Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt

Well, here it is folks, and it looks amazing. Check out all the specs at Apogee if you haven't already.

This Thunderbolt 2 interface has everything and more that a recordist needs for a project studio.

My only reservation is this: Thunderbolt is here and now but will it fade away like FireWire, leaving owners of this with nothing? You cannot even get a TB to FW adapter (FW to TB is available) and there is no USB 3 port to future-proof the relatively large investment ($2500).

I used to record with a PCI card, then came PCI-express, which I skipped on (relying on my PCI card for ten years or more with three computers) then I got another interface to use with the FireWire port on my iMac and now Apple has phased it out.

I can easily imagine buying my new iMac in March with TB and, six or seven years later, when that iMac is outdated, replacing it with another only to find out that TB has bitten the dust and we're on to the next great thing. And you know there's going to be a next great thing, there always is.

Let's put it this way: my new iMac (2015) will have a TB connection and an array of USB3 connections. The computer I buy in 2022 will have an array of USB connections (backward compatible with USB 3 if things have progressed beyond version 3) but will it have a TB connection? That's anybody's guess. USB has been around for 20 years, that's right, since the mid-90s. And you can bet that it will going strong years from now.

An interface of this quality and price could easily last a person ten years or much more but only if the surrounding hardware is compatible. And I can see adapters looming on the horizon (TB to USB) but I hate those compromises.

I was so ready to jump on board with this Ensemble (I love the sound of a little Duet that I own) but I think I'll stick with RME for my next interface.

Perhaps RME will now see the light and release a TB box but, I'd be willing to bet that if they do, a USB3 connection will also round out their unit. But even if they continue to shun TB, as I suspect they will, their USB3 technology is definitely future proof whereas the TB route is uncertain to say the least.

And I see that Apogee, in Q&A over this new interface, has poo-pooed USB and made bold assertions regarding the future:

Regarding USB, Ensemble simply could not perform with the same incredibly low latency and efficiency through USB. We were shooting for more of a "Tesla" design rather than a "Chevy Volt" - the very best Thunderbolt interface possible, and not a Thunderbolt+compromised-USB hybrid. We know not everyone can use a Thunderbolt audio interface yet just like not everyone can drive a pure-electric car, but we wanted to design this unit for the present and the future.

But the performance that RME is getting out of USB (they have the first USB3 interface) is simply astonishing and if I spend $2K on their top-flight interface (saving money up front as well) I can rest assured that, while it might not be as amazing as the new TB protocol, at least I can make it last over the life of two or three computers. Can Apogee really guarantee that the Ensemble TB is built for the future, as they claim? I hope so, but I'm not willing to bet $2500 on it when less spent on RME is a sure thing.