A while back I wrote about my Audio Technica AD900 headphones and how awesome they sounded. Towards the bottom of the page, I wrote:
However, if I wanted to hear deeper bass, punchier mids, and clearer highs without distorting the sound, I can get an amp or sound card to drive the headphones. In short, I can make the already bullshit-sounding headphones more bullshit-sounding. Sometimes I wonder what that would be like, and if the difference is as significant as the audiophiles argue. Maybe I’ll find out one day.
That day has arrived. Late last year I purchased the Apogee Duet DAC (digital audio converter); a Mac-only external soundcard. I bought it from Musician’s Friend, during their black Friday sale[1. So get this, the timing of the black Friday sale was completely accidental, and I forgot to put in the promo discount code during my purchase. I got onto live-support to get them to add the discount code before the sale went through. They did it and it all went fine. Later, I found out that Apogee products were excluded from the discount promo code, but my purchase had already gone through. Boom! (Hope no-one was fired.)] and got a hefty discount. I was a bit worried that for the money spent I wouldn’t get a noticeable bump in quality, and initially that was kind of the case; the music sounded different but didn’t blow me away. But after using the Duet for a while now — listening to heaps of different tunes — I’m finding the quality bump getting bigger and bigger!
The difference? Everything is clearer. Things sound a bit more separated, but still together. Kinda like cleaning the windscreen of your car after it’s been sitting in the street un-driven for a week. Just clearer.
The Duet (and DACs in general) bypasses the typically average-quality headphone jack on your computer and sends pure digital signal via USB or in my case, FireWire. The pure signal goes into the Duet, which is then converted into analogue via much higher quality (read: expensive) converter bits n bobs, to be finally released through it’s own headphone jack. This is where the clearer sound comes from; better components.
Not only does it sound good, I love the way it looks; it matches my computer setup perfectly (I hope brushed aluminium doesn’t go out of nerd-style anytime soon). Admittedly, looks were an important factor in my final purchase decision, but I’m cool with that. I use it every day so I want it to
look be beautiful, especially since I couldn’t find a good internal soundcard for the Mac. Also, it runs on the power from the FireWire cable so I don’t need another plug for the powerboard (who does?). Other DACs I looked at did. Thumbs down.
If you’re on a Mac, you’re really into your music, and you have the cash to spend, I recommend the Apogee Duet. Actually, let me rephrase: I recommend evolving to a good-quality DAC. In my opinion, the price is worth the sound quality.