Universal Audio recently released a long-awaited new audio interface - the Apollo Solo. This review of the UAD Apollo Solo is going to cover everything from features to sound demos of the plugins. But if you don’t have time to read the full UAD Apollo Solo review, my conclusion is this: I’ve been using mine for the past month and have fallen in love with it, but it has some glaring weaknesses that might not work for everyone.
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UAD Apollo Features - Good Things Come in Small Packages
The UAD Apollo Solo Thunderbolt 3 audio interface is about quality over quantity. It features a simple, but effective interface dominated by one knob that can control many of the features. It comes in a compact and rugged little metal chassis that I would feel comfortable traveling with and bringing to gigs. It is powered by its Thunderbolt 3 port.
On the front you’ll also find a digital meter, a Hi-Z input for your guitar, and a headphone jack. I really appreciate the thoughtful design of putting these two jacks on the front - you don’t need to have your guitar or headphones plugged in 24/7, so having easy access to them makes it much easier to plug in only as need - leaving your desk much less cluttered!
On the back there are two universal inputs that can accept either XLR or 1/4” inputs. There’s also a stereo pair of monitor outputs. And of course, a Thunderbolt 3 port for connection to your computer. I should let you know that a Thunderbolt 3 cable is not included with the interface. You'll need to buy the Thunderbolt 3 cable separately. One big thing to note is that even though there are 3 inputs on the Apollo Solo, only two can actively record at any time.
But it’s what’s on the inside that really maters. The Apollo is loaded with top-of-the-line A/D and D/A signal converters, that make your music noticeably cleaner and clearer when compared to my old interfaces. On top of that, the Apollo includes UAD’s proprietary Unison technology on its input channels that allows it to accurately model the unique performance characteristics of classic analog hardware. It does this thanks to an onboard SHARC computer processor where all the UAD plugins run.
Initially I was reluctant to give up my extra input and output channels, but when I was being honest with myself, I realized that I’ve only used more than 2 inputs a few times in the past decade. I mostly operate out of a home studio, so it just didn’t make sense to pay for more. I will note that having only one set of outputs means that re-amping through the solo will require some re-wiring, and possibly the use of headphones to monitor. I do genuinely miss having an extra headphone jack, as I have often recorded with rapers. I’m going to miss giving them their own mix through a separate headphone output, and will need to invest in a headphone splitter once this whole COVID thing is over and we can actually be in the same room as other people.
I’d also note that it’s really easy to expand the Universal Audio Solo. You can easily daisy chain multiple UAD interfaces together using Thunderbolt 3 cables, so you can grow your studio to fit your needs. I've added a Universal Audio Satellite to increase my processing power, and it runs very smoothly.
UAD Apollo Solo Review Video
If you want to hear exactly what the Apollo Solo sounds like, I've put together this in-depth review video. It's got demos of the Universal Audio plugins, as well as a quick guide to the interface and console. Or maybe you'd just prefer a video review of the Apollo Solo (for those of us who don't like reading). As an entry-level Apollo interface, the Apollo Solo has a lot to offer for a reasonable price, despite a few shortcomings.
UAD Apollo Included Plugins
The Apollo interface is loaded with a lot of quality plugins, far more than most audio interfaces. And these plugins truly are best in class. Not only that, but the plugins actually run on the Apollo Solo, freeing up your computer to do its thing. The only downside is that the processing power on the Apollo is limited, so you cannot run nearly enough plugins for a full mix. In fact, you may not be able to run enough plugins to simultaneously record two input tracks with amp simulations, depending on your plugin choice.
By default, the Apollo Solo comes bundled with a great package of vintage emulations, including everything you need to make great sounding recordings from home. The plugins include:
- UA 610‐B preamp
- Marshall Plexi Classic Amplifier
- Teletronix LA‐2A Legacy
- UA 1176LN Legacy
- UA 1176SE Legacy
- Pultec EQP‐1A Legacy
- Pultec Pro Legacy
- Ampeg® SVT-VR Classic Bass Amp
- Precision Channel Strip
- Precision Reflection Engine
- Precision Delay Modulation
- Precision Delay Modulation L
- Raw Distortion
All of these plugins sound incredible, and will see their place on many of your mixes and recording channels. While most of them are fully loaded, I will note that the bass and guitar amp plugins are pretty limited in their tweak-ability. Sure, they sound great, but you don’t have a lot of options with things like microphone choice and placement. In any event, the Apollo audio interface's included plugins are way more impressive that what you see with other companies.
If you register your interface, you’ll also get a free bonus chorus/vibrato pedal that sounds awesome. You also will have the opportunity down the line to purchase over 90 different plugins developed by UAD. Just be sure to wait for the frequent sales that UAD has.
Of further note, all UAD plugins can be demoed free for 14 days. The down side is that all of these plugins are installed on your computer by default. Not only does this eat up hard drive space, it also absolutely ruins any plugin management you may have going on in your DAW. Your DAW will read all of these plugins as installed, and you will have to go in and manually disable all 90. Otherwise, it will be take forever each time you want to find the UAD plugins you actually have (especially since many have names similar to the demos).
I do have another big gripe about the included bundle. In order to take advantage of the Apollo Solo’s low-latency monitoring, you have to disable instrument monitoring in your DAW and instead enable it through the Solo. In many DAWs, guitar tuner plugins will not run if the channel is not being monitored. This leads to a lot of extra steps to use the in-DAW tuner, especially if you’re tuning up between every few takes. There is no tuner bundled with the Apollo Solo, and UAD only sells one via a few guitar amp packages costing well over $100 each. It’s ridiculous not to include this basic functionality inside the Console.
Apollo Solo’s Included Software
In addition to the plugin bundle, the Apollo Solo also includes an incredibly sleek and powerful audio interface control software and a free digital audio workstation (DAW).
Universal Audio’s Console is what you’ll use to control your Solo. From setting up headphone mixes, to choosing what plugins to record through, Console elegantly handles all of the options you could want for an audio interface. It’s beautifully straightforward and elegant, and is genuinely a joy to work with to add complex, great sounding workflows to your recording and/or monitoring signal path. In compression, I literally had to bookmark the instruction manual for my old interfaces.
The UAD Apollo Solo also includes a free DAW, Luna (Mac only). As things go, Luna is a nice, clean straightforward DAW that integrates seamlessly with UAD’s plugins, and makes certain mixing options - like taking advantage of modeled analog summing busses and tape on every channel - work seamlessly. As a free DAW, it’s really nice, but it’s not nice enough to get me to want to give up using my two main DAWs: Reason and Logic. If you only had GarageBand, though, it would probably be a big step up.
UAD Apollo Vs. Focusrite Saphire and Steinberg UR28M
Before we go further, I want to give you a sense of perspective of where I’m coming from. I’m a semi-pro producer, with songs that have been included in movies, TV, and have 100,000s of Spotify plays, but I’m by no means a professional audio engineer.
Originally I had a Focusrite Saphire, and then I upgraded to a Steinberg UR28M, which I had for years. The Steinberg had at least 6 inputs and outputs, and two headphone jacks. Both had decent sound quality and were reasonably stable. But to me, they don't compare. However, they were cheaper. Here are some of the best budget audio interfaces out there, if the Apollo Solo is out of your range.
UAD Apollo Sound Quality
Simply put, the Apollo Solo’s sound quality is amazing. The inputs are clean, clear, and full of dynamic range. In conjunction with the unison preamps, you’ll be amazed at how easily it is to start getting recordings that sound like the pros.
The outputs are powerful and shed new detail on whatever you’re playing back. I genuinely gasped a little bit when I listened to some of my favorite albums through the Apollo Solo - the sound was noticeably better than what I’d been hearing through the Steinberg. It also seems like the output knob is geared more aggressively. On the Solo, keeping the knob up about 5% is more than loud enough on my powered speakers, whereas on my old interfaces, I’d have the knob around 30% up.
And the headphone amp is powerful enough to power the most professional mixing headphones out there. Everything on my Sennheiser 650s sounds immaculate.
UAD Apollo Value
I think the Apollo Solo is a solid value. It’s certainly many times more expensive than an entry level audio interface, but it’s also worth every penny. In terms of quality, you’ll never out grow it. In terms of plugins, it’s a great deal.
The two limiting factors are the number of inputs/outputs, and the processing power. For some artists, the number of I/O ports will be a limiting factor. If that’s you, maybe look to a larger UAD interface. For those that are looking for more processing power, though, you can always purchase an external UAD Satellite to run your plugins. That’s probably going to be my next big purchase.
UAD Apollo Latency & Performance
The audio performance of the Apollo Solo is excellent, as discussed. And the processing limitations have also been mentioned. And these limitations are something that you will genuinely need to work around, but I still think that it has enough processing power to do most of what you need, especially in combination with other plugins running off of your computer.
In terms of latency, the Apollo Solo is obscene. Latency is virtually undetectable when monitoring through the interface, even while running complex guitar amp sim plugins. It is so responsive that it genuinely feels like playing a guitar through an amp. If you’re anything like me, you’ve never really been inspired playing guitar through a computer amp sim, but this is a whole new world. Not only are the qualities of the amp sims amazing, but the low latency makes it feel like you’re really shredding.
One performance issue I’ve encountered with my Apollo Solo is its sleep function. The Apollo Solo does not have an on/off switch, so it relies on software to know when to turn on or off. I’m running a new 2020 iMac, and the Apollo Solo does not consistently go to sleep when it should. As a piece of hardware that chews up a lot of electricity (yes, it will get warm under load), this bothers me environmentally and economically. On top of that, sometimes it will turn on from sleep for no apparent reason. Every time it turns on, it makes a very noticeable and loud ratcheting sound for a couple of seconds. If I was living in a studio apartment and had the interface in the same room that I slept, I think it would likely wake me up several times a night. That said, the Solo is a new piece of hardware (and my iMac is also a new computer), I’m hoping that a firmware update sometime soon will fix the problem.
Which Version of the Apollo To Get?
The Apollo Solo comes in Thunderbolt 3 and USB version. Obviously, the because Thunderbolt 3 is faster, that’s the better version to get, if you’re computer supports it.
Universal Audio Apollo Solo Review - Is UAD Apollo Worth it?
I love my new Apollo Solo interface. Period. This interface does exactly what I want it to do, sounds amazing, works wonderfully with my workflow, and fit well within my budget. Despite its few shortcomings (processing power, power management), I would heartily recommend it to any solo musician with home studio looking for the perfect interface.
If you were to ask me, is the UAD Apollo worth it, I would say 100%. The only real question is whether you want even more horsepower. This thing is a great deal, but you'll quickly be so stoked on the plugins that you'll want to get an even more powerful UAD interface.
UAD Apollo Solo Pros
- Incredible Sound Quality
- Great Build Quality
- Wonderful Plugin Bundle
- Good value
UAD Apollo Solo Cons
- Expensive for features
- Limited input and outputs
- Limited processor power
- Doesn't really work for PC
UAD Apollo Solo FAQ
Can you run the UAD Solo on MAC and PC?
Technically you can run the USB version on PC. However, I have heard from multiple people that they couldn’t make the Apollo Solo work right on a PC. I would avoid this if I were a PC owner.
Is it really low Latency?
Yes! But the latency will be an issue if you are simultaneously running UAD plugins in your DAW while attempting to record. You need to temporarily bypass those plugins (you can still use plugins in the Console) in order to record.
What if I need more processing power?
If you need more processing power, you can always add a UAD Satellite to your system. Or multiple Satellites, so that you have enough power to run everything.
Are the plugins really that good?
Yes, yes they are. They are best in-class, generally speaking. If you look at any of my reviews of great plugins, you'll see plenty of UAD plugins included. For example:
- Best Compressor VSTS
- Best Lo-Fi Plugins
- Best Tape Emulation Plugins
- The Best mastering chain order
- Best reverb plugins
So yea, they make really good plugins!
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