Universal Audio UAD Apollo: DAW Interface & Plug-In Host - Audio Media International

Universal Audio UAD Apollo: DAW Interface & Plug-In Host

Universal Audio UAD Apollo: DAW Interface & Plug-In Host
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Universal Audio is a name associated
over the years with a myriad
of renowned studio hardware,
valued and collected by engineers
and producers worldwide. But UA has also
become well known for its incredible software
emulations of analogue hardware in its
growing UAD plug-in collection. With this
hardware/software bond UA has produced
the UAD Apollo, a rather special audio I/O
interface. Apollo combines all of UA’s hardware
and software experience into one unit for
leading edge DAWs.

Overview

The Hardware is an input x output
audio interface... But no ordinary interface.
DAW connection options are Firewire or the
new superfast Thunderbolt. With a theoretical
speed of Gb/s, this should open a new era
of super fast media connections to computers.
Also under the Apollo hood is a multi-DSP
core (either Quad or Duo), offering real time
processing, super low latency, and the ‘power’
for UAD Powered plug-ins. Using this via
UAD’s Console application gives the ability to
place UAD plug-ins on inputs for real-time
tracking through a favourite UAD analogue
emulation, such as a tape sim or a classic EQ.

The Apollo is an impressive looking
interface, a deep U rack unit with a lot of
ventilation holes, well laid out, and certainly
brings some of the UA class to its design.
The front panel from left to right has two high
impedance instrument inputs, then the first of
the two large knobs. These are rotary encoders,
and probably my only grumble – my firstimpression
was ‘home electronics catalogue’
style. Against the modern brushed aluminum
faceplate and bright ringed LEDs, they look a
little out of place.

The left hand knob cleverly controls the preamp
gain and channel selection. This is done
via a push selection for each of the four mic
channels, each of which has a healthy maximum
gain of dB. The level is displayed in a green
LED ring surrounding the pre-amp knob.

A series of simple latching switches control
mic/line, low cut filter, dB pad, phantom
power, phase reversal, and a stereo link for odd
and even channels. These pre-amp settings are
confirmed on the large LED display showing
any selected channel’s optional status.

Next to this are the -segment bar meters,
displaying levels for the eight analogue inputs,
an internal and external clock status, and a
UAD link. There’s a solid green light when
the hardware is correctly communicating
with its console software and the computer.
Lastly, there’s a monitor output level meter
displaying the actual output level of the D/A,
so a pre-fade level, not the level of the actual
monitor output or headphone knob setting.
This ensures correct display of the output of
your DAW and any clipping occurring, no
matter how loud you’re listening.

The right-hand knob controls the main
monitor level and will mute with the same push
select action, which changes the surrounding
green LEDs to Red. Lastly, there are two
headphone outputs with independent volume
control for each, as well as optional headphone
mixes for each output via the Console
software or a feed from the main stereo mix.
These headphone outputs are also independent
from the main speaker monitor level and
mute function, so it’s a quick and easy set-up
when you need to record in a studio control
room environment.

Rear Panel

The power supply is an external block-type
power supply, though it is a professional unit,
with a four-pin locking XLR-type jack, so there
is no getting confused with the ever-growing
infestation of hard disk power supplies that
litter the studio floor.

There are four ADAT S/MUX optical ports,
which enable full eight-channel operation from
. to kHz and four channels at kHz. (any
connecting hardware has to support the S/MUX
standard for the higher sample rates – ./
should be fine on anything). Below this is the
Optional Thunderbolt Expansion Bay with its
huge speed increase over existing connections.
Surely this opens many options – like adding
more Apollo units? Unfortunately, the release
date for this much desired and hyped feature
is not until “late summer .” I think then we
shall get to see exactly what other speed bonuses
this will bring.

Next along are two S/PDIF digital I/O via
RCA connectors. Note that the Apollo has
an automatic sample rate conversion if the
incoming audio doesn’t match the internal
sample rate. Below this are two Firewire
ports, enabling other Firewire devices to
be daisy chained, which was the only way I
could connect an Apogee Ensemble for direct
comparison. Connecting the two units to a Mac
Pro meant one or the other would fight for the
connection and disable the other. There is also
word clock I/O via BNC connectors with a
termination switch, then the long line of tightly
packed analogue connectors begin with TRS
balanced/unbalanced quarter inch sockets, a
main stereo monitor out, - Line outputs, and
- Line inputs, finishing off with four XLR
mic inputs. All of the I/O is configured via
the console application for -dBV/+dBu,
whereas the Mic/Line inputs can be switched
via the front panel.

Install and Software

Installation and set-up gave me a list of headaches with
software and driver issues, but that may have been because
of an existing UAD- SOLO card. After a little bit of a
fiddle with uninstalling and a fresh install, I managed to
get everything talking to each other properly, including
the daisy-chained Ensemble.

The Console application is UAD’s way of configuring
the system-level interface I/O settings, much like most
other manufacturers. The Console set-up is a mixing
desk-type interface, including an -input mixer for all
of the physical inputs, with the addition of two aux sends
and returns and a monitor section, just like any standard
mixing desk. It’s simplicity itself – a straight-out-ofthe-
box type of interface that’s familiar and easy to get
recording with instantly.

All the inputs are laid out as channels from the
analogue to the digital, the first four displaying the preamp
options, as well as an accurate dB display of the
input gain. Any channels linked as pairs are also grouped
graphically and each channel strip includes four UAD-
plug-in insert slots, two auxiliary sends/pan controls, two
headphone switches with pan/level control, then main
channel pan, solo/mute switches, and a sliding fader with
a level meter alongside.

The main control section hosts the aux returns, which
also have the four insert slots and headphone sends, as
well as the option to output the effects to any of the direct
outputs. This could be used for some interesting real-time
effects, such as live instrument or vocal effects, either in
the studio or in a live performance.

The monitor section has all of the front panel
controls but with the added extra of numerical readouts.
Two analogue needle-style dBFS meters top the section,
with a good display of DSP usage meters below. A rockerstyle
switch changes the insert effects from monitor to
record paths, which is useful for A/B-ing the dry and wet
recorded signal, but could be disaster if you accidentally
leave it switched on. Care will definitely be needed when
printing with FX. Below this are various source controls
for the headphone outputs, switchable input views of
the mixer, plus pre/post metering, solo clear, headphone
monitoring for setting up alternative mixes, and a console
recall function.

There is also a console recall plug-in for AU, VST, and
RTAS, enabling quick and easy storage of the important
console settings on a per song basis and without actually
having to run the console software. Also, using this means
it’s less likely to transfer insert effects from one recording
to another.

Setting up the console was very simple. Nothing really
needs to be changed if all you want to do is install and
start recording quickly. Also, the console software is not
required for operation of the Apollo, and the console
plug-in means access to important functions is reduced
to smaller more manageable size of desktop space – very
important when working from a laptop.

In Use

Firstly I have to say how good the Apollo is and how
much it lives up to its hype. After the initial install and
registration, adding the Apollo to my existing set-up was
pain free. I could run the Apollo with Pro Tools Native,
Logic, Ableton Live – all quite happily. Depending on your
studio routing requirements the console application is
simple to use and has plenty of pro features.

There are two big UAD- options: Duo or Quad.
Obviously the Quad brings twice as much processing
power. The live processing is an interesting option and
one feature not many other manufacturers offer, certainly
not with the quality and reputation of the UAD- plug-ins.
UA promotes the real-time processing ability with
examples like recording drums with an A tape sim or
vocals through a Neve EQ. Now this is an exciting
option as it may save resources for later. It’s much more
of a classic committal to recording with a certain sound,
and one that I was used to when there were only tracks
of tape!

Sound quality is obviously paramount and the Apollo
certainly delivers. It has a dynamic and transparent clarity,
and even with a very high mic gain the signal to noise
ratio of dB ensures clean recordings with very low
discernible harmonic distortion while the frequency
response seems perfectly flat. The same goes for the
JFET Hi-Z instrument inputs, with the A/D conversion
being very high as the detail and stereo phase coherence
sounded lovely. Latency was extremely low, even with
effects inserted and running a rather large session I could
set a relatively low buffer, that wasn’t noticeable even with
the fastest of playing styles.

Conclusion

The Apollo has had a lot of hype surrounding it, possibly
because of its Thunderbolt option and the built-in
UAD- DSP real-time processing and super low latency.
However, the role of powered plug-in host is also significant.
If you aren’t a UAD plug-in user and not currently (nor
intending to be) an owner of a relatively new Apple Mac
equipped with Thunderbolt, you might think twice for
the meantime – although Apollo will be PC compatible
with Windows later this year. That said, if you haven’t
tried UAD plug-ins, don’t make a decision until you have.

However, if you’re already sold on UAD plugs and
you’re looking for new interface, then the Apollo is
probably a no-brainer. It’s a super-high quality interface,
well designed, with superb sound quality and supported
by easy-to-use, and reliable software. It also offers unique
options like a future Thunderbolt expansion and the realtime
plug-in processing facility with some of the best and
most authentic-sounding analogue emulations around.
It also combines the interface and the DSP into one unit
so saving the cost of a dedicated DUO or QUAD UAD-
PCIe/Firewire solution.

All in all this is rather special Apollo mission...
ready for take-off (sorry).

From The Distributor

“I think Apollo combines
everything great about
UA. The conversion is
built to exceed the direct
competition. But given
the inclusion of UAD, and
the ability to use live
recreations of a Neve
1073 on input, warmly
driving instruments
through Studer A800 for
example – Apollo really
becomes way more than
just an interface, it can
be a creative part of the
songwriting process.
And of course it’ll
support your mixing and
mastering process both
in terms of presenting
your music with quality
hardware, while also
giving you the best tools
to mix it with.”


Alex Theakston,

Marketing Co-ordinator,
Source Distribution

Information

• 18 x 24 interface, FireWire/Thunderbolt-ready

• Mac only (PC support from late Summer 2012)

• Realtime UAD ‘Powered Plug-In’ DSP

• Low-latency (sub-2ms) tracking and mixing with Powered plug-ins

• Console recall DAW plug-in.

• DUO Core and QUAD Core processor options

• Includes ‘Analog Classics’ UAD plug-ins

Manufacturer

Universal Audio: California, US

www.uaudio.com

UK Distributor

Source Distribution: London, UK

www.sourcedistribution.co.uk

+44 (0) 208 962 5080

Price Details

UK: Quad: £2249.17 (exc. VAT)

Duo: £1790.83 (exc. VAT)

Thunderbolt Accessory: GB£TBC

THE REVIEWER

Alan Branch is a
freelance engineer/
producer and
ex-member of the On
U Sound Crew. His long
list of credits include
Jamiroquai, Beverley
Knight, M People,
Simply Red, Depeche
Mode, Shed 7, Sinead
O’ Connor, Bjork, and
Sade.

www.alanbranch.com

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