At the annual Winter NAMM trade show, there are always a few products that become the "buzz of the show." This year, that honor goes to Universal Audio, with their super-exciting new Apollo audio interface. Apollo offers 18 inputs: eight analog, eight ADAT optical, and stereo S/PDIF. It also provides 24 independently accessible outputs: eight analog, eight ADAT optical, stereo S/PDIF, two separate stereo headphone outputs, and stereo monitor outputs. There are also four excellent microphone preamps built in. These preamps are clean, transparent, and dynamic, and accept line-, instrument-, and microphone-level inputs. The Apollo connects to your computer via FireWire 400 or 800, and there will be an optional Thunderbolt card available later this year.
All of that is very nice, but there are tons of audio interfaces on the market today. What really sets the Apollo apart?
There's a UAD-2 card built right inside! This means that you can run all the cool UAD plug-ins for mixing and mastering. And there's another huge benefit: you can use UAD plug-ins while you're tracking. UAD console software is included, allowing you to set up DSP-powered, latency-free monitoring and to insert whatever plug-ins you want right onto any input channel. Want an 1176 compressor on your guitar while you're tracking? Insert one! Want an LA-2A and a Neve EQ on your vocal mic? Just insert them! You can choose to record with the plug-in processing, or just monitor the plug-in outputs without recording them, for the ultimate headphone mix. You can also use UAD reverbs, delays, and other effects while tracking, with no hit on your CPU and no additional latency.
Because of Sweetwater's close relationship with Universal Audio, I was fortunate to receive a pre-release Apollo DUO for testing (with two SHARC DSP chips; there will also be a QUAD version with four SHARC chips). I immediately fell in love with this audio interface. It worked perfectly with Avid Pro Tools, PreSonus Studio One v2, Ableton Live, and other DAWs. The sound is transparent and dynamic, and the mic preamps sound great. But the real joy is being able to use the UAD plug-ins while tracking, mixing, and mastering. This takes the recording experience to an entirely new level.
If you're in the market for an audio interface, you must check out the Apollo. Universal Audio has clearly thought through how we make music in our studios, and this interface gives us the tools and features we need. I predict the Apollo will be one of the biggest products of 2012.