Not a full year after the Thunderbolt Dock saw the light of day, Elgato released its second iteration of this device with Tunderbolt 2 technology inside. The Thunderbolt 2 Dock looks almost identical — it’s a bit bigger than the first Elgato Dock — but has Thunderbolt 2 ports, better USB 3 performance and a better quality sound output DAC. The new Tunderbolt 2 Dock can drive a 4K display via HDMI.
The design of the Elgato Thunderbolt 2 Dock hasn’t changed much. I like it, some people emailed me and told me they hate it. You can’t discuss taste and it’s the internals that matter anyway, so I’m going to direct my attention to those. The most obvious change is the addition of two Thunderbolt 2 ports, which make this dock suitable for newer Macs like the Retina iMac. This new Mac comes equipped with USB 3 ports already, which makes one wonder what will draw people to the new Elgato dock.
The answer is the HDMI port and a better sounding audio out. The HDMI port can now drive a 4K display, which is a real boon for Final Cut Pro X users editing on an iMac instead of a much more expensive Mac Pro. I took the Thunderbolt 2 Dock with me to a Mac reseller that I have known for years and whose technical department I used to visit frequently in years past. He had an iMac Retina with the AMD Radeon R9 M295X card inside and a 4K Dell to try it with and it sure looks good. The screen didn’t show any lagging either, something that I feared would happen.
The Thunderbolt 2 Dock doesn’t stop at offering 4K on its HDMI port, though. Its USB 3 ports are better too. On the first generation Thunderbolt Dock I noticed that connecting a Lexar Professional Workflow HR1 would lead to a significant drop in performance of the Thunderbolt port the Dock sat on. I imagined it was the Lexar somehow slowing down the whole Dock. But it wasn’t. Either the first Thunderbolt Dock was faulty, or there was a design flaw, but Elgato’s Thunderbolt 2 Dock keeps Thunderbolt speed at full throttle, regardless of what you connect to its USB 3 ports.
Its USB 3 ports gave me the impresison to be a bit faster too, with certainly less lag between plugging in a device and seeing it mount on the Mac desktop.
Finally, I was curious about the audio out port. On the Thunderbolt Dock, audio out sounded as bad as Apple’s built-in analogue sound ports. Thin sound, low gain, nothing to brag about. The Thunderbolt 2 Dock has a Burr-Brown DAC built-in. It’s obviously not the top of the range DAC chip, but a lot better than the standard analogue audio out port of both Mac and first generation Elgato Dock. The sound is rich, full-bodied, louder too.
In short, the Thunderbolt 2 Dock really is all what you could hope for in a Thunderbolt Dock. If you hesitated buying the first Thunderbolt Dock, then now might be the time to go out and buy the Elgato dock. For €229.95 you’ll get three (more) USB 3 ports, a 4K HDMI port, a nice sounding audio port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt 2 ports for daisy-chaining and the ability to charge your iPad if you download the Elgato Dock utility that provides your USB 3 ports with the necessary electrical power.