Universal Audio has been refreshing its line-up of Apollo interfaces over the past few years, and now the Apollo Twin compact desktop interface [Tape Op #101] gets what UA is calling a “ground-up redesign” with the Apollo Twin MkII. The new Twin MkII is a 2×6 Thunderbolt interface (for both macOS and Windows!) that records up to 24-bit, 192 kHz. It has two Unison-equipped mic/line preamps (with up to 65 dB of gain), a front-panel high-impedance instrument input, two 1/4’’ TRS line outputs, two TRS monitor outputs, and one front-panel headphone output. A single TOSLINK connector supports ADAT optical (eight channels at 44.1 and 48 kHz; four channels at 88.2 and 96 kHz; two channels at 176.4 and 192 kHz) or S/PDIF (stereo up to 96 kHz) digital I/O.
After pulling the unit out of the rather lovely Apple-esque box, the new Twin MkII (at a glance) doesn’t appear to contrast dramatically with the previous model Twin (or the current Twin USB model). With the exception of the new slate-grey look, and perhaps more ventilation in the metal housing, the new Twin MkII is almost identical cosmetically to the previous Apollo Twin. Plug it in, and do a little spec digging, though — and ah-ha! It then becomes clear that this iteration of the Twin is quite the upgrade. Notably, the Twin MkII is available with much more power under the hood and comes in SOLO, DUO, and QUAD Core DSP configurations, while the original Twin capped out at DUO. Generously, UA provided us with the Apollo Twin MkII QUAD for our testing.
A quick (if not obligatory) recap for those unfamiliar with the Apollo platform — each interface in the Apollo lineup uses UA’s proprietary Unison technology, which is a software/hardware marriage between SHARC-based internal DSP acceleration and analog preamps that feature software-controlled, hardware-based input-impedance and tonal switching. Furthermore, the UAD-2 plug-in platform not only runs within your DAW, but also within UA’s excellent Console app (now in its second generation as well), which allows you to insert Unison-enabled plug-ins on your mic or instrument inputs and track through blissfully accurate emulations of classic preamps like the UA 610-B, Neve 1073, and API Vision, as well as classic instrument amps and stompboxes like the Fender ‘55 Tweed Deluxe, Ampeg B-15N, Ibanez Tube Screamer, etc. I’ve said it before, but the UAD-2 plug-ins are some of my all-time favorites and sound amazing. And having the ability to use the Console app as what is essentially a front end for my DAW, and print these sounds which are otherwise unobtainable to me, is invaluable, as is having the external resources on tap to offload the heavy processing needed for some of the UAD-2 plug-ins.
The Twin MkII hardware features other improvements beyond the increase in available horsepower — most importantly, it improves on the previous generation of Apollo A/D and D/A conversion, which was already stellar. But it also has improved monitoring capabilities, including Mute, DIM, Mono and ALT speaker switching, plus a built-in talkback mic. When connected to other Apollo devices, like my Apollo 8p [Tape Op #111], the Twin MkII can now act as a monitor controller as well. The next-gen conversion is said to provide an excellent bump in dynamic range, signal-to-noise ratio, and THD+noise specifications across all I/O, and while the measurement claims in the manual seem to confirm this, tracking and mixing in the real world is the proof — this little Apollo sounds huge. The noise floor is super low, the preamps are wonderfully clean and clear on their own, and I feel like even the headphone output sounds better than the first-gen Twin. I love having the talkback available to my Apollo system now; it eliminates the need for third-party solutions. And I even found some cool tricks like latching the talkback mic on to use it within my DAW as a quick-n-super-dirty input — or even using it as a “sketchpad mic” when inspiration strikes, and I’m too lazy to open the mic cabinet.
I’ve come to really appreciate the Apollo + Console workflow, especially in the latest release of Console 2.0, which takes the “analog console in software” paradigm and builds on it with practical shortcuts and excellent preset and DSP management. I’m kind of amazed that, even with such a minimalist industrial design, I rarely found myself having to reference or menu-dive the Console software when tracking with the new Twin MkII. Most essential functions are all right there on the front face of the hardware, and once your muscle memory kicks in, the workflow feels natural. Similar to the larger Apollo interfaces, the large front-panel Level knob on the Twin MkII can also be used to control Unison-enabled mic preamp, guitar amp, and stompbox plug-ins at their various gain stages, which is nice for hands-off-the-mouse control. And setting up near-zero-latency headphone mixes in Console is far easier than trying to cobble something together out of your DAW.
All these practical touches make the Apollo Twin MkII live up to its “born to make records” marketing; I truly want to take this thing with me everywhere. And in my opinion, therein lies one of the only drawbacks associated with the Twin. Although it is built like a tank and is small enough to put in my backpack, it requires a 12 V wall wart and has no option for bus power. I understand the design compromises and constraints that bus power would place on an interface like this, but how cool would a bus-powered Apollo be for enabling some UAD-2 goodness while fussing with mixes on a plane or train, for instance. (RIP — the UAD-2 SOLO/Laptop card.)
Other minor gripes? There is no MIDI I/O, which UA has never offered in the Apollo range, but would seem to make more sense in this desktop form. A second headphone output would have been nice, too. And, like the first-gen Twin, the Twin MkII has only one Thunderbolt port, unlike the larger rackmount Apollo 8, 8p, and Apollo 16 [Tape Op #113], all of which have two Thunderbolt ports. If you have other Thunderbolt devices, like a RAID array, for example, one Thunderbolt port can be a little restrictive when cascading to another Apollo Thunderbolt interface. Fortunately, most Thunderbolt devices can provide true signal passthrough, so it’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Note that you can cascade up to four Apollo interfaces and six total UAD-2 devices over Thunderbolt, which potentially adds up to an unbelievable amount of available I/O and DSP muscle. To the moon, then!
In summary, it’s hard to beat the UA Apollo ecosystem these days, and even this, the smallest Apollo, is a mighty session rocketship. With an out-of-the-box license bundle that includes the UA 610-B preamp and LA-2A and 1176LN plug-ins, the Twin MkII is kind of a no-brainer for the home studio, and certainly a valuable addition to any professional studio setup that has already invested in the Apollo platform. Word of warning — once you start collecting UA hardware and UAD plug-ins, it’s hard to stop. Regular sales and promotions make fueling your UA habit a little easier, but you may find your wallet quite a bit lighter. Turns out, space travel ain’t cheap.