Unless you have been living under a rock for since 2012 you can’t help but have heard about Universal Audio’s Apollo range of interfaces. These interfaces have established themselves as some of the most desirable interfaces available and considering they have only been available a little over two years this is quite an achievement. In our recent poll asking the community what interface they used with Pro Tools the Apollos topped the chart with nearly 16% of the votes.
Why would I want one?
The market is full of extremely high quality, feature-rich interfaces: Focusrite, RME, MOTU, Apogee - all of these brands and many more make interfaces which are of excellent quality and are competitively priced so why when I advise people on which interface they should buy does the Apollo always feature? In fact such conversations often run along the lines of “Unless you want an Apollo you could look at these”.
Apollos are premium quality interfaces. They are well built, sound excellent and offer a broad range of I/O but they also host the DSP necessary to run UAD plug-ins. In the mac world PCI cards are no longer supported by any current Apple hardware and while the Firewire and more recently the Thunderbolt accelerators are available, combining the DSP and the interface into one package offered a workflow previously only available to users of TDM/HDX hardware - tracking through plug-ins with virtually zero latency. While computers such as the current Mac Pro have extended the power of purely native systems all the way down to 32 samples, if you want to track through plug-ins in Pro Tools at less than 32 samples this is a viable way to do it without having to invest in an HD system.
Smart implementation of common workflow requests such as the option of monitoring or printing plug-ins and recall of console settings make the compromises involved in combining third party software with Pro Tools relatively painless, the addition of Unison technology in preamps and DI inputs has allowed the modelling of hardware to be extended all the way to the interface input allowing some of the impedance matching offered by systems such as the Eleven Rack and the Focusrite Liquid Channel, the Console software has had a comprehensive overhaul and of course there are those plug-ins! We’ll of be looking at many of those in the course of this series.
Which one should I get?
So if you want the power offered by Apollo and you are happy to enter the UAD ecosystem then which one should you get? The range has been extended this year with new interfaces and if you are a mac user the choice is based around how much I/O you need, how much UAD DSP you need (the correct answer to this is “more!”) vs your budget. The new interfaces are all Thunderbolt 2 and all of the 19” Thunderbolt units offer dual TB ports. The Twin offers just one TB port. A chart with basic stats for comparison might help:
If you are a PC user then the only supported Apollo available to you is the Apollo Firewire. The Thunderbolt interfaces aren't yet supported on PC. The Apollo/UAD ecosystem can be seen as both the biggest advantage and the biggest disadvantage of this system as if you don’t want UAD plug-ins then its probably not the system for you. If you do want to use UAD plug-ins (and clearly a lot of people do) then the Apollo system is flexible in how you use those plug-ins (in the Console while tracking, monitoring only or printing to the DAW or in the DAW when mixing just like a native plug-in) and it is flexible enough to grow with you as your needs change. The new capability to combine up to four Apollos and six UAD devices in total via Thunderbolt offers the possibility of very large and extremely powerful systems for the hungriest power user.
So are you sure you’re happy with your current interface…?
Update March 2017
As this post originally dates from August 2015 and technology inevitably moves on, for example the options for PC users have opened up considerably since 2015, here is a table showing the current Apollo lineup:
|Apollo Twin MkII||Quad/Duo/Solo||2||2x6|
|Apollo Twin USB||Duo||2||2x6|