No matter how great a song you’ve written, you need a high-quality analog-to-digital converter to get the richest-sounding tracks into your Mac. And if you need to record in rehearsal, concert, or outdoor settings, you’ll also want a unit that’s portable and rugged.
Apogee is renowned among audio professionals for making excellent analog-to-digital converters that work well in both studio and mobile recording environments. Its latest offering, the Mini-Me converter, sustains the company’s reputation quite nicely. However, the Mini-Me doesn’t fully support Mac OS X yet, and its high-quality sound comes at a serious price.
What You See
The Mini-Me is small (10.5 by 5.5 by 1 inches) and light (about 2 pounds), but it packs in many analog inputs and digital outputs. Its combination 1/4-inch TRS/XLR input jacks accept microphone, instrument, and line-level signals. The unit has clean-sounding preamplifiers and phantom power for microphones. The Mini-Me supports third-party battery packs and ships with a power supply.
Each of the Mini-Me’s digital outputs — AES/EBU, S/PDIF, and USB — offers two channels and a wide range of bit and sample rates — up to 24-bit and 96kHz (USB support tops out at 24-bit and 48kHz), and you can use all three outputs simultaneously. Front-panel controls include a knob for choosing the ratio of live to recorded signal you hear as you overdub tracks, mike-gain and line-input controls, a converted signal-strength monitor, and a bit- and sample-rate selector. The only difficulty we had with the front panel was with trying to adjust the tiny, recessed controls of the line inputs.
What You Hear
Parameter control is important, but great sound is paramount. A miked electric-guitar amp sounded fine, but the Mini-Me really shone with acoustic guitars and vocals; when we listened to the playback, the sense of being at a live performance was quite realistic.
The unit has three levels of compression to tame incoming signals that are near the point of clipping; we tested each level on a wailing acoustic track recorded about 6 inches from the microphone, and then we listened to the results. The low-level and midlevel compression produced files that retained most of the original sound characteristics. But the heaviest compression made the upper frequencies of the recording sound as if they were being pushed down by an unseen hand. Still, that was highly preferable to the garish sound of clipping, and in a “plug and play, and hope for the best” live recording session, it proved to be a lifesaver.
We successfully tested the Mini-Me in OS 9.2.2 with USB transfers to Emagic’s Logic Platinum and MOTU’s Digital Performer 3, and S/PDIF transfers to Digidesign’s Pro Tools LE.
Logic Platinum handled recording and playback in OS X, but Digital Performer 4 and Steinberg’s Cubase SX did not. Apogee is working on a driver that will enable full input and output capabilities (it should be available by the time you read this). There’s one other USB-related hitch: the Mini-Me requires a computer-based port, which means you’ll have to unplug your MIDI interface — a pain if you need to convert MIDI tracks to audio, or if you need to record with MIDI accompaniment.
On the bright side, the Mini-Me’s USB port is located on a removable interior daughtercard, which Apogee says can be switched out for a FireWire-based card in the future. This is good to know — because Mini-Me costs $1,495, professionals and discerning home users will want to work with it for years to come. Fledgling digital recordists will probably be better served by sub-$500 converters from companies such as Tascam and M-Audio.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If you’re an audio pro, or if you need to record sound or music on location for video work, the Mini-Me deserves your serious consideration. And if you’re an enthusiast who wants to significantly improve the sound of song demos, it’s definitely worth a look — just be prepared to trim your living expenses. And if OS X compatibility is crucial in your recording process, you may have to wait for Apogee’s promised driver before making your purchase.