AF’s Weblog

May 7, 2012

Universal Audio Apollo Review

To read the full detailed article see:  Universal Audio Apollo Review

Universal Audio is a brand like no other in the pro audio world. The company has been competing in the hardware market for over 50 years with preamps, compressors and channel strips. But it has also been present in the plug-in market for about a decade with the famous UAD DSP platform. We have always wondered what would happen if Universal Audio were to combine their analog and digital technologies. Introduced at the NAMM 2012, the Apollo is the first answer. Focus on the Universal Audio interface!

… one giant leap for DSP technology!

We have often asked ourselves why a manufacturer offering high-quality preamps, hardware compressors and plug-ins never conceived a product including all this know-how. They have finally done it with the Apollo, a digital audio interface with four preamps and the famous UAD-2 DSP. We dreamed about an audio interface with a Twin-Finity preamp or even a 1176LN (hardware), but Universal Audio decided to focus on digital audio and to allow the user to work with UAD plug-ins like with classic analog gear. To achieve that, the engineer team developed a system that allows to decrease the latency to less than 2 ms — a bit like Pro Tools HD does —, giving the musician and sound engineer the possibility to process the signal directly during recording sessions. Since the latency time is imperceptible, the musician can play freely and record without any hassles.

Look after your musician

Universal Audio Apollo

Some of you might have doubts about processing the signal during a recording session when using a fully digital system. A couple of decades ago, when recording studios were analog, it was usual to process the signal during recording, for example by inserting a compressor or an EQ in the signal path. Back then plug-ins didn’t exist and the number of compressors and EQs available in the studio was limited. So it was usual to insert processors during takes, even if it meant taking risks and artistic decisions on the spot: there was no other choice! This way of working is still used in modern production environments where some engineers like to take risks and insert hardware compressors and/or EQs during the recording. However, we could ask ourselves whether this workflow makes any sense within a fully digital system. In fact, plug-ins always process the signal after the AD converter. As a consequence, a compressor plug-in won’t be able to reduce the risk of clipping at the converter stage. The same applies to EQs: why should we use destructive processing during the recording, while digital audio technology gives us the possibility to record the settings and edit them later? Modern sequencers give us this chance — it would be a pity not take advantage of it!

Universal Audio Apollo

But inserting plug-ins during the takes can have other advantages. To record a singer you can use a dedicated bus for his monitor headphone mix with the sequencer return and the voice of the singer captured by the microphone in front of him. We all know that musicians need to feel comfortable to perform at their best. When a musician plays well, 50% of your work is already done! That’s the reason why you have to look after the musician: offer him a cup of tee at the right temperature, a bowl of M&Ms without the brown ones, or a flattering sound in his headphones. The Universal Audio interface allows you to insert up to four plug-ins into the channel of the musician/singer with less than 2 ms latency time (1.1ms @ 96kHz, from the analog input to the analog output) and to assign the recorded signal to the monitor headphones adding a bit of compression, a flattering EQ setting and a whiff of reverb so that the musician feels like he’s playing in his favorite cathedral. This can seem superfluous, but it isn’t. The performance of the musician has a direct impact on the final quality of the recording.

But let’s have a look at our all-gray Apollo.

Conclusion

The Apollo was eagerly awaited by many Universal Audio fans and home studio owners — and we must admit that it’s a great achievement! The manufacturer offers you the possibility to insert its famous plug-ins with a latency of less than 2ms, which is more than enough for recording applications. The look and the manufacturing quality are perfect. The mixer is very practical and easy to use. When it comes to audio, the interface offers good quality converters and pretty linear preamps considering the price. We only regret that the mixer is still limited (in the number of Aux buses, for example), that the Thunderbolt option is too expensive and that the interface offers no MIDI or USB connections. But as soon as the plug-ins are available in 64 bits, the interface supports Windows and the mixer offers a couple more features, the Apollo package will be nearly perfect. The user will still have to decide if he “marries” the UAD platform, which forces him to stay faithful to the brand’s plug-ins, otherwise the advantages of the Apollo are limited. But considering the overall quality of the UAD plug-ins, this forced marriage might quickly become a perfect match!

Advantages:
  • Good quality converters
  • Transparent-sounding preamps
  • Less than 2ms latency with inserted plug-ins!
  • One UAD-2 under the hood
  • Nice design
  • High quality construction
  • Simple and easy-to-use mixer
Drawbacks:
  • No MIDI connectors
  • Only FireWire support
  • Thunderbolt option too expensive
  • Currently, only two AUXs in the mixer
  • No Windows support yet
  • No 64 bit plug-ins yet

To read the full detailed article see:  Universal Audio Apollo Review

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