Apogee’s ONE (to give it its proper capitalization, although for reading ease it’s One for the rest of the review!) is a small, attractive unit designed primarily with the task of improving your Mac’s sound output quality to studio standards. Does it succeed?
Compatibility: Mac OSX 10.5.7+
Accessories: Mic stand mount and carry case (each sold separately)
One is made of plastic, but it’s well constructed and reassuringly weighty in your hand. The rotary encoder, One’s sole control, is in charge of volume adjustment of the stereo output and the gain of the input, switchable by depressing the dial.
The attractiveness of One – and the cost – comes from the quality of the components
One has a very slender feature set: a stereo headphone output and a single input. The attractiveness of One – and the cost – comes from the quality of the components. Apogee is amongst the cream of the crop when it comes to analogue/digital conversion quality, and everything from the headroom and signal to noise ratio to the clarity and accuracy of sound reproduction is superb. The single input is via either XLR or TRS, which connect via a breakout cable from the main unit, or an internal mic on the unit itself. 48v phantom power is provided to the mic input, and the sound quality they are capable of out performs most ‘pro-sumer’ models the One competes with.
Perhaps most impressive is the nearly non existent noise floor, and it definitely provides greater dynamics and depth than models such as the M-Audio Fast Track Pro and Novation Nio, and to my ears is fairly similar to the Focusrite Saffire Pro range, if even better at high gain levels.
Perhaps most impressive is the nearly non existent noise floor
It does seem a shame that the internal sample rate of One is 48kHz when so many other interfaces nowadays are 96kHz, but for single channel recording 48kHz is generally adequate and it’s a point rendered somewhat moot by the fact that it sounds better than many of its 96kHz competitors.
Installation is simple, just requiring connecting and disconnecting the unit from your Mac a couple of times while it updates the firmware on the unit in the background (unless of course you have the latest firmware straight out of the factory) and then a restart. As well as the driver, the installation installs documentation and Apogee’s Maestro software. Maestro provides an on screen method to alter One’s levels, as well as a special mixer that enables control over a low latency pass through mode for direct monitoring.
Apogee’s documentation and support is absolutely excellent – rather than simply explaining the unit’s features the manual for One goes into detail on why those features are technically important and provides advice for new users, and there are illustrated set up guides for many applications.
The internal mic is, in a word, unbelievable. Maybe being used to the less than inspiring mic onboard the MacBooks and perhaps (lazily) deriving my expectations for a pin sized pickup mic from them had something to do with it, but the difference is simply night and day.
The internal mic is, in a word, unbelievable
The Oh Drat Podcast is recorded with a Shure SM58, and the One’s internal condenser mic quality is, if anything, better. Noise levels are similar, even from a greater distance (the condenser’s loudness is understandably greater), tone is even crisper on the One, and its performance with plosives and sibilance is excellent. If you’re looking for a highly portable yet professional quality solution for on the go recording, the One might be perfect for you.
Output quality is terrific too. Although it’s unfortunately lacking a balanced output, One is loud, crisp, and displays depth that, to draw the comparison again, the MacBook can’t hold a candle to. Compared to the MacBook’s output, One is capable of much more volume, has dramatically better stereo depth, and a smoother response across the frequency spectrum – with low mid frequencies especially having more definition. Compared to the Native Instruments Audio 8 that’s had centre stage in the Oh Drat studio for a little while, One still has better stereo imaging and feels slightly tighter around the low and low mid.
it would have been nice to find an RCA adapter, and maybe a couple of RCA to ¼” plug adapters, in the box
There are a couple of things that Apogee could perhaps have included with One to help to sweeten the deal a little; the single 3.5mm stereo output is all well and good but considering most of you will want to connect to monitors it would have been nice to find an RCA adapter, and maybe a couple of RCA to ¼” plug adapters, in the box. The microphone stand adapter might not be something that everyone will use, but £20 for the option does seem a little steep. The carry case option is also expensive at £25, but it’s made of thick neoprene and feels extremely safe. It did strike me that the inputs being on one end of One and the output on the other makes it a little awkward to use it when truly on the move; it would be great to be able to leave it in its carry case whilst plugging into headphones and USB but due to the design you need to remove it fully to get at both ends.
THE WRAP UP
Apogee have carved a real niche with ONE. If what you want is a highly portable and simple solution to improving your Mac’s input and output quality to professional standards, or just need a single channel of pro quality input (particular kudos here to the quality of the onboard mic), then One is for you. It’s the combination of ONE’s portability, elegance, and brilliant sound quality that add up to its price tag, and if all three aren’t top of your list then you may struggle to justify the cost of ONE – but if they are, then there mightn’t be anything better…