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 budget.
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 are identical.
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 usinga 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