Okay . . . Apollo. The Big Deal at Winter NAMM.
You could review it as an audio interface with
a built-in UAD-2 card, which would be sort of
like reviewing a car by how it looks, not how it
drives. Because the Apollo story isn’t as much
what it is—we’ve seen audio interfaces and
UA’s powered-plug-ins before—but what it does. So we’ll cover the basics, but more importantly,
Overview Apollo has 18 inputs. Eight of these
are analog 1/4" TRS line ins; the first four can
serve as mic inputs (with XLR ins and digitally-
controlled gain up to a ribbon-friendly 65dB). The mic pres are Burr-Brown PGA2500
chips, which are extremely high quality. The
first two ins can also serve as instrument DI
inputs, using front-panel 1/4" jacks. ADAT S/
MUX optical ins provide eight ADAT channels
at 44.1/48/88.2/96kHz, and four channels
at 176.4 and 192kHz. The other two ins are
stereo coaxial S/PDIF (optical isn’t available),
which can do automatic sample rate
conversion if the source doesn’t match
Apollo. The outs are eight mono TRS 1/4"
line outs, stereo monitor outs, two stereo
headphone outs, and S/PDIF out. Apollo
includes word clock I/O with termination,
but no hardware MIDI connectors.
The front panel’s user interface has a
single mic channel’s buttons (mic/line,
lowpass filter, phantom power, pad, polarity
flip, and stereo link) and gain control. Pushing
the gain knob steps through the four inputs.
There are eight 10-step LED meters and a
stereo output LED meter (also ten steps); an
output monitor control and two headphone
level controls round out the front panel.
The global (110/240V, 50/60Hz) power
supply is a large “line lump” with an IEC connector
(the unit ships with US and Euro cables.)
The power supply connector is no flimsy minijack,
but a macho multipin XLR connector.
With FireWire 800 interfacing, you get
excellent bandwidth. The bad news (at least
for Windows users) is that Apollo is currently
Mac-only, with 32- and 64-bit drivers. Unfortunately
many compatible Macs with FW800
ports can deliver only an FW400 port’s bandwidth,
but if needed, you can install one of the
inexpensive, UA-recommended FW800 cards
to bring your Mac up to spec. Also, props to UA
for recommending against particular FW800
cards, and naming names.
Expect Windows support this summer,
although you’ll need to buy a compatible
FW800 card due to variability among Windows
computers. Thunderbolt support is also
slated for summer.
Surprise: It’s a Mixer Most interfaces
have mixer applets that let you route inputs
to outputs for zero-latency monitoring
(which UA more appropriately calls
buffer-free monitoring), but Apollo takes
this concept much further (Figure 1) to take advantage of the onboard UAD-
2 DSP. (Apollo comes in a Duo or Quad
version, with two or four SHARC ADSP-
21469 chips respectively.) Each channel has
four inserts for UA’s effects, and two internal
aux buses have four effect inserts. (External
aux busing through hardware isn’t out of the
question—route your signal to a headphone
out, then bring the signal processor’s output
back into two analog ins.) Note that
there are no master output insert slots.
|Fig. 1. Apollo’s mixer goes far beyond the average interface’s mixer applet.
The input channels have solo and mute
buttons, as well as two aux send controls with
input panning. The two headphone outs are
treated the same way as buses, but include on/
off buttons. You can right-click on a channel
fader or panpot, and copy the mix to any headphone
or aux send—a real time-saver. Apollo
remembers your mixer settings even when not
connected to a computer, making it a suitable digital mixer for keyboard rigs and the like.
However, if you power it down then power it
back up without a compuer, only the routing
and mix is remembered.
UAD-2 Processing Few plug-in lines are
as universally liked as UA’s Powered Plug-
Ins, even by analog audio snobs. But the key
here is they serve multiple purposes. They
can exist as VST/AU/RTAS plug-ins within
your DAW, like a normal UAD-2 card. But if
they are inserted into the mixer’s channel
or bus inserts, you can record with processing
while monitoring the processed sound
in near-real time—in other words, you don’t
experience latency caused by monitoring
through your computer. You can also send
the dry signal to your DAW, but listen to
the DSP processing—ideal for vocalists who
want to hear compression and limiting in
their earphones, but whose effects you don’t
want to record with the vocal track.
Furthermore, you can do a complex mix
within Apollo, and send the mixed output to
your DAW. When recording multiple inputs
simultaneously across analog and digital
inputs, you may need path delay compensation,
but this isn’t necessary with individual
instruments where inter-instrument phase
coherency isn’t an issue. What’s more, you
can deploy a combination of UAD-2 plug-ins
within your DAW and within the mixer so
you can listen to existing tracks, as well as
monitor the input you’re currently recording
into, through UAD-2 processing.
There are also some pretty slick features.
For example, for inserts with several plug-ins,
you can open all of their GUIs simultaneously
as a “channel strip.” (However if the height
exceeds that of your screen, you can’t move it
up to see lower plug-ins that may be hidden.)
An even slicker feature is the Console Recall
plug-in. This inserts like a standard VST/
AU/RTAS plug-in, and provides limited control
over the console while working within
a DAW; and it can also save and load mixer
configurations, and store a console’s configuration
within the DAW.
Apollo is also ideal for those using a laptop in
live performance. As the DSP inside Apollo does
the “heavy lifting,” your laptop doesn’t have to
work so hard. What’s more, the laptop could provide
backing tracks or run DJ software, while using
Apollo’s inputs for mics and instruments with realtime processing. Ableton Live fans definitely
need to know about Apollo.
Is That It? Nope. There are lots of subtle features
and options designed to speed workflow
(for example, a switch to determine whether
insert effects go to your DAW for recording,
or are routed purely for monitoring). And you
can pick a workflow for the task at hand, like
ignore the mixer applet when mixing—use
the plug-ins solely in your DAW, and Apollo
as a way to get your DAW output into the real
world. In my tests with MOTU’s Digital Performer,
the flexibility afforded by Apollo became
pretty obvious. Couple that with seriously
excellent build quality and sound quality, and
it’s no wonder that Apollo has gotten so much
attention from the cognoscenti.
monitoring through UAD-2
processors while recording. Useable
as standard UAD-2 plug-ins (VST/
AU/RTAS). 32/64-bit drivers.
Sophisticated mixer software.
Excellent sound and build quality.
Four digitally-controlled mic pres
with up to 65dB gain. Upcoming
Thunderbolt support. Word clock I/O
LIMITATIONS: No MIDI ports.
Windows drivers not yet available.
May require add-on card for full
bandwidth with some FW800 Macs.
Analog Classics bundle are the only
included plug-ins, although there’s a
$100 voucher for the online store. No
master output inserts.
Apollo Quad $2,999 MSRP,
$2,499 street; Apollo Duo,
$2,499 MSRP, $1,999 street