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There is no doubt that the UAD2 platform is highly regarded by the mix fraternity - great sounding plug-ins that run on dedicated DSPs - albeit at a cost. But where the system is let down in my opinion is that there is little support for real-time processing - by which I mean across a live input such as a mic or line.
With Apollo - Universal Audio have righted that particular shortcoming - essentially an audio interface combined with the DSP processing, you can process audio from live inputs and record (or not) directly into your DAW, all with extremely low latency - 1.1ms @ 96kHz..
A single unit, 19 rack mount device with external power supply, a chunky, well-lit front panel with gorgeous LED meters, a single rotary encoder for setting Mic preamp gain on the first four channels (including two Hi-Z guitar inputs on the front) - these amps are digitally controlled with up to 60dB of gain, Mic/Line, Pad, HPF, Phase and phantom power, switchable via dedicated front panel buttons as is the pairing of 1+2 and 3+3. Then we have the master monitor output (outs 1&1) knob - push to mute. Two individual headphone outs with dedicated front panel volume controls finish the front.
Eight analog inputs, the first 4 can be mic or line, 8 ADAT channels on two pairs of connections for high sample rate S/MUX connections and a single SPDIF. Outputs are exactly the same, with an additional monitor output that mirrors analog 1&2. There’s also a pair of wordclock connectors to sync or drive external gear.
All hardware feels sturdy and of high quality as one would expect from a high ticket device such as this.
First up, the UAD2 Apollo is a DSP accelerator system, so you can expect the same plug-in performance and power you would from a UAD2 Duo or Quad system, so no difference there, we don't need to review that aspect of the unit - see our UAD2 Satellite Quad review.
Once the installation is complete - the latest download from UAD.com will get you going, you’re ready to rock. But - and this may be a bit of a blow for some- the software is MAC ONLY at present. We guess the PC will be along, but not just yet.
Fire up the Apollo Console software and you see your usual metering of DSP resources, authorization etc, plus an 18 channel audio mixer with 4 inserts on each channel, plus two AUX channels. and two sends to headphones.
In any channel you can simply select in the required plug-ins (up to four each) into your channel, then play - and I mean it's that simple - there is really no discernible delay - it's about as real-time as you can hope for - unless of course you are using tape saturation plugs like the ATR or Studer - they will introduce delay. I spent many a happy moment just playing the guitar through a variety of effects - in super-high quality.
The console also allows you to flip between record through mode - all plugs are recorded to the DAW input (inputs are 1 -18 corresponding hardware inputs) or monitor - you hear them but record the dry unaffected signal. This is a global setting, it would have been nice to do it on a channel by channel basis, but you can't.
Speaking of discrete settings, it's worth noting that the Apollo console is pretty much designed to configure the monitor path. With some other audio interfaces, you get comprehensive routing of inputs, outputs and DAW returns to enable complex routing and mixes. Not the Apollo, it's pretty much only concerned with zero latency monitoring of inputs and a single pair of DAW returns (1+2).
How About Live?
One thing that got me excited about the Apollo was for live work - imagine being able to access up to 18 channels of plugins by patching the outputs back into your live console - awesome! Sadly, you can’t quite do this, it is possible to route 4 input channels to discrete outputs via the AUX channels - as they can be sent to hardware outs, but not - for individual channels - and thats a shame as it would open up the applications of this even more. I guess you could use the headphone outs too for a possible 8 channels out, but it's a bit of a kludge. I don't know if it is possible to change this with a software update.
The Apollo is a great sounding interface with the real-time access to all those lovely plug-ins too.
Admittedly, if you take away the DSP part, it's not the most fully featured audio interface routing wise, but that may be something that can be improved in future software updates.
The real magic is in the combination of the DSP and the audio quality. Real-time processing with these plug-ins is the real jewel in the crown and given the sheer number of plug-ins available makes this a very compelling system, you simply cannot process this fast on a host computer yet. However, it aint cheap and the plug-ins themselves are on the pricey side - pretty much anything I plugged in and processed just sounded better. There will be various bundles available as with all UA DSP products - and if I had the money, I’d be there like a shot, but in the mean time I can dream about owning one. For the pro, it's very enticing, many have already bought into the UAD2 platform and this will be the icing on the cake, it's a chunk of change but boy does it sound good.
Available as DUO (2x Sharc DSP chips) £1649 / $2499 and QUAD (4x chips) £2079 / $2999