Monday, April 29, 2024




2013 Apple MacPro features six Thunderbolt-2 Ports click to enlarge

The Mac Pro (Late 2013) cylinder shaped computer, in spite of its compact, “waste basket” form factor, is still a surprisingly capable computer in 2024. This older computer design was still actively manufactured in 2019. If you've got one you might wish to connect with a newer USB C shaped Thunderbolt-3 audio interface or SSD storage: Or you may have a Thunderbolt-2 audio interface like  the Apogee Thunderbolt-2 Symphony model, and wish to connect to a newer Apple Silicon based computer which has USB-C-shaped Thunderbolt-3 (or Thunderbolt-4) ports. 

In this article we'll explore some of the connection options that can keep your gear recording as the technology universe evolves around us. 

Two Thunderbolt 2 hardware Ports, note the little Thunderbolt icons

For DAW/recording users the primary technical differentiators between Thunderbolt-2 and Thunderbolt-3 is the total data throughput-speed and the physical shape of the connectors. Thunderbolt-3 can achieve slightly more than double the speed of Thunderbolt-2; however if Thunderbolt-2 performance dramatically exceeds your DAW hardware and recording software requirements then the extra performance and speed capability of Thunderbolt-3 is wasted. If your Thunderbolt-2 recording gear is in good operating condition then don't let newer style connectors get in your way of using what you have; adapt!

Apogee Symphony MK-II digital audio interface with dual Thunderbolt-2 ports 


Thunderbolt-2 connector

Thunderbolt cables are not dumb wire with plugs on each end (this is why these cables are so expensive). Every Thunderbolt cable connector has micro-electronics encapsulated in the plastic barrel of the plug and you can tell it's Thunderbolt if it has a little bolt of lightening printed on one side of the plug. No lightening bolt means it's NOT Thunderbolt (it's probably a Mini DisplayPort video cable). 

Left Thunderbolt-2, Right Mini DisplayPort, Click to Enlarge


Thunderbolt-2 has a rectangular, slightly D-shaped connector on each end. Mini-Display Port connections use the same size connector as Thunderbolt-2 so you'll need to keep a close tab on the equipment, connections and cables you're using. 

Left Apple Thunderbolt cable, Right OWC Thunderbolt cable, click to enlarge

Remember, Thunderbolt connectors have the little bolt of lightening printed on them for identification. Mini Display Port cable ends may or may not have a little TV monitor or some form of DisplayPort logo printed on the plugs. A cable with Mini DisplayPort plugs on both ends is NOT a Thunderbolt cable and won't function in a Thunderbolt cable application. 

Mini DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort, this is not a Thunderbolt-2 cable

New, two-meter long OWC Thunderbolt-2 cable, click to enlarge


The latest Thunderbolt-3 cables have what appear to be USB-C connectors on each end: again, look for the little Thunderbolt printed on one side of each plug to verify you've got real Thunderbolt-3 or 4 cables. 

Left: Thunderbolt 4 (looks like USB C), Right: Thunderbolt-2, note the lightening bolts

USB-C AND THUNDERBOLT 4 (also connects Thunderbolt-3 gadgets)

OWC Thunderbolt 4 Cable, Thunderbolt Certified, 0.3M (11.8"), 40 Gb/s Data Transfer, 240W Power Charging, Compatible with Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, and USB4 Devices, Black

Thunderbolt-4 cables are close to being "the universal cable". They are capable of transmitting power, data transfer and high resolution video. That's great unless you don't need the latest and greatest. The 11.8" long, Thunderbolt-4 cable pictured above is $22 while a 2-meter length is currently selling for almost $60.


Apple Thunderbolt-2 to 3 adaptor, click to enlarge

Apple engineers created a reasonably compact and affordable bidirectional adaptor which allows Thunderbolt-2 devices to connect to Thunderbolt-3 devices and accessories. The current, 2024-cost for the adaptor is about $50.

Note the little Lightening Bolt icon, click to enlarge

On one end of the adaptor is a compact boxy plastic housing with a female Thunderbolt-2 socket. On the other end of the adaptor is a short, fixed cable with a USB-C shaped Thunderbolt-3 male plug. To complete the connection you also need a Thunderbolt-2 cable to go from the adaptor to your Thunderbolt-2 connection point.


Thunderbolt-3 end of Apple adaptor, note the lightening bolt icon, click to enlarge

Here is how this works, you plug a standard Thunderbolt-2 cable into the Apple adaptor and the other end of this cable goes to your Thunderbolt-2 computer connection on a late-2013 model, cylinder-style Mac Pro or laptop. The Thunderbolt-3 side of the adaptor plugs into an OWC Thunderbolt-3 dock or any Thunderbolt-3 audio interface.

Since the Apple adaptor is bidirectional you can also go the other way; you could connect the Thunderbolt-2 end into your Presonus or Apogee recording interface with a Thunderbolt-2 cable and the USB-C shaped Thunderbolt-3 plug on the adaptor could connect to a Mac Thunderbolt-3 port like those on the latest Apple MacStudio computers.


Intel™ is the creator and curator of the USB and Thunderbolt interface standards. Early on Apple was a big supporter but they turned it all over to Intel to look after. Manufacturers of Thunderbolt labeled products are required to submit their products to Intel™ for certification and approval. In reality there are many products in the marketplace which have not been through the certification process. If you're having problems connecting a couple of devices that should be working try a different cable and be sure it is genuine, certified by Intel™. 


The latest round of Thunderbolt and USB-C cabling designs means you must be more careful than ever about your inputs and outputs. When all your gear is connected and working well you can squeeze out maximum performance and let your creativity flow. 

Thank you for reading High on Technology, Good Music To You!

©April 2024 by Mark King, it's not ok to copy or quote without written permission.