Studio Diary #11: Thunderbolt 3 Brings A New Problem

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

When I traded for the Apollo x6, I couldn’t test it right away. Universal Audio don’t include a Thunderbolt 3 cable with their Apollo units. I had to buy one separately from somewhere.

It’s frustrating that UAD (and their competitors!) don’t include an essential cable in the box. But I already knew that they didn’t. That’s an inconvenience, not a problem.

The problem is that Thunderbolt 3 cables are much shorter than Thunderbolt 2 cables. The Apollo x6 is in a studio rack about 3-4 metres away from where my computer normally sits.

Thunderbolt 3 cables come in two types:

  • “Passive” cables are incredibly reliable, as there are no active electronics involved. If they’re only 0.5m long, they can deliver the full 40 Gbps throughput of the Thunderbolt 3 spec. A passive cable between 0.5m and 2m only delivers 20 Gbps throughput.
  • “Active” cables are available up to 2m. Very roughly speaking, it’s the equivalent of adding a buffer to a long audio cable run. They deliver the full 40 Gbps throughput.

Unfortunately, not only are “active” TB3 cables rare – and very expensive – they get absolutely terrible reviews online. Whether it’s just early days, and they need to improve the manufacturing design or quality control, or whether there’s just a problem with compatibility, it doesn’t matter – I don’t want unreliable gear in my home studio.

And besides, a 2m cable is still about half the length that I need.

For now, I’m going to have to use a 2m passive cable, and simply string it through the air in a straight line over to my computer. Hopefully one day someone will release an affordable, reliable, 4m active cable that I can upgrade to.

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