The best audio interface for the Mac: Universal Audio Apollo

Every once in a while you come across a product that you know is just the best in its class. Honestly, that doesn’t happen too often, but the Universal Audio Apollo is the best audio interface I’ve ever used on my Mac.

I’ve been using and testing Mac audio interfaces for years — I have small USB units, FireWire 400 and 800 interfaces, FireWire mixing boards, guitar processors, pedalboards and just about anything else you can imagine. They are all in my studio and have all be used at one time or another.

I’ve recorded entire bands and everything right down to setting up a couple of mics and recording an acoustic guitar and nothing has been able to compare with the sound quality and ease of use I get with the Apollo.

With its combination of hardware and software, the Apollo is probably the closest thing you’re going to get to a console without sitting behind a desk and grabbing the controls. It’s with this combination where I think the Apollo ultimately beat out the competition.

With many interfaces, there is usually something missing — either the hardware is deficient in some way or the software doesn’t measure up to what we’ve come to expect in today’s music world. Whatever it is, I find myself saying, “If only this were better,” or something similar. That doesn’t happen with the Apollo.

Hardware

Here is a quick list of what the Apollo offers on the 1U rack unit:

  • Sample rates up to 192 kHz at 24-bit word length
  • 18 x 24 simultaneous input/output channels:
    • Eight channels of analog-to-digital conversion via mic, line, or high-impedance inputs
  • 14 channels of digital-to-analog conversion via:
    • Eight mono line outputs
    • Stereo monitor outputs
    • Two stereo headphone outputs
  • 10 channels of digital I/O via:
    • Eight channels ADAT Optical I/O with S/MUX for high sample + rates
    • Two channels coaxial S/PDIF I/O with sample rate conversion
    • Two FireWire 800 ports for daisy-chaining other FireWire devices
  • 32-bit and 64-bit device drivers

Bottom line, there are a lot of options available to you.

Apollo back sq

The Apollo doesn’t have a lot of buttons on the front panel, but there are enough to do everything you need. The big preamp knob not only allows you to adjust the gain by turning, it also lets you select the channel by pressing it.

There are six small buttons beside the preamp to change the mic/line of a channel, a low cut filter, phantom power, PAD, phase and link. Of course, lights on the hardware display will show you what’s on or off for each channel. You can get up and running without even going into the software.

There is also a Monitor (Volume) button and two headphone volume buttons, as well as the two headphone inputs on the front too.

Apollo 3qtr sq

Most of the other inputs and outputs are on the back of the Apollo, with the exception of the two Hi-Z inputs, which are on the front. The Apollo even auto-detects when an instrument is plugged into one of these inputs and automatically changes the input channel for you. I love details like that.

The hardware units comes in a dual or quad configuration, depending on how much DSP power you’ll need. I have the Quad version. They range in price from $2,500 to $2,999, but you can find them even cheaper online.

It’s also important to note that you can purchase a Thunderbolt option card for the Apollo. The standard option is FireWire, which is also very fast.

Software

The software for the Apollo comes in the form of an app called Console. And that’s exactly how it behaves.

Console gives you access to each channel available on the Apollo, adding a bit more control. Of course, you get simple controls like volume and panning, but you also get access to the Aux Sends, Headphone Sends, and all of the buttons that hardware unit has like phase, link etc. Whenever something is changed in software, it is immediately reflected in the Apollo hardware or vice versa.

Console also has four insert slots where you can insert any of the Universal Audio plug-ins you own. Here’s the great part — you can insert the plug-ins for monitoring only or record into your DAW with the inserts active.

And you can do all of that with no latency. That’s huge.

Apollo software app sq

Your DAW has access to every channel available on the Apollo, so that means if you put a reverb on an Aux channel, you can put that into the DAW.

There are other little details that I like in software too. For instance, if you Command-click on the inserts, all of the plug-ins will pop-up like a channel strip. I like mixing like this when I’m finalizing things — a little tweak here and there.

Bottom Line

There is no doubt that the Apollo is the best audio interface on the market. If you care about your music and are tired of the hassles, go buy this now.



  • http://twitter.com/seansommerfeld Sean Sommerfeld

    And it uses Thuderbolt for I/O, yeah? That’s pretty cool. Do you use it with Logic? I wonder if I can get it to work with Live? Great review Jim, thanks for posting. Will start saving…

    • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

      You are right Sean, I don’t know how I forgot to add that. I put it in the review.

  • auramac

    And for less than a thousand?….

    • G

      There are dozens. What exactly do you need? The most similar to the Apollo would probably be the MOTU 828mk3. It’s 1u, 8×8, with 2 mic pre-amps, lots of digital I/O and some onboard DSP. $750 street.

  • fenderlover

    I sold all my gear to buy a home in August (MotU 828mk2, mixer, & jaguar, but I kept my ’68 dual showman AB736!), so I’m starting over this coming Tuesday when I order a novation controller, studio monitors, midi-modded gameboy, and 32gb of RAM. Tucking cash away, though, for the Apollo Quad hopefully in March before the $900 voucher deal expires. Question, how many plugs can you run on the quad? I can’t seem to find any data on how powerful those SHARC processors are. I doubt I’d be able to tax them to the point of choking, but I’m still curious. I might write them to disk while recording unless there’s massive headroom for playback. Assume maybe 25 tracks, each with 1-5 plugs? Doable? (Running Logic Pro 9 on a 27″, 3.4ghz quad core i7 iMac)

    • fenderlover

      Oops… AB763 :¬P

    • http://www.loopinsight.com Jim Dalrymple

      That’s a good question. I have a Quad 2 card and a Satellite too, so I have a lot of power. It also depends on the plug.

    • Brian

      Where is it $900? I’m seein $2,500 everywhere

  • http://twitter.com/alex_weinstein Alex Weinstein

    My Apollo Quad is incredible. I agree with this post 100%. It’s amazing that UA’s first interface is so good. They really nailed it.

  • Borja

    Being a devoted UAD, I would recommend you to have a look at Metric Halo interfaces. The preamplifiers and converters are outstanding.

  • JohnDoey

    How does it sound, though? The Apogee interfaces always sound better to me.

  • Dave Ahl

    Jim have you used RME’s stuff? How does it compare? I always found the RME drivers to be rock solid personally.

  • http://www.pro-tools-expert.com/ Russ Hughes

    Yep! We been trying to break our Apollo at Pro Tools Expert, we’ve done a couple of videos trying to make it fall over and we can’t.

    I concur JD – see you on the other side! R

  • http://twitter.com/greatbigdaddy flip Leon

    Why on any earthly reason would you want to sample at 192kHz?

    • fenderlover

      If you wanted to print to vinyl, you’d want to ensure the smoothest possible waveform to get the most out of the medium. With digital downloads more accessible than CD’s, I have (as have many others) rediscovered the joys of vinyl. 192k can be awfully taxing on most systems right now, but with SSD on the rise, thunderbolt, affordable RAM, etc, this probably won’t matter in another 5 years or so. 192k brings us closer to the best of both worlds!

      • http://twitter.com/greatbigdaddy flip Leon

        After 44khz, its all specsmenship. You will not hear ANY difference. The reason for oversampling is simply to shift any artifact out of the auditory area. We don’t hear above 20kHz. Silliness. Like the 5.5′ Samsung phone!

        • fenderlover

          That’s not true. 44.1k doubles 22k, slightly higher than the highest we can hear, but there’s no guarantee that peaks and valleys will be hit dead on. Waveforms can be sampled in awkward, and less than optimal points for a clear reproduction, especially when you have a bunch of them from different sources competing and overlapping one another. Yeah, it’s probably not going to stand out, but next to a recording that impeccably reproduces the original waveform, you will hear and feel the difference. This is like saying 72dpi on a monitor is perfect because you can read text just fine, and using a retina display is just “specsmanship”. 192k is literally anti-aliasing for the digital waveform. Here is a visual aid:

          http://www.practical-home-theater-guide.com/image-files/dvd-audio-vs-cd-audio.gif

          • http://twitter.com/greatbigdaddy flip Leon

            No, its if I were to say Retina Displays are great at 300 dpi, but the new 1000 dpi display is even better. Don’t mean any disrespect here.

          • fenderlover

            No disrespect taken, and none intended here either! I love you. Yet, 72dpi & 44.1 went into mass production about the same time, and now 300dpi & 192khz are both coming into their own. (192k takes an optimized system and isn’t practical for everyone, but it’s definitely doable, and 300dpi monitors aren’t ready for prime time on the desktop). IDK man…they both draw smooth lines in their existing systems, whereas their predecessors were noticeably aliased.

        • fenderlover

          Wait, I skimmed over your post. You answer this yourself. Removing artifacts. If 44k audio includes artifacts, then wouldn’t it make sense that an anti-aliased waveform with less/no artifacts would sound better? And isn’t that the point then? It’s not so we can reproduce and hear higher pitched crazy sounds, it’s to clean up what we can hear…just like retina isn’t implemented so we can read 2pt text, it makes the 12pt text look sharper. Perceptibly sharper!

    • fenderlover

      And never-mind vinyl, the waveform being closer to an analog waveform just sounds better, even when a physical record isn’t a part of the picture. I fantasize that the Beatles master tapes are being remixed & remastered (together and separately) for release on vinyl & bluray from a 192k capture. (boner)