Whenever a new connection standard shows up, it seems to take the pro-audio world forever to catch up. It’s been nearly two years since Apple delivered its Mac-Book Pro line with all USB-C 3.1 ports and Thunderbolt 3 support, and I still have to plug almost every wired peripheral into a dongle or overpriced docking station.
The Universal Audio Arrow is one of the first pro-audio products to take advantage of Thunderbolt 3’s copious bandwidth and versatility, which lets it shuttle all of its data, as well as receive power, over a single Thunderbolt 3 cable. It’s also the most affordable interface powered by onboard UAD-2 DSP. (Note: Make sure your computer is Thunderbolt 3 compatible, because not all USB-C computers are.)
The Arrow comes with one SHARC-based DSP Accelerator, the Realtime Analog Classics bundle (14 preamp, amp, EQ, dynamics, reverb, and delay plugins), and the Console 2.0 analog-style mixer software for tracking and monitoring physical and virtual I/O. Included are many convenient presets from artists such as Dave Isaac, Joe Chiccarelli, The Crystal Method, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, among others, which make it easy to set up a great-sounding monitor mix, mastering chain and so forth, for vocals, synths, guitars, or drums (see Fig. 1). The Console Recall plug-in lets you control Console monitoring and save its settings within your DAW session.
The Arrow provides a pair of XLR/1/4” combo mic/line inputs, which can be stereo linked, a 1/4” Hi-Z instrument input, a 1/4” stereo headphone output, and balanced 1/4” speaker outs. It also includes Universal Audio’s Unison technology, which leverages the excellent resolution of the configurable hardware inputs with Unison-enabled plug-ins to replicate the input impedance, gain staging, and component-level circuit behavior of classic hardware such as Neve, SSL, API, and Manley preamps; Fender, Marshall, and Ampeg amps; and a variety of effect pedals.
Although the Arrow’s I/O and 24-bit/192kHz converters sound transparent without any processing added, by using the channel-strip presets, individual plug-in presets or your own plug-in settings and chains, you can achieve a variety of impressive colorations and instrument tones. Through the Thunderbolt 3 pipeline, any trace of latency seems non-existent. On average, I could run about 6 plug-ins on the Arrow’s DSP, whether from the Console or hosted in a DAW, depending on the varying DSP load of the plug-ins used.
Hold down the Arrow’s pushbutton knob to enter Gain Stage Mode and directly control a Unison plugin’s gain parameters. The knob also controls the level of the inputs, main outs and headphones depending on which one you select from the top panel. The LED ring shows the level of the selected source and goes red when you push it to mute the Monitor output. The meters show input and output level as well as the status of phantom power, pad, low-cut filter, and polarity.
The interface, overall, is compact, with a durable metal build that’s ready for road work and studio use. But it’s the Arrow’s combination of pro-level preamps and converters, starter set of plug-ins, onboard DSP, and attractive price that make it a nearly unimpeachable choice for a two-in/four-out interface for Thunderbolt 3 users.
Lowest price UAD interface with onboard DSP. Durable and efficient-to-use hardware.
No Thunderbolt 3 cable included. No MIDI connections. Cannot use an XLR-to-1/4” cable on a microphone for a mic-level input.
Markkus Rovito writes words and music from the Urban Hermitage in San Francisco, California.