Happy Friday, everybody! It’s time for another round of Ask Joe. If you’re new and have a question, head over to the Ask Joe page.

But not until you’ve read today’s post, of course. 🙂


Photo by -bast-

Graham Cochrane wrote:

Hi Joe…just stumbled upon your site this week and have thoroughly enjoyed  reading your articles and watching your vids. The information you give is helpful and is presented clearly. Keep up the good work!

My big question is about converters. Now, since you have spent a lot of time with the different products out there, I’d like your opinion. I currently run Pro Tools LE 7.4 on a mac with the 002r. I’ve been a longtime pro tools user since learning it back in college and have migrated through the original mbox to the 002r a few years back. I’m not a fan of just spending money to make things sound better, but I seriously am toying with the idea of looking into better conversion for my system, mostly for the sake of getting bigger drum sounds with more clarity and depth as I feel this is where better conversion will make the most noticeable difference.

I’m considering saving up for an Apogee Ensemble to run ADAT into my 002r for all my pres and A/D conversion. Would I be better off just trying to upgrade to the 003r instead? I know you have an 003 yourself so you know the sound of its pres and converters. This whole conversion thing is such a mystery to me as I hear on both sides different stories.

I’d love your feedback on this. Thanks so much!


Hey Graham. Great question. (By the way, thanks for sharing a link to your site. You’ve got a great voice.)

To sum up, you’re wanting to add an Apogee Ensemble, which can, in standalone mode, provide an additional 8 channels of input via ADAT.

Initially, that sounds like a great idea. However, it really depends on how good your mics and preamps are, along with how good the acoustics are in your room.

I’ve said this before on the blog, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times, your equipment needs to fit together as a system. Upgrading your converter will certainly make things sound better, but if your room really needs acoustic treatment, you’d be better off handling that first.

Likewise, if you’re using some lower-quality microphones and preamps, you may not hear as much of a difference in the Ensemble as you would if you had a really nice front end.

Does that make sense?

Converters play a big role in the sound of your recordings, but they are only one part of the equation. If you’re happy with your room and your front end, then I think you’re ready to move forward with the Ensemble (or even the Rosetta 800).

However, you want to make good use of your money. My advice would be to upgrade your converters only if you have adequately treated your room and have invested in quality microphones and preamps.

To answer your question about the 002 vs. the 003, I do like the sound of the 003. It’s better than the 002, but it’s not a life-changing difference. They upgraded the converters and pre’s a bit. In my opinion, you’ll hear a bigger difference with the Ensemble. (I’ve told quite a few people I think the Ensemble is the best-sounding firewire audio interface on the market right now.)

All this being said, let’s all remember that good music and good performances take precedence over quality of gear. As long as you’re making good music, I’m all for getting better gear to go along with it.

Thoughts anyone? Let’s hear ’em in the comments.

36 Responses to “Ask Joe #9 – Converters: Apogee vs Digidesign”

  1. Trygve Valøy

    I feel I just stumbled over a piece of music history here! Am I correct in surmising that this post contains the initial contact between Joe Gilder and Graham Cochrane? The dynamic duos first date so to speak 🙂

    The Simply Recording podcasts birthplace? Should be preserved for future historians 🙂

  2. Speed

    I had the mic pres in my 003 upgraded by Black Lion Audio .. now i want to change interfaces but would like to use the mic pres I have in the 003 .. can i do that ? can i use it as a 4 channel mike pre ?

  3. Mark

    Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in yo’ hand?

    Sorry, meant to say-thanks! That’s good to know!


    Hey Joe…Ive been researching all of this topic…I have a good room and some good external mic pre’s and excellent mics…SOOO…I thought of upgrading my converters ( I’m using a 003+) and the Ensemble was an idea as well as maybe adding a Big Ben to “control” all 3?…Im just concerned it wouldnt be a HUGE difference for me to spend the $ and I’d rather get a Neumann instead (ha ha…)of course you would have to hear what my stuff sounds like but what are your ideas on making the switch for the converters and clock…thanks!!!

    • Joe Gilder

      The Ensemble sounds amazing, but I don’t think you’d NEED the Big Ben necessarily.

      That said, are you unhappy with your recordings? If so, go for it. If not, then there’s your answer.

      • Brian Jones

        great way to think about it…I am def not unhappy with my recordings..I believe that answers my question..I always believe that things can always be better though…but I am def happy with how my stuff sounds

        • Joe Gilder

          That’s a healthy way to think about it. Perhaps you’re recordings sound great, and you could use some different “tones.” In that case a couple different mics or pre’s might be in order. I’m not against an upgraded converter. Something like the Rosetta200 would be a cool option. It’ll give you 2 channels of AD conversion, so you can run your most important tracks through that on the way in. You’d also have 2 channels of DA conversion, which would be a huge upgrade for your monitoring path, giving you potentially more detail as you’re mixing. I think it runs around $1800 and is a great option.

          I’ve got a 003, and that’s probably what I’ll do one day. Possibly the Rosetta 800.

          • Mark Hughes

            Hi Joe,
            I just recently discovered your website and have been enjoying your posts very much.

            Just wondering if you could help me with a technical question regarding D/A conversion in the 002 rack:
            I’m currently recording an album and am planning on taking stem mixes of the tracks to the mastering engineer when it comes time for that.
            Do you know if there is any D/A conversion going on inside Pro Tools when I print the stems within my session? Or is the only D/A conversion that which occurs when audio is outputted through the speakers or headphones? I spoke to my mastering engineer (who is very highly qualified) today, and he was pretty sure that was the case, although not 100% sure. So I thought I’d see if you might know.
            I suppose this is pertinent for me in that a lot of my tracking was done in good quality studios with better mic-pre’s and AD/DA converters than I have in my 002rack at home, and I’d like to preserve the quality of those tracks as much as possible.

            Hope that all makes sense!

            Many thanks in advance,

            • Joe Gilder

              Hey Mark! Conversion only happens when the signal comes out of your interface. So no, there’s no conversion happening when you bounce things inside of Pro Tools. It stays digital the entire time.

  5. gerard

    i wanna add an analog hardware like a mixing board or DAC to my ensemble for when i’m mixing or mastering what you suggest i use i’m look for plenty headroom and punch?

      • gerard

        well Joe a DAC I just want my mixes to be clear clean and loud i’m looking for plenty headroom also and punch ,so i would like your expert advice on what to purchase so i can achieve this thank you.

        • Joe Gilder

          Gerard, you may not want to hear this, but if you can’t get clean, loud mixes with the Ensemble, buying another piece of gear ISN’T going to help. The Ensemble has AMAZING DAC’s. You just need to invest a lot of time into learning how to make your mixes clean, loud, and punchy. The gear isn’t the limiting factor in this scenario.

  6. Mark

    Can you elaborate a bit on ways of getting better room acoustics. My home studio is in a 15′ x 25′ room, oak floor with no treatment.



    hi guys
    i’m new in this site, btw i found this threat really important for me too because i have the same problem
    A choise between Digi003 Factory or an Ensamble.
    The tips from Joe are very important in order to understand that mics, preamps and room have to be a unique system with your audio card.
    I would consider that converters are really important but the use of software with the proper card it’s important too. I have not experience with PT on an Apogee, ofc i think it will sounds good but i’m in the opinion to consider the gear use a part of a complete software/hardware integration. So i think at Ensamble with Logic and if you have not experience in software transfert, change of rtas/vst and so, this could be a problem in your normal job.
    So the question is not only based on converters rate but in a complete sw/hw integration


        Thanks Joe,
        what i mean is we can have a good 24/192 card but sometimes our software is not able to give us his use till the end.
        So i prefer an integration on ProTools LE 24/96 with a Digi 003 respect a mixed choise Ensamble + Logic or Ensamble + Cubase or something else.
        To be clear i think Logic is a good product but i feel the use of a controller (as in Digi003 Factory case) + a good software made for it, its the best we can have!
        Maybe in Digidesign will decide to upgrade his LE system with an external device for 24/192 converters than his system could be the best choise ever in order of prices and quality

  8. James D Justice

    I haven’t used the Apogee Ensemble but I have it in good mind to believe that the preamps would be a decent step above those in the 003 / 003R. My personal opinion on the 003 preamps: utilitarian. They work. Lower noise levels than the 002 or Mbox preceding models — but dimensionally flat sound basically (comparing only to a boutique or high-end preamp). I have listened to recordings with the Duet and the Ensemble and they sound much more musical to me than the 003 stock ones.

    I would second @KeyOfGrey in recommending that when you _do_ need outboard converter upgrades you look at a used Rosetta or something similar… and I also agree with the author of this site:

    Mics, source, preamps first ( I actually want to get a decent outboard compressor before I ever pay $3k for an AD/DA unit ) ….

    And as for the sample rate thingy… i hear some slight differences up to 96k but I use a 003 so I can’t say what 192k might bring. But I basically believe in that whole Nyquist theorem thingy and agree with most of Dan Lavry’s whitepaper’s suggestions and conclusions.

    So :: Ensemble is probably a very good buy — you get the Apogee AD/DA (8-Channel) AND 8 (or is it just 4) good preamps that just might sound much nicer than those in the 003.

    Cheers everyone

    • Joe Gilder

      Thanks James. Welcome to Home Studio Corner! You make some good points. With regards to the Nyquist theory, I was all on board with the “higher sample rates are better” train of thought, until I realized that just about every converter out there oversamples the audio, meaning if you select “44.1” on your converter, it’s still getting sampled at a higher MHz level. Then it just converts it down to whatever sample rate you choose for your session. So you theoretically still get the benefits of a higher sample rate, even at 44.1 Hz.

      It’s all very interesting…but also kinda boring. : ) It looks like we all agree that the music matters more than the converters.

  9. KeyOfGrey

    Good points. I might add that for a lot cheaper than the price of an Ensemble, you can buy a used Rosetta, and a very good preamp. Would sound better than the Ensemble, and save a lot of money.

    • Joe Gilder

      I’ve heard good things about the Black Lion mods. I’ve not heard one, though. Thanks Austin.

      I think my original point still applies, though. The upgrade in converters needs to accompany good front-end equipment.

  10. Graham

    Joe…thanks for answering the question. Regarding your point on pres and mics, are you of the mind that expensive pres are worth investing in (i.e. will yield better results) or that they simply sound different (good for sure) but different. I feel that good pres and mics are a more intangible chase than say good conversion (which in theory is more scientific, simply giving you a more accurate digital recording).

    • Joe Gilder

      Hey Chase. We’re talking about subjective things here, both converters AND mics and preamps. One person may think a converter sounds “better” while another prefers the less expensive option. However, if you compare a $500 or $1,000 preamp to the built-in preamps on your 002, you’ll notice a significant improvement in sound quality. It’s not really all that subjective. It will sound better. It’s when you start comparing one high-end pre to another, or one converter to another, that it becomes like splitting hairs. However, jumping from an entry-level mic or preamp into a more professional unit will yield noticeable results. (What I mean is…results that your wife would notice. That’s my test. If my wife can tell that something sounds better, than it’s a worthwhile investment, since she isn’t a musician and doesn’t know anything about the gear. She just knows what sounds good.)

      • Graham

        Gotcha. So I take it you typically avoid the pres in your 003? What have you found to be a good value/performance pre in your studio?

        • Joe Gilder

          Actually, the pres on my 003 are pretty good. A lot of what I’ve posted on this blog was recorded through those. For a good value/performance pre, I’ve been happy with the Focusrite stuff, things like the TwinTrak…nice stereo pre (around $670). I’ve also liked the True Systems P-Solo (around $500).

          • Terry Downey

            I had just purchased an apogee ensemble(for standalone mode) to compliment my 002 rack.
            Ive had a terrible time trying to get protools to go to optical (it wont change over) and i was wondering, is there a specific instruction to get it to convert over?
            My apogee is internal and the outputs are going via adat
            Thanks in advance!!!

            • Joe Gilder

              Since the 002 doesn’t have a master clock connection, you’ve got to use TWO optical cables (in and out) and sync Pro Tools to the optical signal coming from the Ensemble.

              • Terry Downey

                I have both in and out optical cables connected to their corresponding ins and outs.
                I download the latest upgrade for apogee ensemble to “fix” the issue but has not come to pass.
                Pro Tools still will not go to optical in the setup menu and the sample rates for both units are the same.
                yeesh :S
                this is such a frustrating technical difficulty

                • Terry Downey

                  the apogee is set to internal as well(thought i would drop that in there…)
                  if you have any other ideas that would be awesome JOE
                  thanks again for your reply 🙂


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