Universal Audio’s new Apollo X range sees the company pull out all the stops to best the competition — have they succeeded?
Over the last two decades, computer‑based recording and mixing has become completely ubiquitous. This trend has brought both challenges and opportunities for equipment manufacturers — and few companies have grasped the opportunities as fully as Universal Audio.
The original Universal Audio was established by studio owner, engineer and designer Bill Putnam, and produced many items of classic studio kit such as the 1176 compressor. The modern company of the same name was set up by Bill’s sons Jim and Bill Jr, originally with the goal of re‑making this vintage analogue equipment, alongside new designs such as the 6176 channel strip and 4‑710D mic preamps. Many software‑based studios have found a role for UA’s analogue gear alongside their Macs and PCs, but what has really put the company on the map is their own contributions to the computer recording revolution.
Jim and Bill Putnam realised early on that there would be a market for plug‑in emulations of vintage analogue outboard, and began recreating devices like the 1176 and LA‑2A for the Pro Tools TDM format. The next step was to develop their own DSP platform: a PCI card that repurposed a graphics chip to run audio DSP algorithms. This was superseded 10 years ago by a newer and more future‑proof product range employing Analog Devices’ SHARC DSP chips. Over the years, these UAD‑2 processors have been made available with PCI, FireWire, ExpressCard and USB connectivity, while the current range is dominated mainly by Thunderbolt devices.
Universal Audio’s ‘Powered Plug‑In’ platform has also been central to their hugely successful Apollo range of audio interfaces. Introduced in 2012, the original silver Apollos were 1U rackmounted FireWire devices, while a second‑generation of black units offered improved specifications and connected using Thunderbolt 2. UA have also introduced Thunderbolt and (Windows‑only) USB Twin and Twin MkII desktop interfaces, which can serve as monitor controllers in a multi‑Apollo system, along with the miniature, bus‑powered Arrow.
The Arrow and Twin MkII remain current products, as do — for compatibility with legacy systems — the original FireWire Apollo and the blackface Apollo 8 Quad. However, the other ‘blackface’ rackmount Apollos have now given way to a third generation of interfaces with grey front panels. The new Apollo X interfaces offer more DSP grunt, Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, even better audio specs and additional functionality, and to cap it off, UA have added a completely new model to the family.
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