19/01/2012 Bookmark and Share

NAMM 2012: Universal Audio Apollo

Multi-channel interface with UAD2 power!

Universal Audio are at the Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, to unveil their brand-new Apollo audio interface. It’s the first such device that Universal Audio have created, and its biggest selling point is that it combines multi-channel interface functionality with UAD2 DSP processing.

We’ll begin with the interface side of things. The Apollo is a 1U rackmount unit that connects to computers via FireWire — though Universal Audio are developing an optional expansion card that will endow it with ThunderBolt connectivity. It has eight analogue line outs, and eight analogue inputs — of which the first four double up as mic preamps, and the first two also as DI inputs. The mic preamps can be controlled from the front panel, via a common set of buttons and a rotary encoder. Pressing on the encoder selects which preamp is being adjusted, and their parameters can be linked in pairs, for stereo recording. Phase inversion, phantom power, a pad and a high-pass filter can be engaged, and each preamp can provide to 65dB of gain.

At the opposite end of the front panel are two independent headphone outs, each with its own level control, and a rotary encoder that governs the monitor level (this controls the output of the designated monitor outs on the rear). The centre of the unit is dominated by the Apollo’s metering section: 10-segment meters show the input levels for the eight analogue ins, plus the level reaching outputs 1 and 2 (which are mirrors of the monitor outs).

The Apollo’s expansion capabilities are considerable. There are two pairs of ADAT inputs and outputs, and these can be used either to provide up to 16 inputs and outputs at sample rates up to 48kHz, or eight ins and outs in S/MUX mode, which works up to 96kHz. A pair of S/PDIF sockets is also present, providing a further stereo digital I/O, while two BNC sockets allow the Apollo to send and receive word clock.

SOS Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns attended a sneak preview of the Apollo at the beginning of January, and was impressed by its performance: “We ran a ribbon mic through the Apollo’s preamps and cranked the gain to max, and detected no sign of FireWire ground noise — unlike Paul White’s current interface!” Universal Audio’s claim that the Apollo is capable of round-trip latency lower than 2ms also seemed to stand up: Hugh tested the latency from a signal going into one of the mic preamps and back out through the monitor outs (via two stages of conversion, plus the Apollo’s mixer software), and said it was “negligible and unnoticeable”.

All of this would be impressive enough, but the Apollo’s main selling point is that it incorporates UAD2 DSP processing, and can run all of the plug-ins for which the UAD platform is famous (including models of Neve, Lexicon, SSL and Studer, to name but a few). In addition to allowing the user to run these plug-ins in their DAW of choice, as ‘normal’ UAD2 cards do, the Apollo has its own software mixer built in, which can also host these plug-ins. The advantage to this approach is that it eliminates the latency incurred by most other DSP platforms, as there’s no need for audio to go through the usual software (ASIO or Core Audio) buffers. So using the Apollo’s mixer, you can track through, print and set up foldback mixes with UAD2 plug-ins enabled, without the jarring latency that would occur if you tried to do the same in your own recording software.

The Apollo is available in two versions, Duo and Quad, and these have the same DSP capabilities as the UAD2 Duo and Quad cards. The Duo version will sell for £2149, while the Apollo Quad will carry a price of £2699. UK pricing for the Thunderbolt card wasn’t available at the time of writing, but in the States it will sell for $499.

At present, the Apollo is compatible only with Mac OS 10.6 and above, but Windows support is expected to arrive later this year.

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