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Issue 71
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Universal Audio Apollo 8P DSP-Equipped Audio Interface

By

December 11, 2015

This now the third time we’ve reviewed a UAD Apollo unit, and the second time for me. My last outing was with the Apollo Twin, a handy introduction to the Apollo range, but I’ve been eager to try the system again with a few more inputs.

The Apollo 8p is the middle child of the second- generation ‘blackface’ Apollos — there’s also the standard four-preamp, eight analogue-in Apollo 8, and the preamp-less, 16-channel Apollo 16 converter. The 8p has eight channels of conversion, and eight Unison preamps to go along with them. If you’re unfamiliar with Unison technology, UAD has basically taken a vanilla IC preamp and used its own modelling technology to juice up the harmonics. But more than just an addition down the insert chain, Unison preamp emulations — Neve 1073, API Vision Channel Strip, etc — when applied in UAD’s Console 2.0 application, take over the gain staging of the preamp. Rather than just adding harmonics, it’s like you’re interacting with the hardware.

The onboard preamps are very usable, but flicking on any of the emulations instantly adds some extra presence. All of the emulations added some harmonics that helped get the sound off the couch and coming forward out of the speakers a bit more. There was never a time I didn’t want to add a Unison flavour, and they always stacked well.

The Apollo 8p is designed specifically for Unison die-hards, considering you’d probably go for a classic Apollo 8 if you had some external mic preamps you were intent on using.

The 8p has plenty of grunt for processing UAD’s suite of plug-ins with a Quad Core DSP inside. Unlike the Twin, which debuted without the ability to serve as a monitor controller for other Apollo units — it can do it now, but was a feature many were expecting at launch — it seems as though Universal Audio has covered every angle prior to the 8p’s release. Yes, you can combine it with previous generation Apollos — provided you add the Thunderbolt option card. Yes, the line inputs do bypass the mic preamp stage. Yes, there are two Thunderbolt ports on the device so it can be used as a pass-through. Though still no Thunderbolt cable included. Come on now!

NEED TO KNOW

  • PRICE

    Expect to pay $5,599

  • CONTACT

    CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or info@cmi.com.au

You do sacrifice a hair in the digital audio department. S/PDIF is nixed on the 8p to make way for the extra four combo connectors on the rear, though you still get two banks of ADAT and wordclock with a built-in termination switch.

It’s probably mostly a pain for anyone running an external stereo DAC via S/PDIF for their monitoring. But given the quality of the Apollo’s outputs, I’d question that decision anyway. There’s also no MIDI input on the interface, but that seems to be de rigueur these days.

I do really like working with the Apollo. It would be a serious consideration for me if I was on the lookout for a stable, great-sounding interface, that packed a lot of I/O into one rack space. I’ve reviewed a lot of interfaces, and not many get through the weeks of testing without at least some niggles; whether its OS incompatibility, a weird firmware glitch, the software needs a reboot, or something else along those lines. The Apollo 8p, and the Twin before it, have been entirely glitch free, a complete breeze to set up, and just feel like they’ll keep on trucking.

What’s more, the Console 2.0 application is refreshingly easy to use. There’s plenty of visual feedback when you roll over buttons, and you can access everything from the Overview screen. While you can drill down into different tabs, you don’t have to, which is a welcome change from other systems. Plus, the whole thing looks darn sexy. It complements the hardware’s well laid out front panel, but to be honest, I barely used the hardware controls except for headphone and monitor levels, and switching between alternative monitors (which you can now do via the front panel) — Console 2.0 is simply that nice to work in. There are three new buttons on the hardware I should probably mention: the first switches between input and output metering, the second switches to a designated alternative monitor output (that you can configure in Console 2.0), and the third is a function button you can assign to a third monitor output — Dim or Mono, your choice.

Of course, I could go on about how there’s more dynamic range in these ‘blackface’ versions (3dB) and more output. But we already thought the original Apollo was stellar, and using and listening to the 8p there’s no reason to doubt it’s even better. Besides, you’re really here because you’re thinking about getting into the Apollo world and all those UAD plug-ins. It’s not a cheap place to be, but boy is the whole package very appealing.

ARE UAD & EVENTIDE IN HARMONY?

Reinforcing their claim of modelling classic gear as accurately as anyone’s ever done it before, UAD’s version of the Eventide H910 Harmonizer comes with its own proof. The first pages of the UAD plug-in’s manual opens with Eventide’s original marketing collateral for the H910 from 1976. The exact model is right there in the picture.

While playing around with UAD’s version, I also downloaded Eventide’s recently released Anthology X bundle. In amongst the newer releases like the UltraChannel, UltraReverb, Octavox and Quadravox are some of its legacy plug-ins re-released for newer formats like AAX. This includes the Clockwork Legacy series which has Eventide’s own emulation of the H910 Harmonizer.

I thought it would be a good chance to check out whether the UAD-2 plug-in would outpace Eventide’s. 

At first glance, things weren’t looking that different. If the two companies haven’t shared their IP, there’s definitely been some graphics files floating between the two. This is where it gets a bit weird. After a closer look at the Clockworks-era H910 plug-in, the faceplate graphic is obviously completely different. In signing off UAD’s version, it seems like Eventide has borrowed the faceplate for its own version. But what’s weirder, is that Eventide has held true to its Clockworks layout, opting not to add some of UAD’s special sauce options — even the ones that were on the original hardware unit. The missing bits are the second delay output and an Envelope Follower section; which are both nifty inclusions present on the original unit. 

Pick the difference: UA’s model (above) meticulously emulates the original.

The second delay adds a secondary delay line that makes the H910 even more kooky, and you can also blend its signal in to taste. The Envelope Follower is a little different from the original, which tracked an external CV input to alter the pitch. UAD’s version responds to the original signal, altering its own pitch based on its envelope.

The UAD version also comes with a graphic representation of the HK941 keyboard controller you can use to change the pitch. Nevertheless, both plug-ins can be controlled via a MIDI input, and trying to play the graphic keyboard with a mouse isn’t very rewarding.

The envelope follower on UAD’s second H910 delay line responds to the original signal, altering its own pitch based on its envelope. It also comes with a graphic representation of the HK941 keyboard controller you can use to change the pitch.

After going back and forth dialling in the same settings on both plug-ins, it seems to me that both have the same underlying sonic architecture. Even the ‘random’ slippage of the pitch ratio seems to be similarly timed.

At the end of the day, if you want that glitchy pitch-shifting on your tracks, either of these H910 plug-ins will do the job, and sound fantastic. The only thing that required a higher buffer setting was when I was changing the pitch in realtime via MIDI. That function crapped out my system on a 32-sample buffer, regardless of whether the plug-in was running on DSP or not.

Kudos to UAD for adding some more touches to its H910. That said, Eventide has thrown in a H910 Dual Harmonizer into the Anthology X bundle, which stacks two units in parallel and ramps up the maximum delay time to 400ms.

UAD Eventide H910: US$249
Eventide Anthology X (includes 17 plug-ins): US$1195

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MIXING SYNTH POP
A Complete 4-Part Series
READ ONLINE NOW
Online
Issue 71