Apple’s new MacBook Pro series – regardless of screen size – ships with four connectors, all of them USB-C. That may lead to some confusion, because these aren’t the USB ports most people know from their current laptop.

Let’s take a quick inventory of the gear I typically use, which I think it fairly typical:

USB sticks (with Rekordbox, for playing on CDJs)
A Lightning cable for my iPhone
External hard disk, Thunderbolt
External hard disk, USB3
Universal Audio Apollo audio interface, Thunderbolt
Lots of USB controllers, audio interfaces, etc.
Occasionally need Ethernet for the odd connection
SD cards from my camera and mobile audio recorders
Connections to projectors via VGA and HDMI
External monitor with HDMI
Power adapter
Headphones, connected via the headphone jack

On my previous-generation MacBook Pro, that means I typically travel without any adapter at all apart from my power adapter and a VGA connector. Everything else is built in. I’ve once or twice borrowed an Ethernet adapter. (I do keep an external CD drive, speaking of legacy.)

And I’m not an edge case; most people use USB stuff and the SD slot and a video output with some Thunderbolt things thrown in among audio users.

Obviously, this also often requires a USB hub.

Now, swapping out the machine I own now for a hypothetical MacBook Pro with USB-C connectors and Thunderbolt 3 is not without advantages in the future. Both faster USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 devices are supported. As I’ve reported before, Thunderbolt can offer more consistent performance at low latencies.

Here’s the problem: adding more bandwidth won’t help you unless you can exploit it. Speaking for essentially all music and audio work currently, and most creative visual work, there’s nothing specifically that can take advantage of all this added bandwidth.

So practically speaking, for musicians certainly and also most visually-minded people writing this site, you get a handful of advantages from USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. You can connect 4K+ monitors. You can provide more power via the bus. And you can charge your laptop via any one of the four ports.

And a convenience: you don’t have to worry about inserting the connector upside down. You do have to worry about this smallish connection coming unplugged, though – which might also explain why Apple isn’t so concerned about having eliminated the MagSafe power connector (designed to pop out rather than let you trip and drag your Mac to the floor).

Apart from the monitor, though, I don’t suspect anyone is actually going to notice any of that. And again, my existing laptop already has USB3 and Thunderbolt (2).

What you will notice is, you need an adapter or new cable for every single one of the pieces of hardware listed above with the exception of the headphones. (Thankfully, thwarting expectations, Apple didn’t eliminate that as they did on the iPhone 7. The bad news for iPhone 7 users is, they didn’t do the obvious and add a Lightning port natively on the Mac, so now you have the reverse problem.)

Let me do some math here for my use case – being conservative and buying the minimum amount of stuff I need:

US$49 (x2): Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, 2x
US$49.95: USB-C SD card reader
US$39.95: USB-C to VGA adapter
US$19.95: USB-C to USB adapter (I’m just going to get one of those and assume I’m using a hub and the multiport adapter below)
US$69: USB-C to digital AV multiport adapter (covers USB, HDMI, passthrough power)

I actually don’t want that last adapter – it’s wide and blocks one of the ports, and it has an extra USB and power passthrough I may not need. But there’s not yet a direct HDMI adapter.

I’m going to skip adding a US$34.95 Ethernet adapter or a special $25-35 Lightning to USB-C cable – let’s presume I’ll survive without the former and just use a USB adapter for the latter.

But stressing that this is all for existing hardware – meaning I get literally zero advantage out of this – the grand total is a whopping US$275.90. And being a bit less conservative and buying an extra charger, I could easily double that.

Also, for y’all fellow Americans back home, I pretended for a moment I don’t live in Germany, where this would be yet worse (well, though with some money going to fund our trams and U-Bahn and so on).


You’d need to figure this into the cost of a new MacBook Pro, as with the previous “new” MacBook.

That said, frankly, I don’t think anyone will use Apple adapters exclusively. Instead, they’ll use something like this rather svelte dock for under 70 bucks, as reviewed recently in Macworld:

Satechi Slim Aluminum Type-C Multi-Port Adapter review: Portable MacBook dock makes no compromises

Likewise, you’ll presumably be able to buy non-Apple power adapters, since that USB-C port is standard.

And notice you do get one advantage here: because of the added power delivered over the connector, you don’t need a separate power source. That’s a pretty big edge over USB for musicians.

That said, there’s an underlying message here.

Thunderbolt 3 looks great, if overkill for most users.
USB-C will at least add some convenience in the long haul (not just on macOS, either)

But there’s a fairly hefty “Apple tax” for doing what you’re effectively already doing. And it raises two big problems.

One, Apple is forcing you to use adapters, but the adapters they’re designing are clumsy, unoriginal, expensive, and take up space. There’s not even an attempt at a workable solution for people connecting more than one piece of hardware at a time. Obviously, they’re leaving that to third parties, but at the moment they don’t offer a complete range of connectors to match their previous generation themselves and don’t stock any third parties.

Come on, Apple. All that innovation and you can’t make the dock this thing obviously needs?

Two, I think the added cost would be easier to swallow if Apple’s machines were price competitive. But you’ll have to widen a margin that’s already significant.

That could encourage Apple customers to either stick with what they’ve got or look to the Windows-based competition. And I do think many PC makers will simply offer a mix of legacy and new ports by comparison.

Those sticking to Apple should find hardware is compatible. (We’ll have to wait on testing to know if there are any unexpected issues.) And I imagine they’ll be investing more heavily in third party accessories than Apple’s.

  • Daniel Courville

    Just getting one or two of this adapter should solve a lot of problems and allow to keep “old” adapters.

  • RichardL

    Beware! Many, many USB-C cables and adapters are not standard compliant.

    Follow Google’s Benson Leung for reports on the ongoing trainwreck that is USB-C third-party products.

    He’s also got a whole section on Amazon where he takes on the USB-C cable industry.

  • From what I’m understanding, my FireWire Saffire Pro 40 will need a TB3->TB2 adapter and then a TB2->FireWire adapter, if it even works at all. Functional, but not pretty.

  • Clif Marsiglio

    Wah! Apple doesn’t give me advancements!

    Wah! Apple gives me 4 ports that offer better than PCI speeds at 40Gbps rates and double as USB-C 3.1 giving me 10Gbps!!!

  • sarrass

    I think about upgrading to one of the new machines after seven years 🙂

    What I was first thinking was the same as you, Peter, but most of the external hardware stuff is usb2, and there seem to be cables usb-c -> usb-2 for a few euros, so this should solve at least these problems…

    Anyone had experience with adapters from thunderbolt (2) to firewire 400?

  • alamilla

    Startech and Belkin both make Thunderbolt 3 docks that fit most of your criteria:

    The high price points are more ‘early adopter tax’ than anything else, but it’s a far better solution than buying multiple dongles or adapters.
    I would personally hold out for Gigabyte’s TB3 products to be released as they have more I/O and have worked closely with Intel supporting the protocol for over a year now.

  • BR

    I actually don’t see much of an issue with the port changes. A couple of these (, and maybe one of those multi port adapters linked by others here and I’d be good to go.

  • James
  • Robin Parmar

    To people outside the hyper-consumerist, profit mad, and wasteful mindset, this is just stupidity. To people inside the bubble… well, just scroll down for the justifications.

    • Heh, I think actually CDM readers and musicians *are* outside that bubble, apparently.

      I see some clarifications, but…

      Anyway, a $60 dock will do the trick, which is also what I suspect PC users will use. But Apple’s approach here – and their inability to make their own adapters – boggles the mind.

  • Enda Grennan

    Up until now the MBP has been the obvious choice for any musician serious about making music in a mobile context. Thanks for giving such an eloquent description of the musicians dilemma in wanting to continue using Apple machines. I have been a loyal follower for many years but there is no way in hell I’ll be buying one these.

  • Raffe Bergwall

    Thanks for the heads up. My question is if I could connect my power supplied Hoo Too 7 USB-A hub to an USB-C -> USB-A adapter and then use it like normal? I’m a DJ and connects Pioneers CDJ2000 players, mixer and a Midi Fighter Twister into my old MBP today. I would like that if I upgrade to a new MBP

  • geoff

    There’s a fundamental lack of a specific model in the range for me as a consumer. This and the previous article just highlights it. My priority for a macbook pro is not its depth and every mac laptop variant seems to prioritise its depth over any other requirement. My currently macbook pro has a non glossy matt screen, two hard drive bays which I can upgrade as and when I feel like it and the connectivity to use thunderbolt, usb or firewire devices. I carry only one adaptor and no external drives ever. I wish Apple would make the macbook pro brick for people like me who want multiple large drives and as many ports as possible over depth. Their entire range is a thin/slimline range that now lacks any diversity that would appeal to someone like me. The whole point of a laptop is I don’t want to carry other crap around with me. To accomplish this if it makes the laptop thicker in depth so be it, thats absolutely fine. What is not okay is having to carry a ton of other crap just to get back to what I have already cause they decided to make it half a centimetre thinner.

  • Yermom

    Just to mock you, they included a headphone jack, because bravery or something. Not at all impressed with the direction Apple is taking.

  • Neko

    You forgot another $19 for the extension chord for the power brick, because these no longer ship by default.

    • Michael

      this is just ridiculous… just bought the new 15 and realized it when i opened it up…

  • Jim Wiseman

    And they killed Aperture. More than 100,000 photos. Jony Ive lives literally across the street from me on Kauai. Wonder if I could get him to move them to, say, Capture One Pro, with keywords? At his pay rate, that would cost about a half a million USD. Probably a low estimate.

  • freqn
  • Patrick Ijsselstein

    goodbye apple, i’m not stupid….

  • nicolas horne

    i never mined them focusing on forward compatibility. i ordered the new machine with a USB adapter and a TB1 adapter. then i’ll look for a HDMI adapter. not bad i think

  • Tony Scharf

    Recently bought my first Mac, and I’m glad I did. I am also glad that I don’t ever have to buy another.

  • Dennis Miller

    Don’t buy all those cables. Just get a tiny USB-C to USB female adapter and plug in your old cables.

  • I’ve mostly been using my MacBook Pro with a CalDigit Thunderbolt dock. Power and one cable and I’m plugged into all sorts of things including firewire, audio, a raid array, and a usb hub. If you have a bigger setup, I’d highly recommend something like this. There is currently a StarTech Thunderbolt 3 device for around $200 that would get you most of the way there, and a quite a bit better one from OWC coming out soon for around $250.

  • Totally disappointed by Apple’s latest updates…

  • AndrewD

    I’ve come to this article over 3 months later, having purchased my new MBP and the connectivity issues remain whilst Apple does nothing.

    What a pitiful experience at the Applestore with staff unable to grasp my need to actually use a computer for my daily work and therefore being able to offer connectivity solutions that my previous MBP provided by default.

    Hopefully Im not a luddite, I understand that technology moves on. But with Apple’s uncompromising decision to enforce a new standard it surely has an obligation to provide sensible pathways for backward compatibility and interconnectivity. Rather than a handful of over priced dongles (so far Ive spent the equivalent of a windows computer on dongles and a spare power supply for both home and office) perhaps releasing a well designed docking station would be a minor task for the Apple team and one they would sell alongside most every MBP or in my case 2, home and office. Yes there are a smattering of 3rd party options but they look ugly on my desk and, as correctly pointed out, are not always standards compliant.

    Also, and just as frustratingly, many months after release there remain no 3 party clam covers such as those previously offered by Speck & Incase.

    My daughter, a budding musician, attends our city’s premier cultural industries schools – even they express concern about the new MBP and for this year require students to have either the last MB Retina or a mid 2012 MBP. Their ideal but not compulsory solution for running Logic Pro X is actually a MBAir for “on the go” and an iMac at home. This later combination is actually of similar price to a new MBP 16gb 512gb ssd but with greater flexibility.

    Normally not one to resurrect the “what would Steve do” argument but I can’t help but wonder if he would would have been so quick to release product without thinking through the end consumer experience. And not just the MBP, consider an iPhone 7 with no audio plug and unable to deliver the wireless earphones until months after release. My early Macs, iPods and then iPhones blew me away with their ease of set up and use out of the box. This new MBP has been only partially usable for several weeks while I sourced the various bits to bring it to full functionality and the shinny new gloss experience of past new Apple product was lost in frustration.

    My fear is that this latest incarnation of the MacBook Pro looses the mantle of the heavy lifter of the range. It is a beautifully made and the screen a joy to behold but as a versatile workhorse it lacks flexibility – and I haven’t even started with my issue of RAM and SSD non upgradeability.

  • Michael

    Does anyone know if there is a Thunderbolt 3 to Firewire 800 (or 400)? Or an alternative to the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. I need to connect my Saffire Pro 26…. bought one but realized it isn’t Thunderbolt 2, it is actually Minidisplay port…. which i need as well.