Review: Universal Audio Apollo Audio Interface / UAD card
Positives:Professional grade inputs and outputs which (including monitor levels) can be controlled both on the unit and digitally via software.
Console recall integration with your DAW so your favorite setups load automatically, complete with input settings, channel strips & plugin settings / routings.
Able to process UAD plugins on inputs (including virtual instruments) at near-zero latency
Able to use the same UAD card for mixing plugins in your DAW
Negatives:Console software truly lacking in routing options – i.e. limited to two auxes, two virtual I/O's, no master channel strip (only volume control)
Unable to record both dry and UAD effected tracks at once (work around not elegant solution)
Cannot control headphone levels with software
“This is science fiction people” – Fab Dupont – NAMM 2012
Ever wanted to track with high quality UAD plugins, but couldn’t due to the latency they caused in your DAW? How about wanting to actually track with UAD plugins you know you want printed and record them directly into your DAW, just like you would with the hardware the plugins are emulating? But this is impossible right, as going through the DAW then to the UAD card and back will always cause added I/O latency.
Well, Universal Audio has the solution – the Apollo – which is not only a professional grade audio interface, but also has a UAD card built into the unit, allowing for (close to) real time processing of UAD plugins. Let me repeat…..REAL TIME PROCESSING OF UAD PLUGINS! But before I get ahead of myself and you start calling it of the devil and UA employees witches, lets start with the actual audio interface part of the Apollo.
The Apollo is so close to the perfect audio interface, its scary!! In fact, it fits all of my current audio interface needs. It has a pair of high-impedance instrument inputs in the front for laying down guitar, bass, etc, and on the back it has 4 high quality, clean and low noise floor mic inputs, 8 line outputs and eight line inputs on TRS sockets, two pairs of ADAT TOSlink ports, S/PDIF I/O, a pair of Firewire 800 ports (powered), BNC word clock, and finally, a high quality set of monitor outputs (night and day difference in sound clarity vs my old MOTU 2408) and two (YEAY) headphone outputs, each with their own cue mixes.
I personally think this is the PERFECT set of i/o options, as it is rare that I personally need more than 4 mic inputs at a time. Though if I ever did, I can easily expand my mic input capability through one of the many 8 mic-pre racks available and connect it digitally to the Apollo via the ADAT connection. As for the mic pre’s on the box, to my ears they sound VERY good! I welcome their clean audio profile, which complements my LA610 tube mic pre very well. If you find the pre’s too clean, you can always dirty them up with some UAD saturation, which leads me to what separates this audio interface from the rest: a built in UAD card!!
Not only is the Apollo a high quality audio interface, but it comes with a built in UAD card (currently duo and quad options), which gives you access to Universal Audios award winning UAD plugins, which to me are the best sounding plugins in the market today – http://www.uaudio.com/uad-plug-ins.html
What makes this so special and a “game changer” IMO is the Apollos ability to run UAD plug-ins in the monitoring and recording paths with very low latency, and using UA’s console application these plugins can be used to process signals on the way into the DAW, and/or for the artists’ headphone or monitoring mixes, all in real time! Note that like a computers CPU, there is a limitation to how many UAD plugins can be run at once, which can be viewed at the link below. Thus I personally recommend going with the largest UAD card available, as it seems newer UAD plugins are all taking much more DSP power to run: http://www.uaudio.com/support/uad/compatibility/instance-chart.html
The Apollo is not without is flaws. Note the following flaws are complaints I have while using v7.0 of the UAD software – so they might be fixed by the time you read this. Always check UA’s product pages for the most current information: http://www.uaudio.com/interfaces/apollo.html
1. Console software truly lacking in routing options . For example, the console software is currently limited to two aux channels, two virtual I/O’s (for playing VIs through UAD plugs with no latency), no master channel strip (only volume control). Though you can still get the job done with what is given, I personally dont understand the need to impose limits like these in the console software. Why can’t I add more auxes and/or Virtual I/O’s as I need them?
2. You cannot record BOTH dry & UAD effects into your DAW. Let me clarify, you can but it takes a bit of extra work. what you have to do is send your source to one of your two stereo auxes, and put your insert plugins on said aux, leaving your insert channel void of plugins. Then you take the aux output from the Apollo and record it as an input in your DAW, thus getting both the input channel and aux channel in your DAW. The fact that you can work around this with routing in the console proves its possible and should be available as an option for all tracks without taking up valuable auxes!!
3. You cannot control the headphone levels with the software like you can the main outputs – making the headphone level knobs on the Apollo the only knobs that cannot also be controlled via software. This is an annoying tether which forces me to keep my Apollo at arms reach in my studio. Not a deal breaker of course, but it is annoying and an odd omission.
Overall though I cannot recommend the Universal Audio Apollo highly enough. Not only does it simply sound great, and competes and often beats with other audio interfaces in the same price range with its sound quality, but it also opens up worlds of sonic possibilities with the on board UAD card and UAD plugins available – most of which can be run at near-zero latency while tracking! No other audio interface can perform this trick, and if you think its a cool trick – BUY IT! In my studio, the Apollo is truly a game changer.