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OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Thunderbolt 2 Dock

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Best Thunderbolt 2 Dock For Music Production

OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock

  • Don Makoviney
  • Last Updated: February 13, 2016

Chances are you have lots of devices and gadgets for audio production. Perhaps some USB 2.0 devices, USB 3.0 devices, maybe even some Firewire and Thunderbolt 1 devices. For this reason the OWC Thunderbolt 2 dock is our pick, hands-down, as the best one on the market at this time. You can plug all those devices, midi controllers, pads, adapters, mics and headphones in one place. While it's not the smallest, nor is it the least expensive, it does exactly what most of us need in a flexible, robust device into which you can plug about any type of peripheral device you might own. If you're looking for the best, the OWC Thunderbolt 2 dock is the one to get.


Table of Contents

Why you should trust me

I’ve been working as a programmer and musician for almost two decades. I’m intimately familiar with all the connection types which work with this Thunderbolt dock.

On an extremely personal note, I am buying a new laptop for audio production in the next month (February 2015) – a MacBook Pro, in fact – and finding the perfect Thunderbolt 2 dock for my audio projects is high on my priority list. More on me here.

Why do I need a Thunderbolt dock?

Because they are perfect for home and pro recording studios.

thunderbolt dock
pic via

A Thunderbolt 2 dock will allow you to connect up multiple devices, whether they be USB 2.0, 3.0, Firewire, Thunderbolt 1 or 2. You can daisy chain devices too, which means you can plug your Thunderbolt audio interface as well. Now that I have a good number of midi controllers, keyboards, digital audio interfaces, and other non-music peripherals such as monitor, mouse, keyboard, it ends up being a chore just getting everything hooked up to start audio recording. You probably have a similar issue. Having a good Thunderbolt dock ensures all my stuff is hooked up and ready-to-go when I’m ready to track instruments, or mix.

You’ll find a good dock will increase your songwriting demo and recording/mixing projects immensely.

Do I need to upgrade if I have an older Thunderbolt dock?

Probably. Most computers a couple years old or more usually have Thunderbolt 1. While Thunderbolt 1 and 2 devices are interchangeable, you’ll get much higher transfer speeds with 2 – up to 20Gbs per channel. If you find yourself moving lots of large files between drives, devices, and other machines, the extra transfer speeds will help tons.

If you don’t then don’t worry about it. Your Thunderbolt 1 dock will work just fine.

What makes a good Thunderbolt 2 dock for audio production?

It should be able to handle any type of connector you throw at it, like the ones listed in the previous section. You should be able to leave all your stuff plugged in, and just have the one Thunderbolt cable connected to your computer. When you plug that cable in, all your devices should be recognized by your computer and ready to go.

Our pick

We like the OWC Thunderbolt 2 dock because it has the most USB ports, and also has data transfer rates right in line with more expensive models.

It’s not the smallest one either. But we don’t really care about that. The most important thing was being able to keep everything connected and working properly on our computer.

User reviews

On Amazon it has maintained 4 out of 5 stars for quite some time. Many of the reviews echo our sentiment:

Amazon user kaliki noted:

I have a macbook pro, late 2011 model and wanted to really utilize it as a desktop machine as it got older. This dock was the answer to so many of my issues with the limitations my old macbook had as a laptop. I can now run 2 extra 24″ monitors to extend my desktop across 3 screens with ease due to having USB 3.0 ports and a USB 3.0 to DVI adapter. Everything just runs so much faster and even in my windows OS through parallels runs smooth. The box is a little pricey, but worth every penny.

Amazon user Craig Jones, who runs an audio podcast says:

As with all thunderbolt docks, this is on the pricey side. In fact, even when compared to other thunderbolt docks, this is expensive. What you get, however, are more USB ports and FireWire 800. I host a podcast, and in my recording setup I absolutely need a FIreWire 800 port, so the presence of one here was essential. This also contains 5 USB 3.0 posts, two of which are high powered to allow for fast charging and charging of tablets. Most other docks only have two or three, and many do not include high powered options. If you have need for anything mentioned in this paragraph, this dock is your best and only option.

There are some downsides to this dock. It does not have eSATA connections, so you cannot plug HDDs and SSDs in at native speeds (you can of course use Thunderbolt or USB 3, however). The dock is also enormous. I believe it may be the largest dock of it’s kind that is widely available. If portability is an issue for you, this is not the dock to buy.

Overall, I am very pleased with this dock. I have had no connection issues whatsoever, and the breadth of ports available makes this very attractive for me. I do not need eSATA and I do not require that it be portable, so this ended up being the best dock for me. It may not be the best one for you, so read other reviews and look at the specs for each dock. There are smaller and cheaper options available that might be better suited for your needs.

Some drawbacks

There are a couple glitches I’ve found when perusing the web for real-world user experiences.

One is that sometimes the Thunderbolt display won’t come on when you plug in the hub. Here’s what people have done as a workaround.

Secondly, they don’t state it clearly, but you CAN use two monitors, but at least one has to be a Thunderbolt display, or “Thunderbolt 2 ready”. The other monitor can use the HDMI port.

And finally, they should just include a Thunderbolt cable. Having to buy it separately is kind of annoying.

For me, those things are minor when considering that you get an extra USB port and also a Firewire port.

If neither of those things matter then you could also consider our runner-up pick.

A few other points to keep in mind

Audio inputs and outputs: When you plug is a new input and output device in the list called “USB audio CODEC”. This takes over from your regular Mac speakers. However, the audio input is mono only. This is not a big deal because you’ll be using a digital audio interface of some type anyways.

New Macs only: At this time the OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock is only compatible with a Thunderbolt equipped Mac running OS X 10.9.4 or later. You can still use it with older MacBooks and such, but it will revert to the Thunderbolt 1 protocol, which is a bit slower, but still pretty fast.

It will work with Windows, but only under Bootcamp or Parallel: With one caveat: Thunderbolt is not full plug-and-play compatible under Bootcamp. You have to have the cable plugged in before you power on your Mac and boot into Windows/Bootcamp. Otherwise bad things happen.

Users have reported success on Windows 8, 8.1, and Windows 10, using Parallel.

Dual monitors, but: Our pick (as well as the other Thunderbolt docks) only support 2 displays IF one is a THUNDERBOLT display. You can’t use the second thunderbolt port as a mini-display port AND also use the HDMI port. But if you don’t use the HDMI port, then you can use the second thunderbolt port as a mini-display port. So basically, you can only have one display connected to this dock.

Runner-up

If you can’t find the OWC, the Thunderbolt 2 Docking Station by StarTech is pretty great.

audio-production-startech-thunderbolt-2-dock

When looking through user forums, most home recording enthusiasts vacillate between the OWC and the StarTech. Data transfer rates are about the same. It has one less USB port, but has some things the OWC does not: SPDIF digital output and eSATA. (If you don’t know what SPDIF and eSATA is then you probably don’t need it.)

On the whole, pretty much all the Thunderbolt docks perform well. It will just depend on what your needs are. If you need eSATA or SPDIF, go with StarTech. If you need Firewire and a lot of USB (like I do), go with the OWC.

Conclusion

Pretty much all the Thunderbolt 2 docks are great right now. Our pick is definitely the most flexible for most home studios. However, if you have special needs just tailor your pick accordingly.

Happy Recording!


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Best Thunderbolt 2 Dock For Music Production

OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Best Thunderbolt 2 Dock For Music Production

Important Specs

Dimensions 13.8 x 5.6 x 3.6 inches
Weight 2.5 lbs.
USB 3.0 Ports 5!
Thunderbolt Ports 2
Firewire 800 Ports 1
HDMI Ports 1
Gigabit Ethernet Ports 1
Audio Ports 1 Audio In; 1 Audio Out
more specs

Synopsis:

The OWC Thunderbolt 2 dock has the most ports for the money, highest amperage USB ports (good for charging devices), plus Firewire. You can plug in all your stuff in one place. This is the one to get for audio production.

StarTech Thunderbolt 2 Docking Station

Runner Up

StarTech Thunderbolt 2 Docking Station

Pretty much just as good as our main pick, but with eSata, SPDIF, added. However, you lose one USB 3 port. This was a dealbreaker for us. But if it doesn't matter to you this is a great pick!

- M

Sources

  1. Nick Guy, The Wirecutter, 20151210
    The Best Thunderbolt Dock
  2. Jeremy Horwitz, 9to5Mac, 20151014
    Best Thunderbolt 2 Docks For Mac
  3. Mac Thoughts, Mac Thoughts, 20150201
    Review: OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Originally published: December 29th, 2015

Important Specs

Dimensions 13.8 x 5.6 x 3.6 inches
Weight 2.5 lbs.
USB 3.0 Ports 5!
Thunderbolt Ports 2
Firewire 800 Ports 1
HDMI Ports 1
Gigabit Ethernet Ports 1
Audio Ports 1 Audio In; 1 Audio Out
more specs



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