It's a premium Thunderbolt audio interface with DSP power - good so far. But what sets the new Apollo apart is that the software can now intelligently control the audio interface, making its models of favorite analog gear more accurate. Photos courtesy Universal Audio.

It’s a premium Thunderbolt audio interface with DSP power – good so far. But what sets the new Apollo apart is that the software can now intelligently control the audio interface, making its models of favorite analog gear more accurate. Photos courtesy Universal Audio.

Universal Audio’s new Apollo Twin (in SOLO and DUO variants, starting at US$699) gives you quite a lot of value on a single Thunderbolt connection to your Mac. It’s shipping now.

It’s an audio interface, with connections for line, mic, or instruments. It’s a real-time DSP processor, adding the ability to run UA’s suite of (mostly analog-modeling) sound processing goodies. (SOLO/DUO refers to how much DSP muscle you get.) And it’s a bundle of UA models of analog hardware, including a rather nice pair of limiters, an EQ, amp models, and tube preamps.

If you think they’re hoping guitarists and vocalists will pick this up, you’re probably right. And this is the first plug-and-play solution that brings UA’s DSP and mic pre / audio interface tech within reach of an individual musician or producer on a budget.

Apollo_Twin_L3Qtr

Smarter Analog Modeling, Input to Output

But it’s when the hardware and software start to combine that things start to get really interesting. CDM had a briefing with UA’s Gannon Kashiwa last week on the technical side. UA is pushing what they call “Unison Technology” – basically, a set of software behaviors that make analog models behave as expected when you connect your gear to record.

The problem had been this: no matter how good the software model of analog gear, the software didn’t have any idea of how you were recording into it. Part of what makes a tube or solid-state mic preamp sound a certain way is the whole signal chain, from input to output. By controlling the hardware, UA says they can more effectively simulate those behaviors, including impedance, “sweet spots” in the gain stage, and other behaviors of input circuits.

If you know this gear, you can then get more satisfying results. If you don’t, you might instead just get a better feeling from using the software – there’s a reason those classics became classics.

Amanda Whiting explains to CDM a little more about how this works:

In a nutshell, Unison allows for us to control the mic preamps before the A/D conversion. When a mic preamp modeling plug-in is inserted, Unison allows Apollo Twin’s mic preamp to physically match the impedance and gain structuring of the original hardware the plug-in is modeling. So for example, with the 610-B preamp plug-in that comes with Apollo Twin, when you pull up the plug-in, we change Apollo Twin’s preamp impedance from its standard 5.4k Ohms to 500 Ohms or 2k Ohms, depending on the switch setting on the plug-in.

This feature will also be available for Apollo DUO and QUAD this spring, in a free forthcoming software release.

Thunderbolt, Live DSP, and Near-Zero Latency Monitoring

Combine this with Thunderbolt, and you have something special. As I said of MOTU’s 828x, the issue with Thunderbolt isn’t that you get lower latencies; FireWire 800 at a fraction of the speed is already fast enough to handle high-bandwidth audio. The issue is getting reliable low-latency performance, even when other devices are connected, and being able to connect loads of stuff without worrying. UA spoke highly to CDM of the reliability they’ve gotten out of Thunderbolt.

Coupled with flexible live monitoring and the ability to track through UA’s own plug-ins with that same level of performance, latency on the Apollo becomes something you don’t worry about any more.

Part of the advantage here, as on the earlier Apollo, is that you can play without adding any latency on the computer at all. You can plug in your instrument or mic, and add (non-destructive) compressors, EQs, and amp models, and track through them with new-zero latencies (< 2 ms). That also means the Apollo Twin becomes a viable interface for playing live with UA's amp models, with great low-latency to match.

The emphasis on preamp function extends to the hardware interface design. At top, your (analog) level control is front and center, with preamp metering on the left and monitor/headphone metering on the right. You are ... fully metered. At the bottom, you get dedicated controls for the Preamp, so you can play with these new behaviors without looking at the screen. (Type, HPF, 48V, PAD, 0̷, LINK), plus buttons for switching the focus from Preamp to Monitor.

The emphasis on preamp function extends to the hardware interface design. At top, your (analog) level control is front and center, with preamp metering on the left and monitor/headphone metering on the right. You are … fully metered.
At the bottom, you get dedicated controls for the Preamp, so you can play with these new behaviors without looking at the screen. (Type, HPF, 48V, PAD, 0̷, LINK), plus buttons for switching the focus from Preamp to Monitor.

Tech Details

Onto the actual hardware and software…

The Apollo Twin innards come straight from the earlier Apollos. These are simply some of the finer audio interfaces on the market, with or without the DSP platform, with the same 24/192 conversion.

Also, monitoring is “digitally-controlled analog” – that is, you get an analog listening level, but with digital control. It’s funny; this really does make a difference. You forget about it, until there’s some point in a long studio session where you just notice while adjusting monitoring levels – and then you definitely notice it when you go back to a lower-end audio interface.

For guitarists (or, yes, bass players), Hi-Z and headphone are right on the front.

Hardware specs:

  • 2 mic/line preamps
  • 2 line outputs
  • Hi-Z instrument input
  • Headphone out
  • 2 analog monitor outputs (digital-controlled analog)
  • Optical connection for up to 8 additional channels (ADAT or S/PDIF). Someone asked about why this is included on these interfaces; my guess is that most people using these connections are using outboard digital mixers.
I/O complement - this, plus dedicated Hi-Z in and headphone out on the front.

I/O complement – this, plus dedicated Hi-Z in and headphone out on the front.

The software bundle includes the new 610B, Softube amps, and the “legacy” edition of some other UA greats:

  • New 610B Preamp – this is the one that adds the new Unison modeling, and builds on UA’s long (pre-digital) history in preamps
  • Softube bass and guitar amps “Amp Room Essentials.” These are a lot of good, raunchy fun; it’s not hard to find amp models out there, but Softube is making some of the more playable ones. And yes, for us non-guitarists, we can enjoy these, too, on keys or drum loops or whatnot. And if you’ve got an electric violin…
  • LA-2A / 1176 limiting/compression. UA is kind of giving away the store, because these are their best compressors. Actually, as a reader observes, these are the older “legacy” versions – checking. They make sense as the ones to bundle, either way, but the new models are just spectacular.
  • Pultec EQP-1A, Pulteq Pro – and their best EQs, modeling the exceptionally musical feel of the Pulteq, which has an almost magical ability to dial in the frequencies you want, and is a radically different experience from the modern digital EQs you’re used to using. Correction: Again, the newest releases of these are the best; these are the good-but-not-best legacy versions.
  • RealVerb Pro. Advice: save up for the EMTs.
Plug-ins available for the UA DSP platform, seen here tragically floating in space, moments before asphyxiation. The part of the new 610B will be played by Sandra Bullock, who I'm told brings a sense of gravitas to her depiction of its bi-directional analog modeling features.

Plug-ins available for the UA DSP platform, seen here tragically floating in space, moments before asphyxiation. The part of the new 610B will be played by Sandra Bullock, who I’m told brings a sense of gravitas to her depiction of its bi-directional analog modeling features.

The 610B is the interesting one. The plug-in actually adjusts the hardware’s impedance, analog gain structure (think headroom), and component behaviors. Every tube, every transformer, every inductor is modeled in the DSP code in the plug-in, but as you turn the knob on the preamp, the plug-in is also changing the way the hardware itself is operating.

I’m a nerd, so even if this didn’t work, I’d find it fascinating (plug-ins intelligently controlling your hardware – AI audio interfaces). But testing this will be a lot of fun, as I’m keen to look more closely at how it works in practice.

Compatibility:
Mac only – for now. I want to see some Thunderbolt PCs, people.
OS X 10.8.5, 10.9.1 (but if you have a Thunderbolt-ready Mac, you probably have those)
AAX 64, AU, RTAS, VST plug-ins
Thunderbolt 1 or 2 (Thunderbolt 2′s added bandwidth really doesn’t matter to the vast majority of audio applications)

S***. I forgot ALL my cables. Now I have to go back to the studio, until someone creates digital modeling of analog cables.

S***. I forgot ALL my cables. Now I have to go back to the studio, until someone creates digital modeling of analog cables.

The Soloist’s Apollo?

The Apollo Twin isn’t UA’s first audio interface. I’ve been working with the original Apollo for some time. And while UA’s main push is of course for their own plug-in DSP platform – they hope you’ll get hooked and buy more analog models – the interface is probably what I find most irreplaceable about the Apollo. It’s exceptionally reliable (rock-solid low-latency), the mic pres are flawless, hardware management is easy to use, and the ability to add just three or four UA processors I can find invaluable on top of it (the Pulteq EQs and beautiful EMT reverbs springing to mind – desert island stuff). It’s just been tough to recommend the platform. Having a full rack-space audio interface is overkill in live situations when size and weight are at a premium. And it’s pricey, running a couple grand or more.

The Apollo Twin gives you that level of power in a portable, affordable box. And there are enough plug-ins included at the start that even if you don’t buy more UA add-ons, you could be reasonably happy with just this box and its bundled software.

There is one gotcha – the cheaper Solo might not have enough processing power if you do decide you like those DSP plug-ins, meaning the US$899 DUO is probably the smart buy if you want to go this route. And I would recommend budgeting for the revised Pulteqs and some EMT reverbs to really exploit the platform, which means spending a little more.

But UA has an interesting entry here that’s more than just a combination of inputs and outputs. It’s an audio interface that really wants you to believe it’s the analog gear it’s modeling.

And Thunderbolt’s future is already looking increasingly bright for sound in coming years. Next, we’ll be looking for heavyweights like RME to throw their hat in the ring – though, until then, using an adapter will be just fine.

Stay tuned for a hands-on review with the Apollo Twin as soon as it becomes available. (Anyone in the Berlin area who has some of the original gear, we’d love to talk to you. If you have a fridge, we’ll bring some really nice beers.)

http://www.uaudio.com/apollo

  • Tim Checkley

    Genius move. These are going to sell like hotcakes!

  • timmy the taunted

    I’ve been waiting for this one since the first Apollo came out. I don’t like the design, looks kinda huge too…

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Look at the back ports for scale; they’re not huge. And we will have a hands-on once they’re available.

  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    It is indeed interesting to see that Thunderbolt is now slowly coming to the audio market – after all it has been established in Apple’s hardware three years ago, but never really caught momentum. However, it is (as with current external hard disks) still at the rather top price point. Let’s see if and when it trickles down into the lower cost ranges.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Pretty normal adoption curve for audio. Remember, the first Thunderbolt devices were not terribly useful; mostly legacy drives with Thunderbolt ports slapped on.

      Audio takes more time:
      1. You need time for the pro market to adopt the new machines so there’s an installed based. (Doubly so with this – it’s Thunderbolt-*only*.) And the high-end pros tend to upgrade less, because upgrading can be disruptive.

      2. Testing and developing reliable audio devices means time to get the developers units, extended testing.

      3. …then you have to put it into manufacturing.

      UA already had a Thunderbolt add-on card for the UA, but with more of their customers on FireWire at that point, it made sense to wait before doing this.

  • synthetics

    I think the included Pultec, LA and 1176 compressor plugins are the old versions, not the newest ones released last year. The old ones are good, the new ones that also model the input and output transformer distortion are phenomenal. So they aren’t quite giving away the plugin store.

    I’m curious if this can be used along with an older Apollo for more I/O or just more DSP. I already have a Quad as the center of the studio and I’m tempted by this so I don’t have to unplug it, but I’d also live to use the extra duo DSP and inputs alongside it if I could.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      You are absolutely right; fixed the story. I somehow missed the word “legacy.” (NAMM makes me blind.)

      You should be able to use them both for I/O, yes, by aggregating OS X devices – just as with any interface.

    • synthetics

      Weirdly, you apparently can’t aggregate the Apollo Duo or Quad with the Apollo 16. Or at least you couldn’t when it was released. I think the issue is on the UAD driver side not the Core Audio side. But that’s why I was wondering. Hopefully this one is different or they’ve been working on whatever the problem is. Also this one being TB only might make it weirder to integrate into a FW Apollo setup? Or easier somehow, who knows.

      I am also tempted to use one of these things as a standalone effects processor. Lexicon 224, EMT 140, Dimension D, great tape echo plugs, MXR flanger, since I already own a bunch of these plugs if I got this I could use them instead of a Strymon or whatever in between my synths and my mixer, or with the reverbs on the mixer aux, whatever. I guess I’d need to have the laptop hanging off it but still. And then I’d also have some extra UAD DSP for mixing on the studio computer (if they can aggregate with Apollo), a portable UAD for remote or other side of the room recording, etc. Tempting little box.

    • Skyon

      See my comment above. As of now uad twin is a separate firmware that does not stack with the rest of the uad series.

  • Roger Humphrey

    Damn, I would absolutely snap this up if it had an ADAT out to go with the in! I need it for my Expert Sleepers gear. Oh well. I guess I will stick with the babyface for now.

  • anerandros

    @peterkirn:disqus am I stupid if think that ADAT out would be something to have on this jewel?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Out of curiosity, how would you route it with ADAT out?

      I think that’s more of the Apollo 16 market, personally – even a tiny optical out, there isn’t much space left on that back panel. But I can see times it’d be nice to have. You never get *quite* the I/O you need – not unless you’re really lucky. ;)

    • anerandros

      in pure sci-fi scenario:

      “Kyma XI” < thunderbolt ADAT out > Apollo QUAD ADAT in.

    • Tom Erbe

      I always use ADAT out and in to route multichannel PD or Max performances to Protools. Much more reliable than soundflower. I use a tc impact pro btw.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Funny, I’d never thought of doing that. But yes, that makes loads of sense, of course.

      Actually, the more we talk about this, the more I think I’d rather have the optical out than in, too. :)

  • regend

    Apogee killer?

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Just wait until Apogee comes announcing their Thunderbolt versions of Duet, Quartet and so on. And they’ve already got that thing for Symphony available.

    • Gianluca Mazzarolo

      Don’t really know about that. After seeing the Twin and reading this, I seriously don’t know whether I’ll actually buy an Apogee Quartet or this one. I also think the Thunderbolt support is not a deal breaker though. It’s like we all want it, but we don’t really need it.. In this case it may be worth when expanding the Twin via ADAT maybe..

  • Jay

    Daaamn, why didnt they put a digital out on it for external d/a??

  • Sam_Mallery

    “Optical connection for up to 8 additional channels (ADAT or S/PDIF). Someone asked about why this is included on these interfaces; my guess is that most people using these connections are using outboard digital mixers.”

    The ADAT port is there primarily so you can record more than two channels at a time. Miking a drum kit is a good example. If you have a lightpipe expander, like the PreSonus DigiMax D8, you can connect it to the ADAT in on this Apollo, and then you’ll have a total of 10 XLR mic inputs with preamps. You can record a full band (so you may want to reconsider the title of this post :)

  • Phil

    They almost nailed it but without the digital out option I’ll stick to my RME! Too bad!

  • Thomas Piper

    I Just got a Apollo Duo this would be great for me so I don’t have to carry my Apollo around and the way they are emulating the mic pre seem like a no-brainer. I Cant wait for UA to do 1073 pre. Anyone want to buy a Duet 2 LOL

  • Michael PPM

    UA makes a 4-710 which would add 4 preamps via ADAT and you can plug in 4 more of your own preamps to round this Apollo out to 10 inputs. That’s why they have the ADAT on there.

  • Skyon

    Hey peter, i spoke with uad today and 2 things that might be good to note are that right now, the twin is NOT stackable in terms of cascading with a bigger apollo for sound, nor dsp from an existing qua or octo card. This is due to a separate firmware which they will (hopefully) address in an update.

  • http://melodiefabriek.com/ Marco Raaphorst

    looking forward to that review Peter. zero latency and hopefully zero CPU load and zero clicks. for a guitarplayer like myself that might be super cool :)

  • heinrichz

    Very interesting, will certainly want to check that out. Does the low latency take a chunk out of my cpu ? Something i noticed about the low latency mode when using the UAD express card back in the day and ithis somewhat defied the purpose of going UAD instead of native.

  • Dantahoua

    I see one problem: only one thunderbolt port… So where I plug my external monitor on my macbook pro when this great thing is plugged??!

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      The other way around. Thunderbolt can be chained, just like FireWire.

    • Dantahoua

      Yeah I know, that´s the point. My monitor is not thunderbolt (hdmi or dvi), so I have a thunderbolt->hdmi adaptor…

  • Beats28772

    Just got my AU AT Duo. I’ve tried a lot of interfaces Motu,Apogge,M.Audio etc. The Apollo twin sound quality is just amazing. The drivers and plug-ins are so stable. I love this thing…..

  • simonm

    how do you sync it when you connect your digital inputs?

  • nikolai

    im still a beginner in this production thing. trying to upgrade my AI from echo to apollo because of new tech for me and learn further. so for the thunderbolt, i was talking to apple gurus and inquired about having one port available. they mentioned that we can get a thunderbolt hub to have multi thunderbolt/usb3/hdmi/fw800 or what ever platforms available without decreasing power usage unless we daisy-chained another hub to get more. im in the same boat where i only have one tb connection, i have 2 monitors so where am i pluggn my apollo right? they explained also that its not like the usb technology where if more plugs used, cpu power is eaten out. One TB hub can still supply all the power needed with the implied understanding that you have at least have 8-10gb of ram or more.

    So my question for the apollo and being still a toddler in music production, would it be worth getting the solo? or invest on duo? bc i still dont quite see the advantage of 2 core if its still the same console and cant really hook up other interfaces together or perhaps i have no idea what im talking about right now… smh thanks for the future inputs!!