Few manufacturers of recording gear have the street cred
of Universal Audio. Between their studio processors and their range of
DSP-powered plug-ins, they’ve got both the analog and digital markets in
their pocket, and for good reason. Their devotion to quality has earned
them celebrity accolades ranging from Deadmau5 to Phil Ramone. The
original, rackmount Apollo audio interface (reviewed May ’13) has taken
the high-end segment by storm, thanks to its combination of high-quality
mic preamps and analog-to-digital converters with onboard DSP for UA’s
extensive line of “Powered Plug-Ins.” The only caveat was the price: At
$2,999 list for a quad-chip unit (and you could spend a lot more maxing
out the plug-ins), it wasn’t strictly the province of rock-star
producers, but still a bit high for many home-studio musicians on a
So the recent release of their Apollo Twin desktop
interfaces—with street prices under a grand—was big news indeed. For
this review, I tested the Apollo Twin Duo, which has two SHARC DSP
processors compared to the Twin Solo’s single chip. Otherwise, the two
The build and design of the Apollo Twin is both gorgeous
and roadworthy, with a back panel that includes two combo XLR inputs
(that also accept 1/4" TRS cables) for mic or line-level signals, two
pair of TRS jacks for outputs and monitoring, an optical input that
serves double-duty for S/PDIF and ADAT, DC power, and a single
Thunderbolt port. The analog I/O is based on the same technology as the
other Apollos, so it specs out at a magnificent 118dB dynamic range. In
my studio, that quality was immediately apparent.
One drawback is that the Twin’s single Thunderbolt port
means that it has to come at the end of any chain of Thunderbolt devices
you may have. This may pose a problem if you’re on an older Mac (or
current MacBook Air) that also has just one port, and are using a
Thunderbolt display that also has a single port. I wouldn’t say this is
a deal-breaker, but it will be a consideration for some users.
The Twin’s front panel controls include a large knob for
adjusting gain and volume, along with an array of buttons that
correspond with UA’s Console app for adjusting inputs, pad, phase,
roll-off, and such. With all of these features in such a compact,
portable and lightweight package, the Twins are shoo-ins for touring
artists and mobile recording applications.
It’s great to see Universal Audio actively cultivating the
Apollo series with new features like Unison, which was introduced with
the Solo and Duo Twin products (but also works with software-updated
original Apollos). Integrating with the Console app and internal
processing, Unison allows these Apollos to model vintage preamps at the recording inputs for
tracking. This felt like a magical feat indeed, considering that the
latency was imperceptible to my ears while recording a wide variety of
sources including microphones, electric guitars, and hardware synths.
The Apollo Twins come standard with a model of the UA
610-B tube preamp, which is sonically 99 percent identical to a real
one, but goes one better with the inclusion of an output knob, allowing
you to create some lovely overdrive effects that are impossible on a
real 610. I’m an owner, so naturally I did a head-to-head with both and
in my production rig I could discern no meaningful difference between
the two. Truly impressive.
UA currently offers additional pre-amp emulations for
purchase, including Neve and API. While I didn’t test these, if the
immaculate behavior of the 610 is any indication, they’ll deliver the
goods in authoritative fashion.
In addition to the 610-B preamp, the Twins also include a
variety of emulations of legendary products like the Softube Amp Room
Essentials, 1176 Limiter, Pultec Pro Equalizer, and Teletronix LA-2A
Leveling Amp, along with the CS-1 Channel Strip and RealVerb Pro. I may
sound like I’m gushing here, but the sound of these virtualizations is
breathtaking—so much so that I went back and grabbed a finished remix I
was about to submit and did another mastering pass with the Pultec,
immediately giving the final result a noticeably warmer sheen, despite
the fact that I’d only added a miniscule amount of EQ.
It’s worth mentioning that UA routinely incentivizes
retailers to offer special bundles and coupons for more Powered
Plug-Ins, and often has similar sales on their own web store. So
depending on when you buy, your money may net you more than the above.
Until I got my hands on the Apollo Twin a few months ago,
I’d been a fan of competing high-end desktop interfaces, notably
Apogee’s Duet and Quartet. In the span of a few weeks, the Apollo Twin
has completely reversed those preferences. Between their hardware specs,
Unison preamps, and included collection of classic processors, the UAD
Apollo Twins are quite possibly the best two-channel interfaces in their
class. Yes, you’ll pay more for the privilege of working with this
level of quality, but you’ll also be in the company of some of the top
producers on the planet. This is one of the few instances where I can
really say that a product that’s not itself a musical instrument will
actually make your music sound better right out of the box.
Pristine converters with 118 dB dynamic range. Integrated
UAD-2 DSP power for plug-ins. Included collection of UAD’s award-winning
plug-ins. Near-zero latency monitoring. Plug-ins can process both input
and mixdown signals.
Mac-only at this time. Thunderbolt cable not included. Single Thunderbolt port means it must be last device in a daisy-chain.
State-of-the-art desktop recording interface and DSP accelerator at a price mortals can approach.
Apollo Twin Solo (one DSP): $879 list | $699 street
Apollo Twin Duo (dual DSP): $1,129 list | $899 street