Universal Audio has long had a successful business selling hardware DSP effects, many of them carefully-modeling classic analog gear. These products use dedicated DSP hardware for number-crunching, requiring that you connect an extra box to your computer. UA has certainly had their loyalists, and for fans of the products, the dedicated gear is simply a convenient way to get all of these sound-processing goodies. But it’s fair to ask the question, as many producers have who read this site, what’s the advantage? Why not simply use native processing on your computer?

Apollo, UA’s new hardware, answers that question more emphatically. By integrating the processing prowess of the UA platform into a high-quality audio interface, you can now add UA effects live, as you record and mix, with extreme low latencies. UA reports latencies below a couple of milliseconds. That’s possible, theoretically, on a desktop computer, but not generally on a laptop and very often not with any real reliability. You can do it in a lab, but it’s not something typical users see.

So, in one box, you effectively get your whole studio: the audio interface, the DSP power, and real low-latency sound processing. It’s not the first audio interface with DSP, but it might be the most compelling case yet for why that combination make sense.

And here’s where things get interesting: via Thunderbolt, a single MacBook Air, costing just around $1000, could be your whole studio machine. And while Apollo runs a couple grand above that, that means the total price tag is stunningly low compared to what you’d pay just a short time ago.

UA briefed me earlier this week on the technology. Even as NAMM raves about iPads, you begin to see the real power of conventional computers. Steve Jobs once compared those computers to “trucks” – while quietly leading a company that profits on how cool trucks are, too. With an Air, adding only slightly to the weight of an iPad and at only twice the cost, you can connect to vastly greater native processing power, greater outboard processing power, and greater I/O. And now with Thunderbolt, you could connect a high-res display or two, a big, fast hard drive, and the audio interface, all without running out of power or impacting performance. (No, seriously – you can. The reason you haven’t seen this in action is that we haven’t had the hardware to show it off. Apollo will be a compelling case for that.)

All of this is academic until you actually have something to do with sound. So, UA is also expanding their developer platform to additional outside development; more on that soon.

Apollo isn’t for everyone; obviously, some people won’t like being tied to hardware, and native plug-ins do work for a lot of people. But it does solve problems for many potential producer customers by making something reliable, predictable, low-latency, extensible with lots of excellent processing tools, and all in one single-box solution.

Apollo will initially be Mac-only, but will come to Windows, too – and with more PCs supporting Thunderbolt in 2012, that means the MacBook is far from your only choice. So, you’ve got one add-on that’s your interface, your pres, and your mix/master/effect toolbox.

More specs:

  • 18 x 24 FireWire/Thunderbolt-ready audio interface, 24-bit/192 kHz
  • “Premium” mic pres – UA stresses that they’re also building on their mic pre reputation, and they claim the “lowest THD and highest dynamic range” in their class
  • Dedicated front-panel controls: preamp gain, channel selection, mic pad, +48V phantom power, low cut, monitor level, and dual headphone controls.
  • 4 digitally-controlled analog mic preamps, 8 balanced line inputs and outputs, dual front-panel JFET DIs, digitally-controlled analog monitor outputs, 8 channels of ADAT, 2 channels of S/PDIF, word clock I/O, FireWire 800 (standard), and a Thunderbolt expansion bay — making it a well-equipped centerpiece for the modern project studio.
  • Core Audio drivers; ASIO coming, so you can use this with your DAW of choice
  • Console application and plug-in for recalling all your interface and plug-in settings at once
  • UAD-2 acceleration
  • Analog emulation plug-ins from Ampex, Lexicon, Manley, Neve, Roland, SSL, Studer, etc.
  • Thunderbolt will be available on a sold-separately Option Card; UA says it reduces latency and audio buffer sizes, improves high sample-rate performance, and allows greater UAD plug-in instances over FireWire.

Of course, because Thunderbolt also connects to FireWire devices, you don’t lose your FireWire investment. The only bad news is that you only get Thunderbolt here as an Option Card; I imagine we’ll eventually see UA ship Thunderbolt connections standard.

There are both two-core and four-core versions, powered by Analog Devices SHARC processors, running an estimated street of US$1999 and $2499, respectively. Apollo’s Thunderbolt Option Card will be shipping in the first half of 2012, with pricing TBD.

www.uaudio.com/apollo

Videos are available on the UA blog: http://www.uaudio.com/blog/apollo-intro-video

Windows 7 summer; 10.6 and 10.7 Mac OS X when it ships.

Software Images

  • heinrich zwahlen

    Oh finally..i've been waiting for that Thunderbolt UAD interface. Luckily just sold my laptop card..the latency was killing me. This is certainly something that might get me back with using UAD plug-ins and will be a formidable competitor for pro tools.

  • http://top.bottomfeeder.ca Kas

    Can somebody explain to me why all DAW screenshots need to feature even more of a cluttered mess than my hardware studio normally is?

  • freesoul

    I like the MacBook air. The main reason I didn't buy one for music production is the fact that the highest priced version that had the most HD storage was way more then the MacBook Pro I bought. Even at 128gb I would have have filled the "Air" to the brim in the first week. Maybe when flash storage becomes more for less I could see this as a solution for my own use. Until then the MacBook air looked to me as still another "bridge" device between smart phone and desktop/laptop. If some were going to spend money on a bridge device then now the iPad starts to look a little more friendly with its own 64gb storage costing a few hundred clams less(ins and outs are abundant though in "work around stage" at this time and software is catching up,even though the naysayers of the industry are counting it out,but this isn't about the iPad). This is a story about taking a $1000  device and plugging a $2500 "card" into it. I am a fan of the UAD stuff as well. I think they have some of the highest quality in the market. I sometimes look at these products though and think wether I would be considered sane if I was to spend more money on the peripheral then the host. I am almost ready to make the future computer buying decisions in my life akin to that of marriage peripherals,as in my computer purchase should cost at least three months worth of salary to be considered respectable. 

    • peterkirn

      I hear you. Of course, you can also simply replace the phrase "MacBook Air" with any laptop with Thunderbolt you like. ;)

  • Cory

    This looks like a very nice product, and something that I've been thinking "why don't they make that?". The combination of a Macbook Pro, UA Apollo and Pegasus RAID drive is extremely compelling (if not extremely expensive…).

  • http://veqtor.blogspot.com Veqtor

    Do you really get a UAD card inside this product, I mean, can you use the UAD plugins separately, not just as a part of the console application? They never mention that you can so… I'm wondering if it's somehow restricted to process the inputs or perform processing on the output buffers.

    • griotspeak

      I think that that is what the 'Core Audio' point is about. UAD Plugins should be able to address the cores.

    • http://cynicone.bandcamp.com Cynic

      "Core Audio" is a mac audio driver spec…like ASIO.

      But, yeah I don't think UAD would release this WITHOUT you being able to use the plugs in VST as well. UAD are smart dudes.

    • griotspeak

      Right, It is a spec, but it is a spec that is hand in glove with Audio Units. That–along with the mention, in that point, of other hosts–leads me to think that that particular point is about the cores NOT being locked to the console application.

    • peterkirn

      No, you get the same functionality as you would on the UAD-2 I reviewed last year. In fact, you can even additionally add a UAD-2 to this if you already own one. It's not restricted; it just adds that console functionality.

  • Cynic

    WANT. NOW.

  • http://www.papanoongaku.com gunboat diplomacy

    Are the effects in the interface?  do you make a channel inside the UA software, and then run it to the DAW?  Does this mean you can use it with Reason 6?  if this is so, then it's totally amazing.  You get plugins, that don't have to be plugged in via the DAW.

  • Damon

    When is UAD gonna produce a game changing DSP modular plug in? They are so perfectly aligned for that I can only presume it would be equal to other DSP offering but with the sophistication we associate with UAD plug ins.

    2 + 2 = 5

  • peterkirn

    This item from the FAQ answers a couple of questions here – in short, you still work inside a DAW with plug-ins, but you benefit from this additional plug-in functionality: http://www.uaudio.com/interfaces/apollo.html#tab=

    "How does recording UAD-2 Powered Plug-Ins on input differ from mixing with UAD plug-ins in the DAW?
    Apollo’s included Console application is a virtual mixing console that enables you to insert UAD plug-ins as you record into your DAW (this is what we call "Realtime UAD Processing"). The Console application also has many powerful routing and monitoring capabilities that make collaborative recording sessions more seamless. Mixing and mastering with UAD plug-ins is the same as with any other UAD DSP Accelerator system. Simply pull up a plug-in in your DAW on the track you need, and you’re good to go.

    Also, by recording "wet" with Realtime UAD Processing via Console, valuable DSP resources are made available during mixing that would have otherwise been used to process the "raw" tracks in the DAW."

    • http://www.papanoongaku.com gunboat diplomacy

      yes, i saw that in the FAQ.   it even seems they hedge on how it can be used live.  they say it's great for *playback* of prerecorded material while also being able to be used live, which makes me think that you can't plug it straight into a mixer with the console program running without also having your DAW running.  i think it looks great.  i know it will sound great, but it would be so nice to be able to forget about plugin compatibility and standards and support and just get great sounds in the hardware.

  • http://www.cooloutmusic.com COOLOUT

    Man…I've been waiting for something like this since they ran ads for the vaporware UAD-8 (UAD-1 w/ ADAT onboard) TEN years ago.

    This is a little too late and too rich for my blood.

    BUT…

    I'm hoping UA makes a paired down, portable version with way less ins/outs, no mic pres or digital outs. I might jump then. That would be perfect for live performance…UAD Space Echo, Echoplex, and Moog filter live on stage…whoa.

    Additional thoughts:
    1. I wonder how Apollo stacks up against RME in round trip latency.
    2. Apollo would be the perfect platform for UA to use it's partnerships to create some high-end virtual instruments how about a UAD Juno, SH-101, or D-50? Now it's a possibility.

  • Tim

    This sounds amazing but don’t expect that Thunderbolt expansion card to be cheap either… Everything with a thunderbolt port on it so far has been insanely expensive. I think the licensing costs are very very high

  • http://interlogicindustries.com display controller

    The Apollo is a DSP plugin-powered audio interface that combines the UAD platform with high-quailty audio I/O, Firewire and Thunderbolt connection options, and near-zero latency live DSP effects routing. 

  • Tim

    Here’s a good run-through from SOS
    http://www.soundonsound.com/news?NewsID=14680
    Thunderbolt card is US$500
    The unit’s internal mixer runs plugins independantly of your DAW

  • http://bearandwalrus.bandcamp.com Zachary Reese

    Is this the first thunderbolt interface on the market? I notice it's the only CDM article under the thunderbolt tag, at least.
    I just bought a MacBook Air to replace the aging Thinkpad I used for live performances and I'm loving it so far. But I'm already eager to get a light-weight thunderbolt interface to replace my Firebox and free up a USB port.

  • Jacob

    I have a question might be dumb so excuse my ignorance. Ok I have the new Mac Book Pro, T-Bolt ready. So are you saying that I can hook up this audio interface "Apollo" to my MacBook Pro? If so how will that correspond with my DAW Pro Tools? Would this make my DAW "Pro Tools 9" recognize the T-Bolt connection with "Apollo"? Sorry if any of this is confusion. I am just serioulsy thinking of adding this purchase to my wish list this is truley the cutting edge of audio technology. Is it safe to say that we are embarking on the first form of digital audio technology that will bridge the gap between the Analog and Digital studio world? Again I could be in way over my head and getting way to excited bout this techology someone please enlighten me, or pinch me!

  • http://refund.bandcamp.com/ Refund

    I've been able to get my i5 asus laptop running Win7 down to 4 millisecond for *most* songwriting DAW applications (mastering is a different story, because of just how many instances of different dsp's you need) and it's acheived mostly by shutting down non-essential services such as wireless capabilities, background programs, and several windows services.

    …which is think is hardly "lab conditions"

  • ERad

    can this be used with Reason 6 as the DAW

    • stephen hudson

      I assume reason works w/ ASIO drivers, if so, yes.

  • Chris Sparks

    I seriously doubt it's going to be lighter and definitely won't be smaller than the Firebox. It's a 1U rack-mountable device. The Firebox is 1/3U and not very deep. I would wager it's actually going to be about 6 times bigger than a Firebox.

  • http://bearandwalrus.bandcamp.com Zachary Reese

    That's why I was asking if this was the only thunderbolt interface on the market.  I definitely don't want the Apollo, but I'd love a light-weight thunderbolt interface and was wondering what else was out there.