Review: OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

Review: OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

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Thanks to our friends at Apple, laptops no longer have all the cool goodies which they once did. Gone are the optical media drives, firewire, many USB ports and even specialized card slots and video connectivity – to say nothing of audio outputs worth a darn. In this article, I’ll review the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock and see if it’ll give we creatives back our peripheral connections.

The Demonized Elgato

Whilst on the Sound Advice circuit around North America, we used the Elgato Thunderbolt hub to bring a whole

T-bolt 3
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock comes in two varieties.

lotta hard drives into the 2014 Apple Macbook Pro which ran the show. We also used the HDMI out of the computer and the HDMI out of the Elgato to run two independent screens, and when hotels allowed, we used the ethernet port to connect to the internet. Now to me, these are things which should come standard on every laptop, but since the wizards at Apple have seen fit to disallow that connectivity in order to save money and space, we have to invest in these little hubs. Now, the OWC Thunderbolt 2 model hadn’t yet shipped at the time of the Sound Advice launch – and sadly too – because the Elgato didn’t have firewire – which we really needed.

Upon my return home, I purchased the Elgato from the tour, and began using it – but strange things would happen. It would lose power – but because there’s no indicator lights at all I couldn’t tell what the problem was. Then, the fateful day came when the Elgato lost complete power and corrupted a hard drive. A 4 TB one. Don’t worry, it was backed up (you should back up your hard drives right now as you read this) so no harm but to my irrecoverable time…but that was it. In the “use in an emergency” pile it went. Purchased was the T-bolt 2 OWC device, and I’ve never looked back.

Then I’ve had more than one friend tell me their plights from the Elgato, and they’ve been turned to the T-bolt 2, and been ever happier.

The Basics

connectivity
Tons of connectivity on the back of the T-bolt 3. Just like those early aught laptops used to have – but way better.

With the addition of Firewire, solid drivers and AN ON LIGHT, we’ve been thrilled with our T-bolt 2.. Now with the advent of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock and their 4-drive SSD Thunderbay Minis, the need for high-bandwidth connectivity is even more necessary. There’s 13 ports, y’all! Well-powered and normal USB 3.1 ports, Ethernet, 3.5mm audio out and in, SD Card Reader (!), two T-bolt 3 ports (which are backwards compatible with T-bolt 2 – but you’ll need a $50 adapter), and a mini-display port has replaced the HDMI port. Please don’t mistake that MDP for a T-bolt 1/2 port. It won’t work. There’s simple adapters available anywhere to take MDP to HDMI.

Sound Thinking

Now some of you are wondering why the heck I’m talking about a T-bolt hub on Cinema Sound. “What does this have to do with audio – other than you’re just shamelessly pimping a sponsor.” Well, sure. I understand how it must look. But the one thing that makes this hub better for us than ANY other hub out there is this: a S/PDIF out which can do up to 96k/24 bit. And that 3.5mm plug? Yeah, well, it’s a mic AND a headphone out.

WHAT!?

Yeah, I know. So dope! For the first time since they dropped TOSLINK on Mac Pros in 2008, we have bona-fide digital audio outputs from our macs. Connect this to your simple DAC device, and you’ve got two channel out without having to purchase an expensive audio interface.

118 CS Rating
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Hub Receives a 118 CS Rating

And, although I’m in danger of turning this OWC article into an Elgato rant, during the creation of the MZed Pro Member Education, I was using the Elgato to record reference audio on its 3.5mm jack. Check this out: every time I booted Adobe Audition, the WORST 3.5 kHz tone would crush the recording. The poor folks at Adobe who were checking our education during production had to weather it. Brutal. We never figured out why. Some lousy driver issue to be sure.

But the OWC records well, albeit with a little higher noise floor than we’d like, but with a 3.5mm connector (and the lousy mac OSX processing), there’s only so much which can be done. It’s smart enough to know that you’ve plugged in a headphone or a TRS 3.5mm microphone input and change it’s signal path accordingly. So awesome.

Sure. There’s a ton of T-bolt docks out there, but I haven’t seen one that is as perfectly made for independent filmmakers as this one. Although it’s more expensive than those others, it has far more value. Far. More.

As a result, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock receives a 118 CS Rating. Although the form of it is ideal for us creatives, and also the addition of the audio functionality is amazing, the sound of the 3.5mm ports isn’t quite as up to par as a dedicated audio device would be. And, of course, there’s no fidelity choice for the digital out, since it’s just a data pass-through. However, the value of the device is incredibly strong, and is only diminished if you must purchase a $50 T-bolt 3-to-2 cable. You later Mac laptop purchasers rejoice!

We love this thing.

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