Chapter in this post:
The manufacturer Sonnet kindly gave me the Thunderbolt 3 docking station Sonnet Echo 11 made available for a test. This is a good test object for me insofar as I am the classic user of a docking station: I work on the MacBook Pro, have a monitor and various other external devices plugged in and sometimes I leave the office and go into the garden or with my MacBook Pro into the living room.
For such “moves” you usually have to unplug a lot of cables and plug them in again later. To make this thing more convenient - and of course to have more connections available on the Mac - there are Thunderbolt 3 docking stations or Thunderbolt 3 docks.
You keep reading about “hubs” and “docks” when you want to expand the slots on your MacBook Pro. The hubs are usually the less flexible variant, as they expand the number of USB slots, but do not provide power for the Mac and the expansion is limited to USB slots.
The docking stations, on the other hand, support a variety of connections, such as HDMI, Thunderbolt 3, USB-C PD, headset, USB 3, SD card reader or network ports.
The connection of an external monitor is possible in almost all cases with the docks, while the speed is limited with the hubs and a monitor connection is therefore not available or only with a limited resolution and frame rate. In practice, this is never a good choice.
How the restrictions of the hubs look like in detail, you have to read in the specifications of the respective USB hub. But you can already see from the differences in performance why docking stations often cost 200 to 300 euros, while a good hub costs 20 to 50 euros over the counter.
In order to know whether a dock like the Sonnet Echo 11 is sufficient for your personal needs, the technical data is an important decision criterion. For this reason, I'd like to present the specifications of the Echo 11 in a little more detail here:
As a rule, the dock was completely reliable. Only than me that Update to macOS 11.2.3 I got a crash on my Mac after a few seconds after restarting. I could repeat the game endlessly: Mac boots, I log in, after about 10 to 20 seconds the screen goes black and the Mac boots again.
That didn't stop until I unplugged the Sonnet 11 Dock and everything else from the Mac and rebooted the Mac. Then I plugged in the Sonnet Echo 11 again and the Mac runs without crashing. This means that the Echo 11 should not be connected when booting - at least with my MacBook Pro. Only when I've logged in do I plug in the dock.
I would guess that something is screwed up in macOS, because this update has brought a function that deactivates “harmful” third-party hubs and docks. From my point of view, the function in macOS does not seem to work completely stable, because otherwise I cannot explain the crashes after the update. Since I've always left the Echo 11 unplugged when booting and only plugged it in after logging in, the interaction between the Sonnet Echo 11 and MacBook Pro (M1) has also been reliable.
Since I have many external USB devices such as a label printer, a document scanner, a laser printer and various 2,5-inch hard drives on my Mac, the 5 USB slots are not enough for me. I have mine for this reason Orico Hub plugged into the dock and gained another 10 USB-3 ports.
I could not notice any loss of speed due to the connection of the hard drives via the hub and not directly via the dock. I checked this with the Black Magic Disk Speed Test, but it only shows a small difference when you write to the disk on the hub. I didn't notice this in everyday life.
Measurement results in detail:
The fluctuations in the measurements are so strong, even during operation, that you quickly have 10 MB / s more or less. I would say that you won't notice any differences here in practice.
The built-in SD card reader is a UHS-I card reader. That's not tragic, but considering the price of the Echo 11, it would have been nice if a card reader had been built in that supports the fast UHS-II standard. For example, anyone who uses the SanDisk Extreme SD cards will be slowed down when transferring data to the Mac.
But you can quickly remedy this by using the SanDisk Extreme Pro card reader (here with USB 3.0 or here with USB C) or the Satechi card reader with USB-C connector catches - both support the fast UHS-II standard.
In everyday life, it turns out to be very helpful that the audio output, the card reader slot and the USB charging port are located on the front of the Echo 11. This means that all three interfaces can be accessed very quickly and you don't have to walk around the desk to get to the rear.
I always like to read the customer reviews on Amazon for products. In addition to a lot of hymns of praise, there are also two bad reviews.
One user writes that since Catalina he “has to reconnect every day”. I don't know exactly what that means, but I can say that this must be a specific problem with the customer's system. For me, the Sonnet Echo 11 Thunderbolt 3 Dock runs under macOS Big Sur without complications or dropouts.
A second user from the USA writes that he has the problem with his LG monitor that the monitor goes black and flickers after 5 minutes.
I'm on a Macbook Pro 2017 - 15 in. The Sonnet dock works fine EXCEPT for the fact it causes intermittent blackouts on an LG monitor plugged in via the dock's HDMI port. LG monitor goes black / flickers about every 5 min. When the monitor is connected directly via the Macbook Pro (using a USB-C to HDMI adapter) the issue does not occur. Only when routing the monitor through the dock does the issue happen.
Here, too, an unfortunate constellation seems to be the reason for the dropouts. For me, the Echo 11 Dock runs with an LG 34 inch monitor that is connected via HDMI - without any problems with no flickering and no dropouts.
Do you know the enlightenment when you buy a device after months or years of hesitation and then after a few days you think: "Why didn't I get it earlier ???" This is how I felt with the Echo 11 from Sonnet ...
I've been toying with the idea of getting a Thunderbolt dock for a long time, but kept getting lost because I couldn't decide between the different offers. And I always gave one or the other bad rating to the devices, which further slowed my purchase decision.
Ultimately, Sonnet gave me the Echo 11 Dock for free and I didn't have to buy it, but if it had been a temporary loan, I would certainly have bought the device. The almost 220 euros that the Thunderbolt 3 Dock costs is a good investment considering the gain in convenience.
But in addition to convenience, for me it is also the best way to significantly multiply the slots on the MacBook Pro. My M1 MacBook Pro 13 inch only has two Thunderbolt 3 outputs ex works, which of course are never sufficient if you have to connect the Mac to hard drives, scanners and printers in the office.
Whether you need a Thunderbolt dock or a USB hub, everyone has to decide for themselves. To advise you, you are welcome to describe your constellation in the comments and I will try to give you a suitable recommendation.
In the end, the combination of Thunderbolt docking station and USB hub was the right choice for me, but certainly not all people need that many slots.
In short: I can recommend the Sonnet Echo 11 Dock with a clear conscience. It is impressive in terms of workmanship, optics and performance and a quiet workhorse that will be busy working on your desk.
You find it here at Amazon.
Jens has been running the blog since 2012. He appears as Sir Apfelot for his readers and helps them with problems of a technical nature. In his free time he drives electric unicycles, takes photos (preferably with his iPhone, of course), climbs around in the Hessian mountains or hikes with the family. His articles deal with Apple products, news from the world of drones or solutions for current bugs.
The page contains affiliate links / images: Amazon.de