Universal Audio Apollo Twin Duo Review: Shrunk from the original Apollo, the Twin Duo is an affordable multi-award winning professional audio interface with superior sonic A2D/D2A capabilities. This device also acts as a stepping stone for semi-professionals looking at the benefits of UAD, and we absolutely love it!
As a designer and manufacturer of audio signal processing, hardware and software, Universal Audio have been going strong since the 1950’s. The current incarnation of the company was re-established in 1999 and has since then been leading the charge for audio interfaces and software emulations. The balance between software and hardware has been readdressed in recent years with the Satellite range and, more recently, the Apollo line of Mac-only audio interfaces. These are unique in the sense that not only do they provide the platform to host UADs highly revered plug-ins, they also feature high-quality audio interfacing.
The flagship Apollo interfaces have incurred a somewhat hefty price tag for the everyday consumer, leaving these potential users wanting a more ‘condensed’ version of the Apollo concept for a substantially lower price. This is where the Apollo Twin comes to the rescue.
Unboxing, Build Quality, Features, and Performance:
McIntosh are widely known for going to the the far ends of the earth to ensure that the purchaser receives an immaculate unit with absolutely no discernible faults and, certainly this instance, I can confirm that the MHA-100 follows this legendary principle. This is a never ending exhausting principle that begins at the very conception of design and follows its way through every step of assembly to eventually arrive in the hands of an avid audiophile without even the most microscopic blemish. To ensure that this standard is maintained through the shipping process McIntosh have cocooned the MHA-100 with a thick plastic wrap and entombed this inner structure by suspending it within a large staple reinforced triple cell wall shipping box.
Entering into the package is a simple affair and includes a basic bound manual, a plastic McIntosh branded terminal post nut wrench, ergonomic remote control (that requires two AAA batteries), and a single region specific 1.2m IEC. At first glance you might wonder why the wrench is plastic, and the reason is simple; to not damage the binding posts and ensure that the finish is not tarnished in any way. Although frivolous, it is important to note that the wrench itself is not easily damaged and will survive multiple uses. With regards to the remote control, McIntosh have chosen to rely on an infrared design to inhibit any unwanted radio frequency interference from the sensitive internal circuitry. With this said it functions flawlessly across a large room in incandescent light and has a wedge shape form factor which comfortably rests in the upper palm. The remote control can control most features found on the faceplate of the MHA-100 with the exception of the variable output impedance and Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD™).
Build Quality, Features, Function, and Usability:
The Apollo Twin comes in two distinct forms; Twin Solo and the Twin Duo. The tag lines ‘Solo’ and ‘Duo’ do not refer to the number of inputs each interface has, instead these refer to the number of processing chips onboard. Across the whole of UAD’s range of interfaces, devices featuring Duo and Quad (two and four) doubles or quadruples the number of UAD plug-ins that can be run simultaneously in relation to the Solo card. Unfortunately, there is no Quad option for the Apollo Twin range of interfaces, which can be limiting when it comes to using UAD plug-ins. That being said, both the Apollo Twin Solo and Duo hardware is identical, the processing is the only difference.
The Apollo Twin Duo comes with a power supply that you need to put together, as the box contains several adaptors for several geographical territories, which is a nice touch. The one frustrating thing with the interface is that a thunderbolt cable is not supplied. Luckily these are in no short supply and can be found in many stores and online. After the search for a thunderbolt cable, getting started is a simple process. Within the packaging, there is a card that tells you to visit the dedicated Apollo Twin page on their website which contains the download drivers to the UAD software. Once installed, it will check for firmware updates and prompt you to restart and everything is now up and running.
The Apollo Twin has a wedge-shape design, with a brushed chrome exterior following the Macbook Pro friendly look. On the back panel is where most of the physical connections are. These include; two Mic/Line combi ports, 1/4-inch main monitor outputs and next to these a separate pair of outputs, 3-4. There is also a power inlet, Thunderbolt connection port and an Optical In port that can accept either stereo S/PDIF or eight-channel ADAT format digital input. The main perk of having this interface as opposed to others on the market with Optical Ins is the fact that the Twin gives you access to UADs highly praised plug-ins, meaning you can easily record and mix on the go to the highest quality. On the front of the device there is a headphone socket as well as a high impedance (Hi-Z) instrument input.
The main panel on the top of the device is where you’ll spend more time. It is dominated by a single rotary dial, which has a generous amount of LEDs surrounding it for gain indications. On either side of the dial there are two LED ladders and also a narrow screen with a few buttons below this.
Once a mic or line level source has been connected to one of the inputs, use the Preamp button to select the relative channel before using the button to switch between Mic and Line sources. The rotary dial in the middle acts as a Gain control to adjust the level of incoming signals to ensure they are not too hot, whilst the buttons on the bottom can activate phantom power, enable a slight low-pass filter, engage a pad, invert the phase or link the two inputs to a single set of controls for stereo recording. There is also the option to change monitoring modes, toggling from Main Output Level and Headphone Level, with the main dial acting as the level for these two signals.
The preamp stage in the Apollo Twin matches the design of the other Apollo interfaces, which is phenomenal given the price differences between the devices. As mentioned earlier, another key feature is the capacity to run UAD plug-ins. The emulation process UAD offers does not only extend to effects (compressors, EQs etc), but also to the inherent design of the inputs. With Universal Audio’s Unison Technology, it allows the inputs of your Apollo interface to mimic the behaviour of classic tube, or solid-state inputs and copying their individual characteristics given the one chosen. Although these do provide an outstanding high-quality result, these input emulations come at a price, some being more hefty than others.
Unison embeds itself as a new plug-in slot at the top of each Console mic input channel, beneath the existing preamp controls. When the Console application for UAD devices is first opened, by default, nothing is loaded into this slot. Any pre-amplification employed here is the very clean and transparent signal of the Apollo itself, with hardly any noticeable colouring at all. If the desired effect is to slightly colour the input signal, these Unison-enabled plug-ins crafted by UAD (such as the API Vision, Neve 1073, UA 610 A and B to name a few) can be inserted. Each of these respected plug-ins are modelled to act as software version of their hardware counterpart.
To try to colour the sound purely from the Apollo Twin’s pre-amps, you could try to drive the sound quite hard. Although this works for the sake of the Twin, this can be hard to achieve in other digital recording systems as the overdriven output signal will be too hot for the A-D converter. All of the Unison-enabled pre-amps all have multiple gain stages. In the case of the UAD 610 emulations, these allow you to apply subtle warmth or a very harsh ‘fuzz’. Even though these two emulations, in particular, demonstrate what UADs pre-amp modelling is capable of, they also have a tendency to ‘over colour’ the signal. The lack of versatility in these two models gived either a very thick or saturated tone that is much more suited for “old school” rock and pop styles, and less useful in mainstream sounding productions. Despite this, the other modelled pre-amps available are much more versatile in their colouring and fit perfectly by todays standards.
Given that the Apollo Twin can output up to 24-bit, 192kHz audio resolution, this is certainly the best sounding audio interface in its price range. With the software used to host and manage the various UAD plug-ins, the Apollo package also includes the Console software. Here you can utilise the preamp emulations of the old classic tubes and solid state mixers (such as the API Vision) with almost zero latency, thanks to the ground-breaking speed of its Thunderbolt connector.
The capabilities of the Apollo Twin Duo (and Solo) match those of the fully fledged Apollo interfaces, with the main drawback of the lack of more audio inputs and outputs. Given this fact, the Apollo Twin models are more suited for more focused recording sessions such as; lead vocals, solo acoustic, electric or bass guitar. Venturing out a little into the world of classic with a solo violinists, cellists, or maybe even utilising a stereo pair for a piano with the two mic pre-amps available is certainly viable with this audio interface. With the very clean sound coming from these mic pre-amps it makes the Apollo Twin very versatile.
With the most recent announced of the ‘Apollo Expanded’ software launching later this year, now is the perfect time to become a part of the UAD family. With this new scheme, it allows you to ‘mix and match’ up to four Apollos over Thunderbolt (any model of Apollo) with simple Thunderbolt cable connections between units. This opens the way to start clocking over Thunderbolt that distributes high-quality clock to all Apollo devices connected, and also gives the Apollo Twin the power for desktop monitoring as well as additional DSP and connectivity to the Apollo family. All of this plus the overhaul of the Console 2.0 Software, pushes the Apollo Twin Duo into its own league.
Universal Audio have listened to their consumers and have built an interface that is smaller and more compact than the bigger Apollo models, without degradation to the quality of the preamps or sound that it produces. On top of a world class interface, it can also be seen as the entry level to the whole world of UAD and their masterful plug-in collections. Given the Thunderbolt capabilities, the Apollo Twin Duo may be slightly more expensive than the average audio interface, but it is simply first class. No short cuts have been taken in making this machine and it is clear that Universal Audio are currently the leading force in Thunderbolt interfaces. The Pro Audio Web Blog gives the Apollo Twin Duo our highest award - the full five star rating… and our Outstanding Award.