I've been slowly building up to a realization that my older FireWire interface and I have to break up. We've been a good couple. At first, she was clearly too good for me, what with her classy 96 kHz-capable converters, and high-end, ahem, clocking. But after time, our relationship began to show signs of strain; the DSP I once relied upon was increasingly underpowered, and the console plug-ins weren't quite up to par in a 64-bit world. And if I'm honest, her FireWire 400 ports are just plain outdated tech; none of the other machines in my life can interface with her without adapters. I know it sounds superficial, but really, I never was able to truly get my brain around her software with its confusing, abstract paradigms. In short, we've been growing apart. And hey, I'll admit it - when it comes to gear, I've got a wandering eye.
Universal Audio's Apollo interfaces captured my attention immediately upon their release, and now the platform has expanded to no less than three different interfaces, each addressing a unique use case. The Apollo Twin is a perfect little desktop interface well suited for home recording, critical listening, mixing, overdubs - you name it. It's flexible, with ADAT optical inputs, practical analog I/O (two in, six out), and the same amazing 24-bit, 192 kHz converters present in the original Apollo [Tape Op #95] and Apollo 16 [#99] interfaces. Onboard DSP, available in SOLO and DUO versions, allows for real-time tracking through UAD plug-ins; and like all of UA's gear, it's built like the proverbial tank, despite its compact profile.
Unboxing the Apollo Twin, it's apparent that UA put a lot of time and care into every detail. The minimalism present in the packaging is complemented by thorough online documentation, including a well-produced quick-start video and downloadable PDF manuals. Note that if your studio computer isn't connected to the internet, you'll want to enable a network connection for installation, as there are a few required download packages. There's not much to the in- box materials, really - just the Twin itself, with its surprising heft, plus a worldwide power supply unit. One slight irritation was the lack of a Thunderbolt cable. The only connection option available with the Apollo Twin is Thunderbolt, so if you don't have a spare Thunderbolt cable, you can't attach the Twin to your computer. I ran out to Radio Shack and picked up a 6 ft cable for $50, but note that Apple sells them for $37 - derp! Until the price of Thunderbolt tech drops into a more affordable price range, it may be prohibitively expensive for manufacturers to bundle these cables without spiking their cost-of-goods and the corresponding retail pricing. So, I get it, and maybe it's a little annoying, but it should be noted that the Apollo Twin is fairly bleeding edge in offering only Thunderbolt connections. Thunderbolt has far greater bandwidth than USB 3.0 or Firewire 800, and it's dead-simple, so with new cable in hand, I was able to attach the Apollo Twin to my Thunderbolt-equipped display. The display acts as a hub of sorts, with my external FireWire audio drives attached to it as well. This allows me to use a single Thunderbolt port on my MacBook Pro to connect to the display and then to the Apollo Twin and the rest of my gear as well, without suffering from any bottlenecks. One wonderfully practical element I noticed when hooking up the Twin is its locking PSU port on the back; smart little details like this get the industrial design nerd in me excited. The all-metal buttons and large level control knob (switchable between headphone level and monitor source) all have a pleasing "throw" with the weight and proper feel of far more expensive gear.
After I was prompted via the UAD Control Panel software for an easy firmware upgrade (as well as an update for my UAD plug-ins to version 7.5), I was ready to go. I fired up the Console application and was immediately greeted with a familiar "analog desk" layout. Although I'm not a huge fan of skeuomorphic UI, the Console application is really well designed. I can't tell you how these simple paradigms - fader, aux send, good ol' solo and mute - all make using the Apollo a satisfying joy to navigate. If you've ever mixed on an analog console, you already understand this software. And all of the settings can be immediately recalled on a global or per- DAW-session basis. I love it. Tracking vocals through a chain including the new 610-A and B preamp models, with the Studer A800 [Tape Op #85] and LA-2A inserted, I had virtually no perceptible latency. This is nuts! And as far as in-the-box tracking and mixing go, having that tonal flexibility and power is a game-changer for me. Do I need to even say it? The UAD plug-ins sound phenomenal and are some of my hands- down favorites right now for "vintage" emulation. Also noted - the noise floor of this little desktop box is super low; it's far quieter in that regard than my aforementioned older FireWire interface.
I was a little disappointed to learn that I could not utilize my UAD-2 Satellite QUAD processor [Tape Op #83] and the Apollo Twin together on the same Mac for greater combined horsepower, although UA plans to include this ability in a software update coming soon (currently scheduled for late May or early June). The potential of aggregate UAD DSP between Apollo and Satellite seems like a real win for me, as I'm fairly invested in the UAD platform and need all the instance counts I can muster. I also did not get to test the ADAT optical inputs, which conveniently deliver an additional eight digital ins and are capable of S/MUX operation at higher sample-rates. The Twin would pair nicely with a growing number of multichannel preamps offering ADAT outs, like UA's own 4-710d [#83].
After this all-too brief fling, I'm definitely sold on Apollo as a platform. And after spending some time with the Apollo Twin, I think we're ready to begin serious dating - even if her bigger siblings (the original Apollo and the Apollo 16) are distractingly hot.
(Apollo Twin SOLO $699 street, DUO $899; www.uaudio.com)