We held two Thunderbolt Interface Shootouts - and here are the results
We went to Riverside Studios, Berlin to record jazz pianist/vocalist Olivia Trummer and her band playing the track Gotta Miss Someone. We recorded the performance on three popular Thunderbolt audio interfaces: the Focusrite Clarett 8PreX, the Apogee Ensemble, and the UAD Apollo 8p, so that we could investigate how they performed in two blind listening tests.
Producer/engineer on the session, Oliver Laib – a jazz pianist himself – took special care to make sure that we set up a truly level playing field between the three contenders. He painstakingly adjusted the gain with the playback of test tones, while ensuring other settings were carefully adjusted to match each other across the board.
Once we had the recordings in the bag, we invited six respected studio professionals to blind listening tests in Berlin and London to see which they felt was the 'best interface' - and why. We replaced all interface names with X, Y and Z and, like the recording, the playback levels and conditions were set up to be identical. Plus we made sure the participants could instantly switch between the recordings made with each Thunderbolt audio interface.
Our Clarett 8PreX won both Interface Shootouts.
About the reviewers
Interface Shootout 1 went down at Riverside Studios in Berlin. The reviewers were Berlin-based house and deep house artist/DJ/producer Oscar Lindahl and Berlin-based engineer and producer Khalil Chahine.
Interface Shootout 2 took place at Gearbox Records, a London-based record label with its own mastering studio and cutting facility. The reviewers were Gearbox founder/producer Darrel Sheinman, Grammy-nominated producer/engineer Michael Angelo, Gearbox mastering engineer Caspar Sutton-Jones and composer Dru Masters.
About the band
Olivia Trummer was born in Stuttgart into a musicians' family. A prolific songwriter and classically trained pianist, Olivia has made her mark on the international jazz scene as a musician with a voice and spirit all her own. With her ability to blend lyrical melodies with rich harmony and rhythmic sophistication, she has won the hearts of instrumental and vocal jazz lovers alike. She is joined by David Haynes on drums and Joshua Binsburg, bass.
About the interfaces
The Focusrite Clarett 8PreX
The specially designed Clarett mic pres offer significant gain, yet low noise and distortion. They also include an ‘Air’ feature that switches in an analogue model of Focusrite's original transformer-based ISA mic pre. Instrument inputs feature extra headroom to handle loud pickups. The 26 x 28 Clarett 8PreX features 24/192 conversion with up to 119dB dynamic range. Its 1.67ms round-trip latency makes it possible to use standard plug-ins in real time.
The Apogee Ensemble
Apogee offers a range of products including the Apogee Symphony, Apogee Quartet and others. The Apogee Ensemble included in the Shootout features Apogee A-D/D-A conversion, eight Advanced Stepped Gain™ mic preamps, monitor controller capability including talkback, front panel instrument inputs, two headphone outputs and digital connectivity for a total of 30 x 34 I/O.
The UAD Apollo 8p
Universal Audio are probably best known for their Apollo Twin Thunderbolt audio interface. The Universal Audio Apollo 8p that we included in this test features eight Unison™-enabled mic preamps, Apollo A-D and D-A conversion, onboard UAD-2 QUAD Core DSP and accompanying plug-ins.