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Universal Audio Twin MKII Quad

Update Brings More DSP, Advanced Functions, New AD/DA
Sound Byte

TRY THIS Sometimes when tracking, we apply processing to in instrument’s monitor path just for reference. When using UAD plug-ins in Console’s monitor path, those plug-ins then have to be mirrored in Pro Tools in order to exist during playback. Console’s presets save in a different format than Pro Tools plug-in presets, but I found a workaround. In the bottom left corner of a Console plug-in’s GUI, there is a small folder icon. Clicking this reveals a “Copy” command, while the Pro Tools plug-in instance has a similar folder icon which reveals a “Paste” command. Using these copy-and-paste functions bridged the gap between the two pieces of software.

Two years ago, I got to try out the original Apollo Twin Thunderbolt interface. I remember being impressed with the overall build and sound quality, and taken aback by the complexity of the software mixer. My two main complaints were that the converters seemed a bit colored and that the Twin maxed out at two UAD DSP processor chips. When I saw that the Twin MkII shipped in a four-proces- sor configuration with newly designed converters, additional monitoring functions and a revamped software mixer, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one.

The Twin gets its name from its pair of analog inputs. Each can accept mic or line level signal through an XLR/TRS combo jack on the rear panel. As an alternative, the first channel can be fed via the front panel, high-impedance TS instrument jack. If two inputs aren’t enough for your tracking needs, an ADAT optical input provides eight additional channels of digital inputs.

While the device can perform at sample rates up to 192 kHz, and the optical input supports S/MUX at these higher rates, the single connector means that this will come at the cost of channel count. It is also worth noting that the unit has no digital output or wordclock connections, so activating the ADAT input basically necessitates the Twin being clocked to the incoming digital signal.

Like the original Twin, a large, multipurpose, endless rotary encoder is the focal point of the top panel. This control has a nice weight and feel, with feedback provided by an array of LEDs wrapped around the knob itself. A top-panel preamp button toggles the knob’s function between the two analog input channels, while a similar monitor button assigns the knob’s function to monitor volume or headphone volume. Six other top-panel buttons toggle functions like phantom power, HPF and the circuit’s built-in pad.

As far as hardware outputs, there are two analog stereo pairs, all using ¼-inch TRS connectors. A headphone jack on the front of the unit offers an auxiliary monitoring option. At the touch of a button, the rotary encoder can be made to serve as a monitor level, controlling the first output pair’s analog signal level. Another button push can flip the rotary control’s operation to adjust the level of the headphone output.

The original Twin supported a maximum of just two SHARC processing chips. The Twin MkII ships in configurations having as many as four processors, meaning more UAD effects and more robust processing, in general.

Four chips provide a lot more options and flexibility, but not just in mixing situations. This newfound processing boost comes into play in tracking situations, as well.

Apollo interfaces are controlled by a piece of soft- ware called the Console. Minimally, this software performs the function of combining direct input signals with software returns to create low-latency headphone mixes. The Console software performs functioning beyond this primary objective by providing aux sends and returns and insert points throughout, allowing UAD processors to be used within this software. By running on the Twin’s own DSP, these effects can perform with near-zero latency.

When reviewing the original Twin, I regarded the two-input interface as inappropriate for tracking a full band. This time around, having received the full QUAD processor, I decided to take advantage of the ADAT input and inject a lot of UAD flavor on the front end. Using a mic preamp with an ADAT output, as well as the built-in preamps, allowed for ten total recording inputs. This was enough to simultaneously track a full complement of drum mics, bass, and scratch vocal and guitar.

If you still need more I/O, up to four Apollos can be ganged to one system. Having one Thunderbolt port on my MacBook Pro, and a single port on the Twin as well, the Twin would have to live at the end of a chain including an Apollo 8, 8p or 16, as each of those units has a pair of Thunderbolt ports. On newer Macs with multiple ports this is a non-issue. Also worth noting, Windows machines are now fully compatible with the Apollo and UAD-2 family.

On the basic tracking session, I wound up running my drum over- heads through the Twin’s built-in preamps. Because I was miking economically, the overheads were set up in a spaced pair from the drummer’s perspective and designed to be the bulk of the drum sound. I planted this pair on the built-in preamps so that I could really explore the possibilities of real-time UAD processing.

When pairing an Apollo interface’s hardware inputs with the Console software, special functioning referred to as Unison Control becomes available. Unison mic preamp plug-ins can be inserted across the hardware inputs, and can allow the hardware to emulate different preamps like the Neve 1073, API Vision channel strip or Universal Audio’s own 610 mic preamp. When using a Unison plug-in, the software GUI can control the actual analog gain structure, and the software even changes the impedance and gain staging to match theoriginal hardware’s character.

Clearly, Universal Audio’s engineers put a lot of research into this and executed with impressive results. In the case of drum overheads through the API channel strip, padding the input and driving up the gain to really saturate the virtual transformers produced a sound that was, again, very true to the API circuits with which I’m familiar.

While the API channel strip had a full, fat sound, the references that I had been given by the band featured a kind of tight, crispy, Krautrock sound to the drums. I bounced around between four different Unison preamps and eventually landed on the Universal Audio 610-B Tube Preamp. Driving up the tube gain and backing off the large output “fader,” I was able to get the perfect punchy, edgy sound that cut through the watery guitars and persistent bass. The fact that I was able to quickly flip between four preamp sounds, all while the band was warming up, was really amazing.

When basic tracking was done and we moved into guitar overdubs, I had to build a new artist mix including playback through Virtual Outputs, as well as the low-latency input signals. I was apprehensive as to what would happen when combining those signals while running UAD plug-ins in both Console and Pro Tools. When routing Virtual Inputs from Pro Tools to their headphone mix, while live input signals were running, the guitarists continually confirmed that their pick attacks were properly responsive. After tracking a pass, everything lined up properly in Pro Tools, as well.

I miked the chunkier rhythm guitar with an SM57 and a ribbon mic, and the cleaner, reverb-laden guitar with an SM57 and a large-diaphragm condenser. I used the Twin’s preamps for the first SM57 and the condenser. The SM57 paired really nicely with the Neve 1073 Unison preamp, sounding reasonably thick and smoothing the harshness of the distorted attack. There was an appropriate bite that still cut through the track, but in a pleasant and refined way.

I tried a few different Unison preamps on the cleaner guitar, but was most pleased when I bypassed them and let the natural sound of the circuit shine through. Here, I got to hear the character of the newly improved converters in more depth and detail, and I was impressed. The full and open sound came across just like the amp in the room. It was such a nice, accurate depiction that I needed to look no further. Unlike the original Twin, the sound was not bright and colored, and seemed like it would be a much more universal tool.

All in all, the flexibility of the Twin MkII, in terms of tone, made it really easy to get great sounds. The routing characteristics of the Console software made low-latency headphone mixing with great-sounding effects quick and practical. We were able to have a very productive day relying on the Twin MkII as our central tool for tracking.

I went on to do a rough mix, and I was surprised at how fast I ran out of UAD processing power. Then I remembered that I had left a lot of processors active in Console. After I deactivated them there, I had enough UAD power to run four different reverbs in my Pro Tools session. The better UAD reverbs like the EMT140 plate verb and Lexicon

224 tend to eat up more processing power than the average UAD plug- in, but sound really incredible. I was pleased that I was able to come up with four UAD reverbs and still have a number of EQs and compressors running, as well. You always want more UAD DSP, but four chips gave me enough to cover my bases and let regular, non UAD plug-ins pick up the slack.

The first-generation Twin is already a fantastic interface, and the MkII does well to build on the framework of that unit. For a solo artist who doesn’t need a lot of inputs, or a mixer that just grabs occasional overdubs, this is the perfect tool. The size, feel and thorough monitor controls make it a perfect desktop companion, and the converters are appropriate for the critical mixing and mastering decisions.

Remember, a big reason for buying Apollo is the built-in UAD pro- cessing. You can look at the UAD-2 Instance Chart on the Universal Audio website to see how many plug-ins each number of chips will buy you, but it seems like the price jump from the DUO to the QUAD is well justified by the power that it will afford.


PRODUCT SUMMARY:

COMPANY: Universal Audio
PRODUCT: Apollo Twin MkII
WEBSITE: www.uaudio.com
PRICES: $699, $899, $1299 with 1, 2 or 4 cores
PROS: Wealth of useful features, more UAD processing than predecessor, improved converters CONS: No wordclock I/O, only one Thunderbolt port (no thru-put), requires OSX 10.10 or higher

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