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June 2017 Giveaway

Hands On Review: Apogee Symphony I/O

For maximum audio quality with a computer-based audio system, you’ve got to get the sound into and out of the digital domain with maximum precision. And that’s something that Apogee Digital knows a lot about — Apogee has been at the forefront of analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion for many years. Their latest triumph is the Symphony I/O, a modular converter system that provides not only exemplary audio quality but also amazing flexibility.

The Symphony system consists of a central chassis. Into this chassis you install your choice of input and output cards — the chassis will hold any combination of two cards. Various flavors include an 8 x 8 analog/digital card, a 16 x 16 analog card, a 16 analog-in/16 digital-out card, and a 16 digital-in/16 digital-out card. Plus, there is an 8-channel microphone preamp card that can be installed into one of the two chassis slots.

The chassis can operate as a standalone converter, taking analog in and sending digital out, and vice versa. Or you can use it as an interface connected to your Mac via USB. You can also connect the Symphony system directly to a Pro Tools|HD or HDX rig, where it shows up as a standard Pro Tools interface. Finally, you can combine the Symphony system with a Symphony 64 PCIe card in your Mac. This setup is perfect for working with high channel counts and for low-latency monitoring.

Speaking of latency, the Symphony system includes Apogee’s Maestro 2 software console, which handles all routing of inputs and outputs as well as software returns. Plus, it provides a low-latency mixer for creating headphone or monitor feeds. The Symphony chassis has two independent headphone outputs, plus outputs 1 and 2 can be used as stereo monitor outputs, each with its own front-panel volume control. So there’s no need for anything else — just the Symphony and your computer, monitors, and headphones.

Apogee sent me a Symphony system equipped with an 8 x 8 card — which simultaneously provides eight analog inputs and outputs, and eight digital inputs and outputs — and an 8-channel preamp card. I first put the Symphony to work as an 8-channel preamp/interface with my MacBook Pro, for acoustic guitar duet sessions in Sweetwater’s amazing Studio A recording space (designed by Russ Berger). We placed four microphones on each guitar and spent two full days tracking. The results were spectacular. The Symphony preamps are clean and clear, with great dynamics. They easily hold up to (or surpass) far more expensive standalone mic preamps. And, of course, the conversion quality is totally top notch. The system was rock solid. I had nary a glitch or hiccup during hours and hours of sessions.

Next, I moved the Symphony to my home studio and connected it to a Symphony 64 card in my Mac Pro. I used it for mixdowns and overdubs. Once again, it was completely rock solid. There was never a problem with latency, and the sound quality was crystal clear, full, and transparent.

If you’re looking for the best, most flexible converter/interface available, then you need the Apogee Symphony. It simply doesn’t get better than this!

Mitch Gallagher

About Mitch Gallagher

Sweetwater Editorial Director, Mitch Gallagher, is one of the leading music/pro audio/audio recording authorities in the world. The former senior technical editor of Keyboard magazine and former editor-in-chief of EQ magazine, Gallagher has published thousands of articles, is the author of seven books and one instructional DVD, and appears in well over 500 videos on YouTube. He teaches audio recording and music business at Purdue University/Indiana University, and has appeared at festivals, conventions, and conferences around the world.
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