Professional interface for the contemporary studio
First things first,
I purchased the Quartet to serve as the main i/o for my writing/mixing room where I score, create sound effects and mix in 5.1 for 3D stereoscopic motion ride film.
I give the Quartet 4-stars overall, but first, here are the areas where it ranks a SOLID 5-stars:
1) The converters and mic pre's are without question top shelf-professional and compare directly to any gear I have used as an engineer in any large commercial facility. Definitely no corners cut here. To make it any better would only impress test equipment. I actually felt the smile form on my face when I heard sound pass through it the first time. For some reason I was under the mistaken impression that because of its form factor, limited i/o, cost and iOS tie-in, it was going to be a Digi003-ish type sound. Having owned a Digi003R for years (and liking it), I was wonderfully surprised at the upgrade in overall sound quality and imaging. I don't know if this will make any sense, but the sound coming out of the Quartet sounds effortless. I just mixed a film through it and it was very noticeable that I didn't have to work as hard to get a good mix. Also, my ears didn't become fatigued as quickly as I'm used to with the 003R. It's also a boon that it provides 5.1 surround master volume control. Because I use a 5.1 monitoring system that already provides that, the Quartet offers an option in Maestro to be set at "line level", and I control my 5.1 volume from my monitor controller. It's nice to have the option though if someone is using the Quartet as their final monitoring stage running to powered monitors without central volume control.
2) It's a nice plus that the pre amps have ample gain to drive ribbon mics too. (the Symphony offers even more if you need it).
3) The free Maestro app provides software control over the Quartet. (setting levels, routing, phantom power etc) - It is well thought out and very easy to use. Because most people use their computer for both music creation and playback It would be cool if Apogee offered a software adjustable variable "dim" setting in Maestro so I could in one button press, lower my monitoring to a level I choose when listening back to music that has been mastered and is extremely loud coming from iTunes, Quicktime, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora etc. This way my system which is calibrated for creation could also easily be used for playback of mastered music without having to touch the master volume control. I asked Apogee about this and their tech manager said he'd actually look into it. Cool.
4) An engineer friend of mine created an in-the-field battery pack for his Quartet and it's working great! I mentioned this to Apogee during NAMM and they said they were producing a video actually explaining how to do that exact thing. How cool is it to be able to have the Quartet running into an iPad in the field (or in the studio) all on battery...with zero fan noise!
5) Native integration with iOS devices. Can you say professional recording using a mobile touch screen device!
Now, here is why I rated it 4-stars:
1) The OLED metering is very clean and easy to see, but I wish it could be a little larger since there is plenty of space available to work with. I'm sure it was a cost consideration and with Maestro on screen metering they probably thought it would be ok to go with the smaller metering. The problem is, I actually use metering from time to time and with my screens already being used for my DAW, larger onboard meters would have been cool.
2) The Quartet is only bus powered and turns on and off automatically with the computer. This means the Quartet is NOT designed to be used as a standalone monitoring device/control like the Presonus Central Station, or other offerings from Mackie, Dangerous or Coleman. Oh well.
3) I'm bummed that Apogee didn't provide 8 analog inputs. I know it would have raised the cost a bit but I would have paid it. Maybe Apogee was worried it would take sales away from their Symphony. I don't think it would have though. I see these as two completely different devices built for different reasons. I have a gorgeous 8-ch mic pre that just sits on my rack now that I used to use with the Digi003R for mobile recordings. The only way I can use it now is if I buy an 8-ch analog to lightpipe converter box, which I am grateful the Quartet does have connection for if/when I decide to expand my analog i/o which seems inevitable for the ensemble recordings from time to time.
4) The other thing that irks me is there isn't any form of digital out (!)
Although I don't necessarily need it right now or I would have had to get the Symphony, I'm feeling quite limited from a "connect with older gear" point of view which makes me nervous resulting from years of being compatible with whatever comes through my door in larger studios. (Apogee, I would have paid the extra hundred dollars for S/PDIF digital out).
5) The MIDI over usb is only compatible with Device/Class compliant devices. In speaking with Apogee about this, they said that the only workaround is using a MIDI to USB adapter that creates a device compliant signal. It's not an officially supported workaround, but they said they have tested an Alesis midi adapter that worked fine but there are no guarantees.
Although I'm bugged by these few things - thus the 4 star rating - I knew going in that the Quartet isn't an "end-all, be-all" box. I get that, but because of the price I will allow myself a little indulgence to wish for a few extra things that I've mentioned already. Apogee clearly had a specific customer/workflow in mind when they designed the Quartet. I just wish they would have spoken to a few more people first for some perhaps simple improvements. If your needs fall within this design you are in for a real treat. If the design doesn't cater to your studio's needs you may feel like you're wearing a shoe that doesn't fit right and I'd recommend something else instead.
So, to summarize, the Quartet is unequivocally professional sounding but is designed for a more contemporary in-the-box producer/engineer who uses Mac and/or iOS and is as close to plug-and-play as I've ever seen in the actual "pro" arena. So, I'm keeping it. But...Ted Hunter, please add an 8-ch analog to lightpipe box to my wishlist.