The Symphony I/O connects to Thunderbolt-equipped Macs via
the Symphony 64 ThunderBridge interface, which supports up to 64
channels of I/O. In my tests, latency measured at 1.8ms at 24bit/96kKz
with the buffer set to 32 samples. The breakout box also includes a
second Thunderbolt port to daisy-chain other Thunderbolt devices such as
drives. I connected Symphony I/O to it, connected it to my MacBook Pro
via a Thunderbolt cable, and was immediately off and recording.
If, like me, the time you’ve spent getting out of your
studio chair to adjust your audio interface would add up to five years
or more, the Maestro 2 console software is a lifesaver. Not only can you
instantly see all input, output, and routing information for the
Symphony I/O, but you can also adjust headphone and output levels,
change clock sources and sample rates, and more. With my unit’s included
mic preamp card installed, Maestro 2 let me adjust inputs, trims, and
gain structure, and engage Apogee’s Soft Limit when I wanted to tame
The Symphony I/O is really in a league of its own. It
takes Apogee’s renowned audio conversion and marries it to a plethora of
expandability options. While this is a box built mainly built for the
upper echelon of recording artists and engineers, you get a tremendous
amount of bang for your buck. My test system priced out at $5,485
including the ThunderBridge interface. While that seems like a small
fortune, you truly are getting unparalleled converters and connectivity,
along with eight channels of premium mic preamps. If you’re looking for
an all-in-one box that comes with DSP-powered audio plug-ins and a more
standardized complement of mic and instrument I/O, you’ll need to look
elsewhere. If you’re looking for an audio interface that sounds better
than anything you’ve ever heard, you will find what you seek in the
Apogee Symphony I/O. I know I did.