Russ' mobile recording rig consisting of a MacBook Pro running Pro Tools, UA's Apollo Twin, Blue Mo-Fi headphones and a USB keyboard/controller.
After falling in love with the Universal Audio Apollo QUAD while reviewing it a few years back, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Apollo Twin, released earlier this year. The small footprint Twin provides 24-bit/192 kHz sound and, according to UA, has the highest dynamic range and lowest noise of any desktop interface currently available. Its mic preamps, input stage and converters are identical to those in the other Apollo models. The Twin has two variations, the Twin SOLO and the Twin DUO. The only difference is that the DUO utilizes two SHARC DSP processors and the SOLO utilizes one, meaning the DUO, which I review here, has the ability to run twice as many plug-ins as the SOLO.
The Apollo Twin is a 10 x 6 Thunderbolt desktop interface that incorporates two analog inputs, eight digital inputs and six analog outputs. Analog input is through two digitally controlled mic/line inputs. Channel 1 can alternatively be set to use the front panel’s Hi-Z instrument input, which sounds great! Analog output is through two balanced line outputs, two digitally controlled analog monitor outs, and one dedicated stereo headphone output. The optical digital input allows either eight additional channels of ADAT or two channels of S/PDIF input. Weighing 2.35 lb, the Twin measures 6.2 inches deep by 6.3 inches wide by 2.6 inches high.
The majority of the small computer interfaces I’ve encountered are poorly made, feeling somewhat cheap and even disposable. This is not the case with the Twin, which feels robust and solid like something that you will likely still be using a decade from now. The power supply’s cable includes a twist-lock mechanism that secures the cable into the Twin so it doesn’t accidentally get removed. This is the first time I’ve seen this and it’s a brilliant idea that should be incorporated by all manufacturers utilizing wall-wart power supplies, especially hard drive manufacturers.
The Twin includes a power supply with international adaptors and a card that includes a link and software download instructions. There is no physical manual and no Thunderbolt cable. The Apollo Twin requires an Apple Mac computer running Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion or 10.9 Mavericks with 2 GB of available disk space and an available Thunderbolt port.
Installing the UA software package was straightforward and easy. In addition to the UAD plug-in library, the software includes the necessary drivers as well as the metering and control panel application that allows the easy management of authorizations and the ability to monitor system usage. More so than any other manufacturer, UA has done a great job of making the integration between the hardware and software seamless. Initiating the UAD Meter & Control Panel installs the entire library of UA plug-ins so purchasing additional plug-ins is only a software authorization that can be done in seconds and fully functional 14-day demos are included.
The Apollo Twin includes the “Realtime Analog Classics” UAD plug-in bundle, which is made up of UA 610-B Tube Preamp and EQ, Softube Amp Room Essentials, 1176SE/LN (Legacy), Pultec Pro Equalizers (Legacy), Teletronix LA-2A (Legacy), CS-1 Precision Channel, and RealVerb Pro. The bundle is a great compliment to the Twin but with the long list of amazing plug-ins that UA offers, don’t expect to go too long without purchasing more.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Apollo Twin is its incorporation of Unison technology, which allows the Twin’s mic preamps to both behave and sound like a dream list of solid state and tube preamps. This is not some fancy EQ trick but rather the mic pre actually matches the impedance, circuit behaviors and even the gain stage “sweet spots” of the modeled mic pres. The genius designers at Universal Audio had the necessary hardware to facilitate this modeling built into the original UA Apollo but nobody (at least nobody I know) knew it existed until the Apollo Twin was released this past January. In addition to the 610-B, the API Vision Channel Strip and Neve 1073 Preamp and EQ are the other preamp emulation plug-ins currently available; there will likely be more options by the time you read this. The 610-B does a fantastic job of recreating the legendary warmth and character that made the 610-B famous and it’s a perfect contrast to the solid-state sound of the Twin’s pre when used without activating the emulation. After several sessions experimenting with using the different preamp models on a wide variety of sound sources I found that I enjoy the 610 on vocals and acoustic guitar, the 1073 on electric guitars and bass and the API on drums and perc. Truthfully though, it’s just fantastic having multiple options at the click of a mouse. I did some experimentation switching between pre emulations when doubling an electric or acoustic guitar and I found that I loved the sonic tone resulting from the blend of the two passes recorded through different preamp emulations.
The Apollo Twin navigation is intuitive and easy. The large knob controls the gain of both mic/line inputs as well as the monitor/headphone volume. The headphone amp sounds wonderful, as do the line outputs. I actually feel like the Twin is worth the price just for the DAC and headphone amp. The row of function buttons provides pad, polarity, low-cut, phantom power and stereo-linking functionality. Unfortunately there is only one set of monitor outputs and there is no speaker dim option.
The included Console application is the Apollo Twin’s software control interface; it is essentially a software version of the input path with added routing options. Its design makes it easy to insert multiple plug-ins in a recording patch with almost no latency (1.1 ms @ 96 kHz sample rate) and the routing architecture follows the logic of an analog console so adapting to its workflow is extremely instinctual. Console setups can be saved as presets or even saved within a session using the Console Recall plug-in (VST/AU/RTAS/AAX 64) making it easy to recall a recording path from the previous week, month or even decade. During my review period, I used the Apollo Twin with Pro Tools, Logic and Nuendo and it performed flawlessly in every instance.
The Apollo Twin is a winner in my book: it sounds great, the Unison mic pres are remarkable, and it performs flawlessly along with the UA Console software and DAW of choice. It is surprisingly affordable. There are a few features that I miss though. Word clock input and output would simplify some configurations and I wish it included a second Thunderbolt port making it possible to daisy chain a Thunderbolt hard drive or a monitor to the device. That said, I still think this is one of UA’s strongest products yet. Anyone in need of a quality desktop interface should give the UA Twin serious consideration.
Price: Apollo Twin SOLO: $879; Apollo Twin DUO: $1,129
Contact: Universal Audio | uaudio.com
A native of Boulder, Colorado, Russ Long moved to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Belmont University in 1986. Since graduating with a BBA degree in 1988, he has remained in Nashville engineering and producing a wide variety of music and film projects.
Russ’s credits include the hit singles “Kiss Me” and “There She Goes” by Sixpence None The Richer alongside albums by Wilco, Newsboys, Over the Rhine, Relient K, Dolly Parton, Fernando Ortega and Jim Brickman. His film credits encompass the soundtracks to The Sapphires, Girl Interrupted, Here On Earth, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, The Second Chance, Hannah Montana: The Movie, and She's All That. Additionally, Russ has diversified to engineer 5.1 DVD mixes for artists such as Allison Moorer, David Crowder and Mercy Me as well as live sound recordings, having multi-tracked live performances for Switchfoot, Chris Tomlin and Guy Clark.
In 1994, Russ opened his Nashville studio—The Carport—which has played a key role in the majority of his projects. He has been a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review since 1997; as such, he has authored well over 100 equipment reviews and instructional audio production articles to the benefit of the pro audio industry.