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Universal Audio Apollo x8p

Universal Audio Apollo x8p

5 5 out of 5, based on 2 Reviews


20th December 2018

Universal Audio Apollo x8p by Arthur Stone

Universal Audio Apollo x8p

The Apollo x8p: The x8p (with 8 Unison preamps) is part of the Apollo X range released Fall 2018, the third-generation of Apollo. Other models include: the x8 (4 Unison pres); and x6 (2 Unison pres) with all, except the x16 (16 channels w/line amps; no pres), sharing Unison preamp and dual-crystal converter tech.

THE 3rd GEN APOLLO X RANGE

The Unison preamp is a digitally-controlled analogue circuit that can be modified by inserting a software plug-in.

The Apollo X range also segues with Universal Audio's other hardware which can be connected in a network and controlled jointly from a single software interface and up to four Apollos can be cascaded for increased channel count and DSP: up to 6 UAD2 devices inc up to 4 Apollos up to 64 I/O.


Universal Audio:
It's a real pleasure and a privilege to review Universal Audio/UAD gear – a company with a fine tradition of producing state-of-the-art audio gear (and related-recordings) since 1958. Founder, Bill Putnam Sr. was engineer of choice for the most successful stars of the era – in fact, the history is so extensive I can't begin to cover it in this review and I'd recommend the Wikipedia article and Universal Audio's own History page.

Bill Putnam Jr. and the UA design team had to follow a phenomenon; a seemingly impossible challenge to innovate this heritage and bring to market products to equal (and even technologically-surpass) the legacy of the company; to remain relevant at the cutting-edge after 60 years. No small feat. Another factor is the plethora of high-quality recording gear from other manufacturers. Can the Universal Audio Apollo live up to it's namesake – Apollo, god of music?

EARLY AIR GUITAR


Gearslutz concerns:
I read through the Apollo X thread and also elsewhere. Existing and potential users were interested in converter quality? The x16 has the premium conversion but the regular conversion didn't sound like it needed improvement TBH. Another concern: Thunderbolt 3 to 2? Yes.

I'd heard good things (literally) about UA and the Apollo series so my expectations were high. It was always going to be a difficult challenge for the Apollo to impress me; I'm not short of quality hardware, software and iZ RADAR and Sound Devices conversion. I usually work hybrid and sum in analogue.

Would the UA hardware and software overcome the challenge of homogeneity? Whereas analogue gear is not consistent i.e. “no two units sound exactly the same” (for reasons of ageing, manufacture or environment) it follows that the Apollo units and software will all sound the same...the differences being the natural variations in source material or choice of settings.


Studio in a box? Big test here is whether Rob the Guitar would notice latency. He's like a hawk (or owl?) and can spot the tiniest discrepancy. He's polite, for sure, but no software has really convinced him over a real amp. He likes the sound...but not the feel and playability of sims... bit of lag, man.

I was interested to see how he'd get on with the Apollo x8p's stock guitar amp: a classic Marshall. The plan was to DI into the Apollo and monitor in real-time and overdub a lead track onto the mix.

I also had to be convinced that nothing was awry in terms of timing at mix time. If the Apollo is a studio in a box then good performance interaction is the basic requisite. If the performers can't bond with the monitoring. then the overdubbing, even tracking, is impairing the mix from the offset. Out-of-sync'ness.


Out of the box: Straight out the box the Apollo looks and feels like a professional piece of gear; quite deep; solid but relatively light. The Apollo feels 'balanced' with an even distribution of weight.

The user controls: the buttons and dials feel perfect for the task and do not make any mechanical noise via the unit chassis. Just a soft click that can be felt by the fingers.

All the sockets and connection points are best quality. Nothing was wonky or cheap.

The power supply is external – a slim brick the size of an early 1980's mobile phone (yes I said that) – and that's reassuring as it ensures a more-than-adequate, high-quality power supply; a good basis on which to start making music.


Price: US $2999 (MRRP $3699) – UK £2700 inc. VAT - Euro 2999 (MRRP 3569 Euros)

If you love music and want to have a good time making it then this is great value; especially if you look at the cost spread over the years of use it offers.


Apollo x8p features:

Quote:
16x22 Thunderbolt 3 audio interface with class-leading 24-bit/192 KHz conversion (backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 1 & 2 on Mac)
Realtime UAD HEXA Core Processing for tracking through UAD plug-ins at near-zero latency, regardless of audio buffer size
8 Unison-enabled mic preamps with realtime preamp emulations from Neve, API, SSL, Manley, Universal Audio, and more†
Surround monitor controller up to 7.1 format*
Includes “Realtime Analog Classics Plus” UAD plug-in bundle featuring UA 610-B Tube Preamp; Legacy Pultec EQ, LA-2A, and 1176 compressors; Marshall Plexi Classic; Ampeg SVT-VR Classic and more
UAD HEXA Core processing onboard for additional mixing horsepower for Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Ableton, and other major DAWs
Combine up to 4 Thunderbolt-equipped Apollos and 6 total UAD devices
Selectable +24 dBu operation for easy compatibility with professional mixing consoles and tape machines
Convenient front panel monitoring functions including Alt Speakers, Talkback mic, and assignable Dim or Mono
Free, industry-leading technical support — on the phone and online — from knowledgeable audio engineers
*Surround Sound Support for Apollo X Coming Q4 2018.
Hardware Specs:
Quote:
Inputs

Combo Mic/Line Inputs
8 Balanced XLR/TRS
DB25 Line Inputs
8 Balanced via 25-pin D-sub
Instrument (Hi-Z) Inputs
2 Unbalanced ¼" TS
Digital Inputs (Optical TOSLINK)
ADAT: 8 channels @ 44.1 – 96 kHz
ADAT: 4 channels @ 176.4 – 192 kHz
S/PDIF: 2 channels @ 44.1 to 96 kHz
(Switchable ADAT or S/PDIF)
A to D Conversion

Mic Preamps
Dynamic Range: 122 dB (A-weighted)
THD+N: -115 dB (0.00019%)
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ±0.05 dB
Line Inputs
Dynamic Range: 123 dB (A-weighted)
THD+N: -113 dB (0.00022%)
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ±0.04 dB

Outputs
DB25 Line Outputs
8 Balanced via 25-pin D-sub
Monitor Outputs
2 Balanced ¼" TRS
Headphone Outputs
2 Stereo ¼" TRS
Digital Outputs (Optical TOSLINK)
ADAT: 8 channels @ 44.1 – 96 kHz
ADAT: 4 channels @ 176.4 – 192 kHz
S/PDIF: 2 channels @ 44.1 to 96 kHz
(Switchable ADAT or S/PDIF)
D to A Conversion

Line Outputs
Dynamic Range: 127 dB (A-weighted)
THD+N: -118 dB (0.00011%)
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ±0.07 dB
Monitor Outputs
Dynamic Range: 129 dB (A-weighted)
THD+N: -118 dB (0.00012%)
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ±0.06 dB
Headphone Outputs
Dynamic Range: 125 dB (A-weighted)
THD+N: -102 dB (0.00080%)
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ±0.05 dB
System requirements:
Quote:
ALL:

Thunderbolt 3 cable (not included)
Internet connection to download software and authorize UAD plug-ins
6 gigabytes available storage
Quad Core i7 or better processor recommended
For additional compatibility information, visit help.uaudio.com

MAC:

Available Thunderbolt 1, 2, or 3 port
Thunderbolt 1 and 2 connections require an Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter (not included)
macOS 10.12 Sierra or 10.13 High Sierra

PC:

Available Thunderbolt 3 port
Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (64-Bit Edition)
In general, amongst the best specs and facilities in it's class and beyond.

No MIDI facilities: not unusual. Could the spare Thunderbolt port be utilised for controller input in the future?


3rd Gen: Exponential growth (development of multiple features) rather than just a facsimile of the previous model. In the Sweetwater (other retailers are available) video overview, Gannon Kashiwa of UA discusses the challenges in implementing the 3rd generation of the Apollo dynasty: the buyers expectations are high, more DSP, better sound, faster, cheaper, etc. Everything has been re-worked and improved. The circuitry surrounding the conversion chip(s) can make or break the sound; Gannon explains that this is one 'under-the-hood' improvement leading to 133.2 dB of headroom; with special attention paid to jitter (sub 10 picoseconds). This leads to a clean and perfect audio image across frequencies; improved transients; and wide, deep soundstage. Listening tests confirm this.

New FGPA-chip routing architecture enables more efficient processing with the new Hexa SHARC chips. Gain-matched, phase-aligned accuracy ( to 0.1dB across channels) provides the 7.1 surround mode (to be implemented soon)

The models in the 3rd gen range each fulfil a different capability and purpose to meet customer scenarios/requirements and budget: from simple home studio tracking and overdubbing to full studio/console application even multiple units linked. Other UAD2 hardware can be integrated into a network increasing DSP.

What really stood out was the different sonic characters of different sample rates: I had switched from 44.1 to 96 kHz and thought “Wow, the sonic characters of each sample rate are accentuated. 44.1 is 'tighter' and I can hear more air/reverb/soundstage at 96 kHz.

This change in sonic palate made sense when I learnt that there are in fact 2 crystals: one for 44.1 kHz and multiples thereof, and another crystal for 48 kHz and multiples. To paraphrase UA's Gannon: the crystal is less stressed. The audio sounds relaxed and comfortable in it's existence.

THE UAD 610-B UNISON PREAMP

Using the Unison preamp: The Unison preamp is analogue but digitally-controlled and this allows bi-directional control between hardware circuitry and the software Unison-enabled plug-in. The preamp sounds great without plug-ins inserted; amongst the best I've used. Inserting a plug-in changes the impedance and characteristic of the physical circuitry.
The Apollo front-panel hardware dials are mapped to specific features on the plug-in; the analogue circuitry convincingly takes on the characteristic of the preamp type and model (each virtual preamp having been component-modelled from a prime hardware unit).

The Unison signal is always recorded with source, whereas the channel inserts can be switched in or out for recording and/or monitoring only.


Unison-enabled plug-ins include a range of preamps and channel strips plus guitar amps and pedals. Only one plug-in can be inserted into Unison although chains can be created by inserting plug-ins (non Unison i.e. not affecting the preamp) into the channel inserts; for example, a Screamer pedal in Unison slot and Marshall in the channel insert (non-Unison) or the Marshall in the Unison slot without the pedal in front.


Some Unison-enabled plug-ins are channel strips e.g. SSL channel or Manley Voxbox or semi-channel strips e.g. UA 610 or Helios 69.

Like the real thing it takes some time to 'understand' the preamp.

In addition to sounding awesome and convincing the performance interaction was there too; obvious when playing a guitar into an UAD amp but also more subtly when singing a vocal into an exotic preamp with EQ.



Low-latency monitoring:
'Real-time' monitoring via the Unison inserts on the preamp has a positive impact on the performance; a mojo loop. Sure you could record a straight clean (non-Unison take) and apply modelling later but the performer won't get to appreciate the extra vibe of the Unison plug-in.

I gelled with the Apollo immediately: for the performer, for the audio engineer, the latency is negligible; 2 ms and a bit of hyperspace lag (OK I made that bit up). Rob the Guitar was suitably impressed and he said positive things about the sound and latency from the wedge monitor (which did sound reasonably like a loud Marshall close-by in the room or with tweaking, in another room!). The monitoring was great through Kali monitors, Focal CMS40's and various low and higher-quality headphones.

The UA Console software has excellent cue facilities and the headphone amps worked beautifully with the range of headphones, with no gain-bunching on the dial. Power without danger!

Out of all the interfaces we've tested this one is the best. The Apollo x8p works with the performer and engineer to make tracking a pleasure.



The UA 'Console' software:
The 'Console' – the mixer interface - works well for tracking, mixing and ITB/OTB routing. Not too mysterious. Common sense really especially if you've used an analogue or digital mixer (or DAW). There are a series of channel strips with aux sends and channels and a cue/monitor and master section.

The 'Flex' routing system is very clear and there's really a lot of connectivity with the Aux's, Cue's and Sends plus the software IO mixer. If you're new to interfaces and it seems a bit complex then UA have it covered with support and training videos, how-to's and excellent manual(s).

The main point of potential confusion is the IO numbering system which implements differently in different DAWs. Track 1 output from Console isn't necessarily Input 1 in your DAW; it depends on the IO patchbay settings and Outputs 1 & 2 are reserved for monitor outs. It's nearly perfect.


Visually, it's a good look. Hyperreal simulacra worthy of a graphic novel.
The visuals added to the enjoyment. In general, the main control and feedback (e.g. metering) is clear with backlit status buttons and symbols. Short learning curve.

Key functions are mouse-clickable to reveal a sub-menu; the menus are shallow: one or two layers. UAD plug-ins can be placed into available insert slots in each mixer channel and aux channel with a separate slot for the Unison insert (one per channel). The regular channel inserts are 4 maximum; depending on the plug-in's appetite and channel DSP, only one or two inserts can be used with a hefty Unison plug-in such as a channel strip.


UAD Plug-ins: The stock plug-ins are a great start. If you need to spend all your loot on the unit itself then there's enough to make music in high-quality. More plug-ins are easily obtained and demo-able. Sure, it's possible to spend a lot of money on the competitively-priced goodies but there's also some usable, useful bargains and the bundles seem like good value given that they are the 'best emulations' and certainly sound like it.

I tried every plug-in I could in the short time available: given the range of classic gear it was a sonic education and everything sounded great and each preset was an inspiration to create music or refine a specific task e.g. adding harmonics and mid-side fx.

The range is so extensive and reactive that it's a great way to virtually audition hardware purchases; an indication anyway. Of course some of the units emulated are unobtainium for mere mortals and UA is probably the closest we will get, ever.

We have a review of the new UAD Lexicon 480L plug-in in a couple of weeks time and also Diogo will be presenting a Part 2 review of the x8p next month.


Making music with Apollo: Apollo was the ancient Greek god of music (amongst other things) and leader of The Muses (an early Greek punk band). Apollonian-thinking is ordered, top-down, rational and self-disciplined – a good metaphor for the x8p in it's music-making role.

Apollo is often contrasted with his brother Dionysus (the goat-footed minstrel wandering the woods playing his flute...basically a hippie); Dionysian-practice is chaotic, lustful, bottom-up and uncontrolled (ref: West Coast synthesis).

For the demo track, the Dionysian musician (me) will interface with Apollo's sonic and electronic architecture; the song is called 'Hyperion' and it's acoustic and electric guitar, bass, and synth strings; vocal; and, hand drums. No outboard used, just the UA Unison preamps, and stock UA plug-ins. Here is the song: Hyperion

Initially I couldn't get the Apollo audio into Reason. Nada. The Apollo x8p and the Console software and UA plug-ins were working perfectly – but not with Reason. Instead I hooked up a DSub cable to the Apollo x8p's line outs and into iZ RADAR Studio running a Reason session. I was recording within a minute. I was tweaking Console and sexy UA soft-gear. I was happy.

The problem with Reason was solved easily and UA had published an article that day to explain that the computer microphone (which can be utilised as a talkback mic in the Apollo) needed permission to be used.

In fact, I'm glad it happened: if I'd just made a normal ITB review I'd have missed the opportunity to show Apollo x8p's strength as a front end – for iZ RADAR; for a multi-track tape machine or hard-disk recorder – even as an adjunct to a console. A high-function stand-alone unit that'll integrate into the analogue or hybrid studio with ease: DSub's into patchbay or recorder inputs. No DAW in sight.

The Apollo x8p has been designed to interface with external gear in this way and has selectable +24dBu headroom available for consistent metering/voltage headroom with connected professional analogue and digital gear.


Of course, with a DAW running on the same machine as Console matters are greatly simplified in terms of logistics and ergonomics. In addition: 'virtual tracks' within Console can be used to process DAW tracks with the UA plug-ins running on the Apollo.

With a laptop you have a portable 'small-producer' studio, power off the Thunderbolt and you need only one mains socket – equally this set up is ideal for small studios in rooms and apartment or larger studios where space is at a premium.


Plato and The Cave: Can the wonderful world of UAD software be compared to the shadow play of Plato's Cave? The audience having convinced themselves that the shadows are the 'real world'?

My experience is that the 'shadows' – the UAD plug-ins – go a bit deeper than Plato could have reasonably imagined; and who can make a comparison to the 'real world' daylight of hardware? Few; and those few seem to be happy using the UAD – at least alongside their hardware equivalents.

At the end of the day reality is something we experience and that is real no matter the context: a shadow play in a cave or a material box in a studio. Reality is about vibe – something we feel at an intuitive and emotional level, and the UAD plug-ins, Apollo x8p (and I suspect the rest of the range) provide this.

Not every plug-in blew me away but most did, especially the dynamics, compressors and limiters, some EQ's and the effecs: reverbs, delays and also the amp emulations.



Final thoughts:
I started by wondering if the Apollo would sound homogeneous – a characteristic software sound that smears everything – but it didn't, it sounded awesome with plenty of individuation and variation in timbre and ambience.

OK there's a case for saying that there's enough variance in hardware (equivalents of the plug-in models here) that different units will sound different and some will sound better than others; perhaps due to component vitality or a fault or different applications, genres and environments. We can surmise that, and say it's probable, but we'll never know for sure and IMO life is too short and sweet to worry about it.

The performance is nearly everything: the finger pressure and speed of muscle contraction and relaxation; the honest emotion reflected in the movement of air over the vocal chords; the attitude of the drummer. The Apollo is just presenting the best available of all possible recording scenarios.

Of course you could spend a hundred times more and a lot more time and inconvenience in recreating this as a hardware studio; but for mere mortals the UA Apollo x8p has all the sweet spots covered.


Gearslutz Score.
Sound quality: 5/5 During meditation one can become aware of an expansion of inner spaciousness: similarly the x8p offers the listener an expanded but unforced soundstage' and there is an extra layer/dimension revealed (as if 'audio smog' were clearing) and this is particularly noticeable in the upper mids. All sources sounded bedded /shelved/glued at mix time. The x8p sounds pleasurable, accurate and engaging. The dynamics and density and resolution of sources are detailed. I didn't sense harshness or fatiguing 'aura.' The weakest area is the low mids/bass but my monitoring is a bit amateur and it'd be nice to have monitored on the ADAM S3V's.

Ease of use:
5/5 Smooth, short learning curve with a couple of obstacles; the IO patchbay can be difficult depending on your DAW but not enough to lose a point. Front panel legends can get dark but it's intuitive with good visual feedback. Metering is good. The hardware and software have great workflow and control ergonomics.

Features: 5/5 Something for everyone. Combined with the wide range of UAD plug-in's the x8p can be configured for many scenarios and set-ups. The only things the Apollo doesn't currently provide is DAW-type recording tracks or virtual instruments.

Bang-for-Buck: 5/5 In addition to the wonderful Apollo and world of UAD plug-ins you also get very good literature and manuals and ongoing development of the UAD 'ecosystem.' It's not like your heading into a technological 'box-canyon' with no way out. You need to budget for a Thunderbolt cable; this is a specialised cable with microprocessors onboard and UA cannot supply them at a lower cost than a 3rd party.


Links and credits:

Apollo x8p | Thunderbolt Audio Interface | Universal Audio
About | Universal Audio
Apollo - Wikipedia
Apollonian and Dionysian - Wikipedia
Simulacra and Simulation - Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave

Photos used courtesy of UA; other photos by Arthur Stone.
'Apollo of the Belvedere' photograph by Livioandronico2013
used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Attached Thumbnails
Universal Audio Apollo x8p-apollo_of_the_belvedere.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-console2.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-ua-unboxed.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-ua610a.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uaconsole.png  

Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uaconsole2.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uafairchild.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uafront.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uala2a.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uamarshall.png  

Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uaprecision.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uapultec.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uarange.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uarat.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uarear.jpg  

Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uasurround.png   Universal Audio Apollo x8p-uaverb.png  
Last edited by Arthur Stone; 22nd December 2018 at 07:13 AM..

  • 3
4 days ago

Universal Audio Apollo x8p by Diogo C

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
Universal Audio Apollo x8p

Picking up on Arthur Stone's Greek mythology reference, I'd propose a different looking at a different tale: the audio interface game in many ways mirrors the Myth of Sisyphus, and if we take the role of ill-fated protagonist then the audio interface is our rock. Our crime is to dare recording music in the digital domain, so the gods of analog have punished us, and like Sisyphus we’re pushing the rock up the hill just to see it rolling down again - just like every few years most of us are compelled to dump our interfaces due to some technological change that rendered our last computer pretty much useless for music production, or at least limited in ways that an upgrade seems all but inevitable.

The Apollo X8P just did precisely that to my current work computer, and rendered it useless for my current goals. We are not talking an old Core 2 Duo, this is a 4th generation Intel i7 CPU build by yours truly with a nice motherboard, SSDs and so forth, but it's older than the Apollo X and therefore no support whatsoever for Thunderbolt, a technology that was restricted to Macs back when I first assembled this machine and that would only arrive at PCs a few generations later in the shape of USB-C connectors, finally packing the third iteration of the Thunderbolt protocol. Recapping my journey on this trade is quite an exercise in dealing with this obsolescence: from the early days with a Delta 1010 PCI passing through a few FireWire devices and now arriving to the Apollo x8p on Thunderbolt 3. The only constant to be found is the good old USB 2.0, which served me well on many occasions (RME Babyface Pro and the Steinberg URs comes to mind) but the protocol comes with undeniable limitations which are bound to be encountered when we go for interfaces with big I/O counts and richer feature sets. Time to move on, and to push that rock up the hill again.

 That seems almost irresistible, isn't it? Fortunately I had a MacBook Pro from 2015 that was my alternate computer and now it ascends to the main spot so I can enjoy the X8P, but it's not exactly powerful and in the end it is a laptop with all its inherent limitations. A new mighty desktop is in the cards, hopefully for this year but if not then surely for the next. Let that rock roll one more time please.

Future-proofing a studio is the crux of the matter here. The Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C format) connectors on the back of the Apollo X8P and present on the entire Apollo X line is mounted on a part that looks suspiciously detachable, which to me indicates that UA kept the door open for some other form of interfacing that may come out in a not-so-distant future and that’s not unprecedented for them, as the first batch of Apollo “silver face” were initially based on FireWire and a Thunderbolt option was later introduced.

Commit, commit, commit. If I had to narrow the UAD experience down to one word, that word would be “commitment”. Apollos (or Arrows) and DSP accelerators won’t make for interesting studio decor, so if one has such devices in hand they should be putting them to good use: monitoring with effects at near-zero latency and mixing with some of the best plug-ins in the industry whilst unloading your computer of at least some of that native plug-in burden. That’s commitment on many levels: commit to that compressor or EQ when recording, commit to use the UAD-2 plug-ins when mixing. Needless to say that this is all optional, we’re not forced by any means to take that route, but I’d highly encourage it, and after all why buy these relatively costly devices if we’re not putting their strengths to our advantage? Moreover, the plug-ins plays a pivotal role in the UAD environment and are the decisive factor on all levels, so ultimately you’re to them above all else. 



Entering the Apollo-centric universe: Although they’re an indispensable element that no modern studio could ever work properly without, audio interfaces are in my experience something that are rapidly forgotten the moment they’re installed, unless it decides to bother you with some pesky bug or worst, but being “forgettable” also usually means being reliable i.e. it works so well that we forget it’s here, and that’s a great thing. Universal Audio had a say about this, and unlike most other interfaces the Apollo reminds you that it is there, begging to be put to good use. How about some Neve pres on those inputs? 1176 on the way in with sugar (480L) on top. Tape it now to save DSP or leave it for the mix? The Apollo can work as a regular interface that you set and forget, staying as invisible as possible once the initial configuration is done, but using it in such way would be a huge oversight.

X6, X8, X8P, X16...which Apollo X to get? The X6 and X8 would be the most sensible choices for those who don't require many preamps, namely project studios and modern music producers who are not tracking many simultaneous channels. The X8P is arguably the most versatile of this current batch, allowing for a number of different jobs to be executed thanks to its 8 preamps. x16 would be a sensible choice for A) if you already have a number of preamps that you love or B) you don't care about preamps since you're only tracking synths. I must admit that I am torn between the X16 and the X8P, but the preamps tipped the scale for me as I was not well-covered in that area. Lastly, all Apollos have ADAT ports, so more inputs/outputs or preamps can be added, and the system is highly scalable and up to four Apollo Xs can be stacked for a maximum of whopping 72 inputs and 96 outputs. The smaller Apollo Twin can also be added to an Apollo X system, and it makes for a fine monitor controller besides the extra I/O, and I can see it arriving at my studio on a future upgrade.

Hexa-Core DSP, but is it enough in 2019? One point of recurring criticism on our forums is the DSP firepower, which is considered by many to be underwhelming, and that’s to put it mildly. That begs the question: what exactly are you mixing or working with? Mixing projects today comes in all sorts of different sizes and channel counts, not to mention the immense gap between plug-in requirements. In short, if you’re thinking about mixing 60+ tracks with 4 plug-ins on each plus a bunch of buses also loaded with more plug-ins, then mixing solely with UAD-2 will be a challenge that perhaps no money spent on extra DSP accelerators can ever surpass. However, if you opt for a hybrid route and work within the limitations the UAD-2 plug-ins are some of the best choices out there, if you play by their book of course. That means committing to some processing or effects when recording (see above) and also planning sessions wisely. 


The scores 


Sound quality: Simply put, the Apollo x8p is the best sounding interface I ever had the pleasure to work with. The quality of the converters is unlikely anything I’ve experienced, the preamps are highly versatile thanks to the Unison tech, the monitor outputs are ridiculously clean as they should, headphones outputs are powerful enough to drive the hungriest of cans, and the plug-ins needs no further words — they’re widely used and industry standards for many good reasons. Going beyond the sound quality to speak of quality in a broader sense, it should also be said that this latest line of Apollo Xs are also very impressive and imposing pieces of hardware, made with high quality materials and manufacturing standards of the highest order. I'm yet to see an interface that looks and feels as well-built as the x8p. Bravo UA, bravo!

Ease of use: On the software side the Apollos are quite a breeze to use once you get a grip of the Console software. Setting it up isn’t complicated, but I’m coming from a long period with RME interfaces and have extensively used their routing/utility apps, so Console felt a bit odd at a first glance. In some ways Console is not as flexible as TotalMix or comprehensive as DigiCheck, and to my eyes there is a slight imbalance between the Console software and the Apollo hardware, which is more of a testimony to the high quality of the hardware than a hit on the app. Initially I dearly missed the flexible routing of the RME, where any output can have its own mix of hard inputs and software streams, everything with its own faders and mute groups and so on, and it took me a few days to rewire my brain so it could work with the cue mix system, but once that was done I could get everything I wanted in terms of routing. I can see the current software becoming a problem if one needs more than four cues, which is not my case at the moment but that is certainly an important point to take into account, but on the other hand, Console’s alternate monitor feature is absent on TotalMix, so it’s easier to set up a second or third set of monitors on the Apollos and this can be more valuable than flexible routing depending on the studio or gear configuration. Although I’m looking forward to seeing what UA has in the bag for the next iteration of their interface software, I’m also happy with 2.0 has to offer and most importantly, the Apollo package as a whole provides great of use and has not presented any serious challenges to me other than picking which preamp I’m going to use next. On the documentation and tech support aspects it’s no surprise that everything is excellent, with useful user manuals and extensive tech database through Universal Audio’s website. I should note that there are no printed manuals, which I don’t think I’d use anyway as I think that searching a PDF is quite easier, but your mileage may vary here.



Features: I have hardly anything else to complain other than the concerns expressed above about the Console software, and the feature set provided by the x8p is pretty much perfect. As a relentless gearslut I can also find something to nitpick or to wish for, and I wouldn't mind having ADAT level monitoring from the front panel, a S/PDIF mode for that second optical I/O that I'm not using or even a couple MIDI ports. Speaking of MIDI — and adding to the choir of Apollo users — UA needs to find us a way of controlling the Console with our MIDI devices and iPads. In this regard, iPad integration with proper iOS could be particularly useful for live sound and location recording where taking less gear is always a good thing, and the iOS DAWs have matured enough to be able to tackle multitrack recording...so that’s another one for the wish list. In short, the hardware is pretty much impeccable in terms of features and the software is also very good, although with much room for improvement as pointed out on the previous section of this review. They are feature-packed interfaces no matter how you look and the few points for criticism that I have are certainly not enough to overshadow its qualities.

Bang for buck: The entire Apollo line is made of excellent interfaces that honours their price tags, but I found the x8p to be in a particularly advantageous position due to the fact that getting eight mic preamps that sound as good as these won’t come cheap, never mind getting eight preamps plus a stellar audio interface. As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit a torn between the X8P and X16, and I think they both provide excellent bang for buck on their respective applications. Lastly, the X6 and X8 are also fine choices if you don’t need more preamps, more inputs and/or can’t afford the X8P/X16. 

Recommended for: engineers or producers working with bands and recording studios are definitely the prime audience for the X8P, but I can see it working nicely for electronic music producers with hybrid software/hardware approaches as well. Thanks to its versatile I/O and DSP power the x8p can also act as “one size fits all” interface for the producer or engineer recording projects with different sizes on the go while also mixing at their home studio.

Closing thoughts: The audio interface is perhaps the most personal item on today’s studio. We all want great sounding monitors or microphone and will always try to find the best quality for all the money we have in hands, but with audio interfaces there’s more to consider and permutations or compromises between sheer quality, connectivity and reliability can be much harder to make, not to mention the fact that we want to address our current needs but have also to look into the future in terms of the technology changes or future career prospects. Having said that, the Apollo X line looks as future proof as possible with TB3 and remember that suspiciously detachable card that I’ve mentioned before? I don’t have any inside information on the matter, but it is there and there’s a precedent on the previous Apollo “Silverface”, so it doesn’t seem far-fetched at all that UA has it covered for a good decade or so at least, which in this era of constant change is one the best prospect for an audio interface.

Pros:
• Superbly clean and transparent AD/DA converters.
• Highly versatile mic preamps thanks to Unison.
• Impressive hardware that looks built to last.
• Reliable drivers with excellent latency figures when Console is used.

Cons:
• Console is a bit stiff when compared to other solutions.
• Bundled selection of plug-ins feels a tad underwhelming given the UAD-2 catalog.

Recommended for: Recording studios, producers and engineers looking for an endgame interface with scalability, DSP for near-zero latency effects and awesome sound quality.

 
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