Review: Universal Audio Arrow - Audio Media International

Review: Universal Audio Arrow

Building on their success with the Apollo, Universal Audio presents the Arrow, a bus powered, small form-factor audio interface via Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. This compact system opens a world of mobile UA ARROW opportunities with incredibly easy control and setup, writes freelance engineer and producer Alan Branch...
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Universal Audio Arrow 

Universal Audio Arrow 

The traveling music maker has never had it so good, powerful laptops and interfaces have allowed making music on the move so much easier. But how mobile can your recording rig be, especially when it comes to needing a power source? 

The new UA Arrow interface gives you the opportunity to set up and record anywhere with the help of DSP powered plugins, of which 14 plugins are included with the Arrow. These emulate classic hardware in near zero latency. You can literally plug in a guitar, insert a Marshall amp and start to play...

DESIGN

The UA Arrow is approximately 5”x7”x 2” - it’s small but has a nice weight to it (1.38 lbs),cast into a solid Aluminium desktop design with an intuitive control arrangement. The I/O is well placed and makes cables simple to patch in without being messy. 

The rear has two I/O via XLR/1/4” dual connectors, two monitor outputs via 1/4 balanced jack, and the thunderbolt connection, while the front includes a headphone out and a Hi- impedance instrument input. 

On the main surface is a LED meter display with dedicated toggle switches for Input selection, 48v, hi-pass filter, -20dB pad, stereo link and a phase reverse, all of which have a status indicator on the five segment bar graph display. 

The main large knob is a multifunction controller surrounded by an LED segmented gain/volume display which operates in two modes, Preamp or Monitor, each mode having a dedicated switch, this enables control of Preamp parameters via a clever Gain Stage Mode in the Console software or to adjust the monitor volume/mute. 

IN USE 

Installation was simple but you must ensure you have a Thunderbolt cable and not USB-C. Unfortunately this cable is not included. The UA software is split into two, a DSP meter display which includes access to the plugin library registration/activation and a comprehensive “Console” mixer software that sits in between the Arrow device and your DAW. 

Changes made on the Arrow are reflected within the Console software, enabling quick setups that can be saved and recalled for sessions. For example, a setup to monitor or record a session for live guitar and a vocal mic with some real time plugin effects. 

The Console incorporates a wealth of mixing options including the normal inputs, sends and return auxiliaries busses, but with extras like I/O matrix routing to a talkback section. Despite it being feature rich the mixer is easy to use, intuitively laid out and has some nice add on’s like the ability to have additional mixer windows open so you can customise your views. 

However, you don’t have to use Console, the Arrow will operate like a third party audio interface within your DAW, the magic that the Console software gives you when recording is realtime processing, not only do you gain access to normal plugin slots but the UA technology “Unison” preamps. 

These are somewhat of an industry first, special preamp plugins designed to change the hardware input impedance and non-linearities of classic hardware be it a preamp, a channel strip desk or guitar amp. Setting up a recording with the Arrow was simplicity itself, however it has to be emphasised you must have a Thunderbolt 3 computer and a Thunderbolt cable. 

I used a 2017 MacBook Pro and headed out to record a guitar and voice track in a remote location - a beach hut! Using one of the 14 included UAD plugins, the UA 610 B preamp, for some warm coloration, I setup a phantom powered condenser mic for a singer and a DI’d semi acoustic guitar into the instrument input, added a little EQ and UA EMT 140 reverb for some monitoring atmosphere and used the backdrop of the beach for the vibe. Undoubtably a unique recording session and only possible with the mobility of the UA Arrow, the latency was not discernible and the quality of the recording was excellent.

CONCLUSION 

The delight of not being tied to a power source can’t be under stated, even though it might drain your laptop battery pretty quickly, the UA Arrow interface opens a world of opportunistic recording possibilities. 

The Arrow is well designed, easy to use and has a “pro” feel to the unit, especially with UA’s Unison mic amps adding the optional tracking coloration. Some may ask whats the big deal, ask any engineer worth their salt about great recordings and they may well reply get a great mic and a great mic/pre the two go hand in hand. Lovely analogue saturation from an API desk or sublime overloading of a Neve mic-pre. 

These are the markings of great recordings, now imagine you can take this gear where there is no power source, in the middle of a park, an old church, an acoustic stairwell, an impromptu jam session is suddenly a recording opportunity. 

The performance of the inbuilt UA-2 Solo core DSP isn’t huge but enough for a mobile recording with extremely low latency, and a bit of help to your CPU when your’e mixing. With the bundled 14 plugins the Arrow offers an excellent solution to the mobile producer/musician or as a starter audio interface to the home-based music maker.

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