January 19, 2012

Universal Audio Apollo – First Look at NAMM

Not content with their position as the most likely to get name dropped in the world of DSP plugins, Universal Audio have brought their expertise to the the realm of high end audio interfaces. Meet Apollo, an 18 x 24 Firewire/Thunderbolt-ready audio interface. All the specs are there- 24 bit/ 192 kHz sound, great preamps and great converters. One might be forgiven for thinking UA were gunning for Apogee with this one. Well, at least before they look under the hood and see what else is going on.

You guessed it, UA’s DSP plugin system is under the hood! “That’s pretty cool,” you say, “but how is that different from all the other systems that offer DSP in an interface?” Well, the more obvious upshot here is that all that real-time processing means latency free recording, even when using UA’s well loved plugin series. The less obvious (and very cool) advantage is that the integration allows the effects to be inserted and printed during recording, or added after the fact, or anything in between.

So, that’s zero latency, multiple I/O, onboard DSP, beautiful conversion and sound quality. Oh yeah, don’t forget 10 channels of digital i/o (8 ADAT, 2 SPDIF.) Also don’t forget the fact that it comes with the LA-2A & 1176 Compressors and Pultec EQP-1A EQ plug ins. You could have easily forgotten that, because I didn’t say it, but now you know.

The final icing on this cake of digital awesomeness, is that while the device comes ready for FireWire 800 out of the box, as of December of this year and Thunderbolt I/O option card will be available for the unit. I think this is really gonna appeal to buyers who are reluctant to invest in anymore firewire based equipment because they know about all the power that is just around the corner.

Apollo comes in two flavors, none of the features listed above change, but the DSP power does. Following their Duo/Quad Processing model, the Apollo offers the Duo at $1999 MAP and the Quad at $2499 MAP.

I’m gonna admit, I’m pretty impressed. I tend to be happy with an audio interface as long as it meets certain requirements. In the case of Apollo, I am suffering the first case of interface lust I’ve faced in years. Drool over these specs with me:

  • Sample rates up to 192 kHz at 24-bit word length
  • 18 x 24 simultaneous input/output channels
  • Eight channels of analog-to-digital conversion via mic, line, or high-impedance inputs14 channels of digital-to-analog conversion via:
    • Eight mono line outputs
    • Stereo monitor outputs
    • Two stereo headphone outputs
  • 10 channels of digital I/O via:
    • Eight channels ADAT Optical I/O with S/MUX for high sample rates
    • Two channels coaxial S/PDIF I/O with sample rate conversion
    • Two FireWire 800 ports for daisy-chaining other FireWire devices
    • 32-bit and 64-bit device drivers
  • Microphone Preamplifiers
  • Four high-resolution, ultra-transparent, digitally-controlled analog mic preamps
  • Front panel and software control of all preamp parameters
  • Switchable low cut filter, 48V phantom power, 20 dB pad, polarity inversion, and stereo linking
  • Monitoring
  • Stereo monitor outputs (independent of eight line outputs)
  • Digitally-controlled analog monitor outputs maintains highest fidelity
  • Front panel control of monitor levels and muting
  • Two stereo headphone outputs with independent mix buses
  • Independent front panel analog volume controls for headphone outputs
  • Front panel pre-fader metering of monitor bus levels
  • S/PDIF outputs can be set to mirror the monitor outputs