Apogee are well known for the high quality of their audio interfaces and A-D/D-A converters, so when they announce that they’ve just released their “best-sounding and most advanced multi-channel interface ever”, it’s probably time to take notice!
The Symphony I/O is a 2U device (it can be rackmounted, or you can simply place it on a table or desktop so that all your friends can enjoy its ’70s hi-fi styling) that, as far as we can tell, offers more ways to connect to your Mac (unfortunately it’s not PC compatible) than any interface we’ve seen before. As its name implies, this new interface is compatible with Apogee’s modular Symphony system, which in itself means it can connect via PCIe or Cardbus Express, using either a Symphony 64 PCIe card or a Symphony Mobile card. But that’s not all: it can also work as a straightforward USB 2.0 interface, so you don’t necessarily need any additional Apogee hardware to get up and running. Additionally, the Symphony I/O is compatible with Avid’s Pro Tools HD systems, so it offers an alternative to Avid’s 96 IO and 192 IO converters (or, indeed, Apogee’s own X-series and Rosetta interfaces). And the list of connection protocols just keeps on going: you can run the Symphony I/O in standalone mode, and have it convert between digital and analogue audio using either the ADAT, MADI, optical S/PDIF or AES/EBU digital formats (we’ll cover the I/O configuration in detail in just a moment). And finally, there’s an Ethernet port, which Apogee say will “take advantage of emerging digital connectivity formats” — though no specific protocol is mentioned. All of the modes are selectable from the front panel, so you can quickly and easily switch between using the Symphony I/O as a Pro Tools HD front-end, and as a Logic interface via USB (for example).
That’s the Mac connection side of things pretty well covered, but what of the I/O? Well this, too, is highly flexible, thanks to the Symphony I/O’s two module slots and a range of expansion cards. Up to 32 inputs and outputs are available simultaneously, in a wide range of configurations: you can have 16 balanced analogue line I/O plus 16 digital I/O via four ADAT ports, for example, or eight mic preamps plus eight line inputs, as well as 16 ADAT outputs... Or you can opt for a more modest I/O count, which brings the price of the unit down but still leaves room for expansion.
All told, there are five expansion cards, and these are configured as follows:
- Eight analogue, line-level I/O plus eight digital I/O via AES/EBU.
- Eight analogue, line-level I/O plus eight digital I/O via ADAT.
- 16 analogue, line-level inputs plus 16 digital outputs via ADAT.
- 16 analogue, line-level outputs plus 16 digital inputs via ADAT.
- Eight-channel mic preamp upgrade (with up to 85dB gain) for use with one of the above modules (also provides four instrument inputs, plus eight balanced insert points).
All of the modules (except the preamp expansion module) also feature stereo S/PDIF I/O, while all the ADAT ports are duplicated, to allow for higher sample rates (using the S/MUX protocol) without sacrificing channel count. Though not all the modules are available immediately, they will apparently be released over the coming months, along with such features as Eucon support, MADI compatibility and, eventually, the ability to control the mic preamps’ gain from within Pro Tools HD (though the preamps can also be controlled via the front panel). Speaking of which, the front of the main unit features 16 10-segment LED meters, for monitoring your input and output levels, plus a sample-rate display and clock source indicator. There are also two headphone outputs, the levels for which can be independently set using the rotary encoders.
If all of the above hasn’t impressed you yet (which it really should have, unless you’re an embittered PC user), then perhaps the specs will: THD+N for the A-D stage is quoted at an impressive -113dB @ 20dBu, while for the D-A stage the figure is an even more remarkable -117dB. Total dynamic range for the A-D stage is 120dB, and for the D-A stage it is an outstanding 129dB (both figures are A-weighted). The headphone outputs have a slightly more modest (yet still formidable) 119dB dynamic range, and an output impedance of 55 Ohms.
As you may by now have guessed, the Symphony I/O is a pro product, and as such carries a pro price tag — though it’s not as painful as you might think. No UK pricing was available at the time of writing, unfortunately, but the US prices should give you some idea of how much it’ll set you back: the main unit, fitted with one I/O module, costs $3690, while the I/O expansion modules cost $1995 each.