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  • ​Apollo Twin USB 3.0: Creating a Windows Music Production System

    Welcome to another Pro Review, HC’s unique interactive format. We encourage participation from everyone—users of the product, potential users with questions, and the manufacturer. The object is to make this an “open source” review without the limitations on space of print, the potential bias of having a single reviewer, but more importantly, the ability to tap the community’s expertise to dive really deeply into what a product can—and cannot—do, so you can know exactly what to expect. For more information on what Pro Reviews are all about, please check out the FAQ.

    This is going to be an interesting Pro Review, to say the least. It’s not “just another” audio interface review, in part because Apollo Twin USB is a high-end, different kind of interface with near real-time processing. However, it’s also going to cover how to create a no-compromise, Windows-based music production system.

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    Why? Because Windows’s star is rising as an audio platform. Although Thunderbolt adoption has stalled on Windows for several reasons (some practical and some allegedly political), USB 3.0 is common and fast. My first experience with USB 3.0 audio on Windows has been with TASCAM’s US-20x20 USB 3.0 interface which, while obviously targeting a different section of the market than Apollo Twin, shows that the benefits of USB 3.0 compared to USB 2.0 are considerable. With Universal Audio adding hardware-based DSP for near real-time (sub-2 ms) processing on the input and/or output, we have for all practical purposes Thunderbolt-level performance on Windows.

    Furthermore, Windows 10 changes the game as well. Microsoft has been paying attention to improving audio performance for their native audio, but remember that Windows 10 is an evolving system. Microsoft’s roadmap includes further audio optimizations that they believe will approach ASIO-level performance. This won’t happen overnight, but the fact that it’s on their “to-do” list is encouraging. Already, having multi-client MIDI support in Windows 10 is extremely helpful to those of us who use MIDI. I’ve been running several applications with Windows 10, particularly Cakewalk SONAR, and I’ve experienced both faster and more stable DAW performance under Windows 10 than Windows 7 or the much-reviled Windows 8.

    Now, lest you think I’m a gung-ho Windows fanboi, that’s not the case. I have an older Mac dual-Xeon desktop, an up-to-date MacBook Pro running Logic, and use iPad and iPhone iOS devices. I’m comfortable in both the Mac and Windows worlds, in fact I was-Mac only for a decade, but I use Windows for the heavy lifting with my audio and video work. Part of this is because two of my favorite programs, SONAR and Vegas Pro, are Windows-only but the other is that the cost-effectiveness in terms for power-per-dollar is undeniable. I also appreciate the emphasis Microsoft places on backward compatibility. Although the Mac’s Core Audio is a superior implementation of native audio, ASIO is just fine on Windows, and will likely remain so unless/until Microsoft develops native audio support on the same level as the Mac.

    So here’s the plan for the Pro Review, although of course, because it’s interactive and invites participation from all, that’s subject to change.

    First, we’ll cover Apollo Twin USB with the existing laptop I use for audio when on the road doing workshops and presentations. That will allow covering the unit itself, the software that’s included with it, and selected UA plug-ins. I’ll also be making sure to stretch the limits of what UA recommends. For example, they test their interfaces thoroughly with only a limited selection of software, so we’ll push that envelope.

    Second, Intel has provided (thank you, Intel!) a loaner NUC (Next Unit of Computing).

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    This is a hip, small, powerful, reasonably priced computer that’s conceptually like a Mac Mini. I’ve always felt that whether you use Mac or Windows, you owe it to yourself to dedicate a computer to music. That hasn’t always been practical due to cost, but something like the NUC not only means you can create a system, but with a compact, high-quality interface like Apollo Twin USB, it’s downright portable. Add a small touch monitor and headphones, and you can fit a top-shelf recording studio in your carry-on luggage.

    Finally, although this hasn’t been set in stone yet, I’m trying to borrow a Surface Pro. I know that SONAR runs on it well and even though UA doesn’t recommend using Apollo Twin USB with a tablet, they tend to be extremely cautious and I want to see if that degree of caution is relevant, or whether the concept of a truly portable recording setup based on a Surface Pro is doable. That would be wonderful.

    Fortunately, I also have access to all the Gibson Brands products as part of this experiment, which means I’ll be able to borrow the new, and very portable, 4” Les Paul monitors to gauge their usefulness in a mobile-friendly studio (I already use KRK’s KNS-8400 headphones), as well as Neat Microphones for input. And because Apollo Twin USB doesn’t have 5-pin DIN MIDI I/O, I’ll be testing out some DIN-to-USB adapters as part of the review.

    Ready? Let’s rock! This is going to be fun...we’ll start with unboxing the Apollo Twin USB, along with some background material on USB 3.0.
    Last edited by Anderton; 04-11-2016, 10:34 AM.
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  • #2
    While I have not used the new USB 3 version, I have reviewed the Thunderbolt-equipped Apollo Twin Duo and so I'll probably be popping in here from time to time to join in the discussion too.

    I think you're really going to like this one Craig!
    **********

    "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

    - George Carlin

    "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

    - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

    "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

    - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

    Comment


    • #3
      Time to start the unboxing and see what we got...

      Here's the box itself. It's not particularly big, so if you want to protect your Apollo while lugging it around, it doesn't take up much space.

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      Now let's take out the Apollo Twin USB itself. It's pretty obvious UA put some thought into the industrial design...it may be for Windows, but it has the sleek, silver kinda Apple vibe.

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      After you lift it out, here's what's in the rest of the box: the blue USB 3.0 cable (which is about 6.5 feet) and a cardboard box that holds the AC adapter. Note that you can't bus-power Apollo Twin USB.

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      Speaking of the power supply, it's one of those "global" types that handles any voltage or frequency, and has snap-in plugs that work pretty much anywhere on earth.

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      As to the front panel, UA knows how to make me happy...note the hi-Z guitar input right up front, on the opposite side of the headphone jack.

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      And here's the rear panel. We'll discuss the I/O in more depth later, but it's pretty decent for a compact interface. There's an ADAT in so you have an instant "trap door" for adding eight more mic pres or whatever.

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      And...there's a getting started document, which is pretty minimal but tells you where to go for the latest info.

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      Well I guess if UA wants to tell me about "Getting Started"...then that's what Is should do. My next post will be from a hotel room far from home, assuming the wi-fi is functional

      (P.S. - Don't forget to hit this thread's "Subscribe" button to be advised of when there's a new post.)
      Last edited by Anderton; 04-12-2016, 10:37 AM. Reason: fix typoze
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      • #4
        Subscribed!
        **********

        "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

        - George Carlin

        "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

        - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

        "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

        - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

        Comment


        • #5
          Apollo's First Flight

          Well, I’m back home. The schedule didn’t quite work out as expected so I never got to set up my impromptu studio . But, I’m not going anywhere for a while, so it’s time to get back into the Apollo groove.

          Before doing anything you'll want to download and install the software, which includes the drivers and software plug-ins. If you’re not registered, you need to set up an account with UA. Once that’s done, it’s time to download 1.9 GB of software so if you’re on dial-up, come back in about a week . Meanwhile, to keep you entertained, there’s a video that describes setup and such. Also, take a look at the knowledgebase article about required Windows settings so you can do a few tweaks that will make Apollo happy, like preventing the USB ports from falling asleep to save power. Note that these tips apply to any USB interface so even if you’re not using an Apollo for now, check them out.

          There are four manuals—Apollo Twin USB software, Apollo Twin USB hardware, UA System software, and another one for the Powered Plug-Ins. You want to follow the instructions in the Apollo Software Manual (which advises connecting the hardware before installing the software), as the installation procedure is different from the one described for the UA System software (which advises installing the software before connecting the hardware.)

          In terms of plug-ins, the software package includes the UA 1176SE Legacy Compressor, RealVerb-Pro, Pultec EQP-1A Legacy, and the Precision Mix Rack Collection. When you register, you’re offered some deals on plug-ins, however I should point out a very cool aspect of UA’s way of doing business: Once you buy a plug-in, you own the ability to use that plug-in on any UA device. For example I have a Quad card for my desktop with a bunch of plug-ins, and upon authorizing the Apollo Twin USB, all of them showed up as available for my laptop. (This is not like record companies making you buy the same music for every possible format…which kind of undermines the argument that they’re selling intellectual property and not physical media…but I digress.)

          So, time to test things out. Given that Windows 10 is not listed as supported, nor is Cakewalk SONAR, I figured my first task was to test the latest version of SONAR on the latest version of Windows 10. And of course, there was no sound—until I had the presence of mind to go into the Console software and select the headphone output. A couple minutes later, I found my way around the console routings, which we’ll get into later. For someone raised on hardware, they make sense; I didn't need to look at the manual for the signal flow to seem logical. Those whose recording career started “in the box” might be momentarily confused, but that’s what documentation is for.

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          The Console software takes up the center, and is bracketed by SONAR's faders on the right and left. The 1176SE compressor is floating over everything.

          Now I gotta say, I was struck immediately by the headphone amp sound quality. The higher price compared to standard interfaces buys you some serious converters. The sound quality is very, very impressive and the level of audio detail is exceptional. It may be a cliché to say it makes listening to music a pleasure, but truly good sound really does massage some kind of pleasure centers in your brain.

          I should also discuss why the kind of sound quality is particularly important with UA’s design philosophy. When I told a friend I was excited about checking out the Apollo Twin USB, he said he’d tried an Apollo, but that the sound was too “clinical” and didn’t have “character.” What he clearly didn’t understand is that many of UA’s plug-ins are intended to emulate particular channel strips and processors. As a result, it’s essential that the hardware produce a truly blank, neutral canvas. Any coloration is going to reduce the effectiveness of the emulations, which themselves provide the “character.” To use an analogy, I might like light blue as a color—but if I was doing an oil painting, I wouldn’t want the canvas to be light blue. If I wanted light blue, that’s what I’d paint on a white, neutral canvas.

          To wrap things up for the evening, I inserted the 1176 SE and—success. So I think I’ll listen to music for a while, and tomorrow, we’ll discuss latency and why USB 3.0 is a whole lot better than USB 2.0.

          Last edited by Anderton; 04-17-2016, 09:37 PM.
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          • #6
            Why USB 3.0?

            When we play virtual instruments, we don’t want a delay between the time we hit a note and the time we hear it. The same is true when processing an instrument like guitar through amp sims and other effects. This delay is called latency, for reasons that escape me ("delay" seems fine, but hey, what do I know?). In my experience, drummers are very sensitive to latency issues not just because timing is everything, but because they play in such close proximity to their instrument. Sound travels at approximately 1 foot per millisecond, so with a drummer’s ear being about 3 feet away from a snare drum, that’s 3 ms of latency. On the other hand, guitarists typically play several feet from an amp, so a latency of 6 to 9 ms is not uncommon and we think nothing of it.

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ID:	31725802Computer audio systems have latency because you need to convert your analog signal into digital, process it within the computer, then convert it back to analog again. With a 44.1 kHz sampling rate, these conversions take about 1.2 ms. However, with computers, there’s much more going on. In addition to converting your “analog world” signal to digital data, driver software has the job of taking the data generated by an analog-to-digital converter and inserting it into the computer’s data stream. Furthermore, the computer itself introduces delays because even the most powerful processor can do only so many millions of calculations per second. Besides it’s paying attention to a lot more than your audio, like scanning its keyboard and mouse, checking ports, moving data in and out of RAM, sending out video data, and more.

            As a result, the computer places some of the incoming audio from your guitar, voice, keyboard, or other signal source in a buffer, which is like a “savings account” for your input signal. When the computer is so busy elsewhere that it can’t deal with audio, it makes a “withdrawal” from the buffer instead so it can go deal with other matters. The larger the buffer, the less likely the computer will run out of audio data when it needs it. But a larger buffer also means that your instrument’s signal is being diverted for a longer period of time before being processed by the computer, which increases latency. When the computer goes to retrieve some audio and there’s nothing in the buffer, audio performance suffers in a variety of ways: You may hear stuttering, crackling, “dropouts” where there's no audio, or worse case, the program might crash.

            One of the bottlenecks is how fast your audio interface can transfer data to and from your computer, and this is why USB 3.0 is important—its so-called SuperSpeed transfer rate can transfer data about 10 times faster than USB 2.0.

            On the Mac, Thunderbolt is the high-speed protocol of choice, but it’s expensive and has yet to gain significant traction with Windows. However USB 3.0 comes very close, and USB 3.1 (not in widespread use) has a theoretical maximum speed that’s about the same as the original Thunderbolt protocol.

            Like any protocol, USB 3.0 is not without its issues, mostly involving compatibility with (much) older chip sets. If you’ve used FireWire, you know the drill—interface web sites typically have recommended chip sets, but sometimes you’ll run into chip sets that just won’t work. (My desktop computer is in a sort of twilight zone where some USB 3.0 devices work and some don’t, but I added a PCIe USB 3.0 card that seems to work with pretty much everything…we’ll see if it works with Apollo Twin USB.) However this is clearly becoming less of an issue, as my circa 2012 HP off-the-shelf laptop used for the initial testing gets along famously with Apollo. I suspect Intel's NUC will be the same when we start assembling our Windows recording system.

            So with respect to latency, how low can Apollo go? Let’s find out, and also compare it to USB 2.0. By the way, note that while some USB 3.0 interfaces will function using USB 2.0 but with degraded performance, Apollo Twin USB requires USB 3.0. I actually consider this a good thing, because it's all too easy to plug a USB 3.0 device into a USB 2.0 port and then you wonder why it's not as fast as you think it should be. That can't happen with Apollo Twin USB.
            Last edited by Anderton; 04-18-2016, 04:56 PM.
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            • #7
              Originally posted by Anderton View Post
              Now I gotta say, I was struck immediately by the headphone amp sound quality. The higher price compared to standard interfaces buys you some serious converters. The sound quality is very, very impressive and the level of audio detail is exceptional. It may be a cliché to say it makes listening to music a pleasure, but truly good sound really does massage some kind of pleasure centers in your brain.

              I should also discuss why the kind of sound quality is particularly important with UA’s design philosophy. When I told a friend I was excited about checking out the Apollo Twin USB, he said he’d tried an Apollo, but that the sound was too “clinical” and didn’t have “character.” What he clearly didn’t understand is that many of UA’s plug-ins are intended to emulate particular channel strips and processors. As a result, it’s essential that the hardware produce a truly blank, neutral canvas. Any coloration is going to reduce the effectiveness of the emulations, which themselves provide the “character.” To use an analogy, I might like light blue as a color—but if I was doing an oil painting, I wouldn’t want the canvas to be light blue. If I wanted light blue, that’s what I’d paint on a white, neutral canvas.

              I think they've made the right choices with respect to that. If you want coloration, you have all kinds of excellent options via he plugins, but you can't take something with coloration and record neutrally with it. Best to start with a clean and neutral foundation that can later be manipulated as desired.
              **********

              "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

              - George Carlin

              "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

              - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

              "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

              - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

              Comment


              • #8
                Apollo Twin USB: Latency Tests

                Let’s see how Apollo Twin USB performs in the real world.

                In the previous post, we mentioned the sample buffer that computer systems use to store audio temporarily. This is usually specs as either a number of samples, a certain number of milliseconds, or both. However while this contributes to latency, it’s usually the least important factor in modern systems. USB “safety buffers” on the way in and out typically contribute more. So, the most realistic latency figure is called “round-trip latency”—the time between sending a signal into the interface, and having it appear at the output. This takes all elements that can contribute to latency into account.

                When I first looked at SONAR’s preferences (which provides a readout of round-trip latency, and breaks it down to input, output, and sample buffer latencies), I was surprised that the latency was over 10 ms at 64 samples—I’ve done better than that with other USB 3.0 interfaces. Ah, but then I remembered Apollo’s Console Settings includes an option for setting Input Delay Compensation.

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                In a nutshell, this allows for audio to line up when using analog and digital processing at the Console input. Most DAWs have a similar feature so that if you’re using something like a limiter with (for example) 2 ms of look-ahead, the other DAW tracks will be delayed by 2 ms so that they line up with the track including the limiter.

                Once I turned off Input Delay compensation to level the playing field, the measured latency at 44.1 kHz with a 64 sample buffer was 1.5 ms for the buffer, 4.8 ms for the input, and 3.6 ms for the output, giving a total round trip latency of 8.4 ms.


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                My dividing line for latency is 10 ms—anything below that doesn’t really matter to me (FWIW with 10 to 15 ms I can still cope, 15 to 20 ms is questionable, and over 20 ms is annoying). 8.4 ms is definitely better than a good USB 2.0 interface (with 64 sample buffers I get 10.2 ms), however there’s a major caveat: you have to convince your USB 2.0 interface to operate reliably at 64 samples, which may be true only for simple projects. As you start adding tracks and plug-ins, you may need to bump up the sample buffers to 128 or 256 sample buffers, for roundtrip latencies of 13.5 ms and 21.5 ms, respectively. So far Apollo Twin USB has been able to handle some pretty complex projects while remaining at 64 sample buffers. I wouldn't be surprised if it could go down to 48 for a lot of projects, but that option isn't available.

                However at 96 kHz, things start to get really interesting. Here the roundtrip latency with 64 sample buffers is 3.8 ms.



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                Think about that for a second…if you’re in a studio and listening to monitor speakers four feet from your ears, listening to Apollo Twin USB through headphones will give less latency than listening through speakers! To put that another way, if you were to split a CD player output, feed one split to your speakers, and then feed the other split into Apollo Twin USB’s input, even after having it pass through the computer and back through Apollo Twin USB’s output the latency would still be less listening on headphones than listening over the speakers.

                So the bottom line is…USB 3.0 does indeed make a difference.

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                • #9
                  Zero-Latency Monitoring? No, Zero-Latency Processing

                  You’ve probably heard of zero-latency monitoring as a way to circumvent latency issues. This passes the input signal directly to the audio output for monitoring, thus bypassing the latency added by USB buffering, sample buffering, and the computer itself.

                  That’s the good news. The bad news: If your sound depends on plug-ins—for example, you’re playing guitar through an amp sim—you won’t hear the processed sound because you’re hearing the signal going into the computer, not the sound coming out.

                  And this brings us to one aspect of what UA’s Powered Plug-Ins are all about. The reason why Apollo costs more than your average interface (aside from the gorgeous industrial design, of course!) is that it includes on-board DSP built around Analog Devices SHARC processors. Thus, Apollo is not just an interface, but a signal processing sub-system under your computer’s control, via the Console software.

                  For example, suppose you load up the Softube Marshall amp emulation. You can send your guitar directly into the amp, without going through the computer, and hear all the processing the amp has to offer—while simultaneously recording it into a track in your DAW. There is essentially no latency, other than A/D and D/A conversion, which is under 2 ms (I think the delay caused by conversion alone is around 1.2 ms at 44.1 kHz, but don’t quote me on that—we need a digital guru to confirm). So to put that in real-world terms, that’s the amount of delay you’d have if your ear was about a foot and a half away from your speakers. Would you notice any latency? Of course not, and you don’t here, either. What’s more, the computer latency could be significant, but you’d still not hear any latency because it has nothing to do with the audio sample buffers in your computer.

                  The screen shot shows what’s going on. SONAR users will see this and think “Wait a minute, he’s recording a guitar in the lower track, but Input Echo isn’t on.” And that’s the whole point: I’m hearing the guitar in near-real-time via the console software. Just to make sure I had things set up correctly I did enable Input Echo at one point, and sure enough, I could hear comb filtering as the delayed signal mixed with the Console signal.



                  By the way, the Marshall plug-in UI is huge, so you’re only seeing the “channel strip” part that lets you choose your mics and vary their balance. I’m currently running the amp on its 14-day demo, so that should give me enough time to do some recordings so you can hear what it sounds like. Note that this plug-in is not included with Apollo Twin USB; it’s optional at extra cost. However when you download the software, you automatically download trial versions of all UA plug-ins, which you can activate at any time for a one-time, full-function 14-day evaluation.

                  My understanding is that the latency for “zero-latency processing” doesn’t increase as you add more Powered Plug-ins because again, they’re running in hardware, not software. So you wouldn’t get more latency any more than you would if you had four audio processors with S/PDIF I/O and hooked them in series: You’d have the A/D conversion at the input, and the D/A conversion at the output.

                  Also note that you can use the UA plug-ins conventionally in your DAW, like any other plug-in. I’ll have more on this later but I will say that despite UA officially supporting only a limited selection of DAWs, so far everything I’ve thrown at SONAR works just fine. I’m going to try some other DAWs shortly to confirm whether the plug-ins work there as well.

                  Before signing off on this post, a comment. As a computer-addicted guitar player, I’ve gotten used to latency over the years. Having spent a lot of time on stage playing through an amp that was several feet away, I was used to latency anyway but when computers were finally fast enough to go below 20 ms of latency, I felt we were getting somewhere. I don’t complain with 10-15 ms of latency because hey, that’s part of dealing with computers.

                  The first time I tried a Thunderbolt interface (the Focusrite Clarett on my MacBook Pro) and started getting sub-4 ms round-trip latency, I could definitely ”feel” the difference. It wasn’t enough to make me jettison Windows, because fortunately USB 3.0 came along just in time. Frankly (which may not be something UA’s marketing department would like to hear), even when used conventionally Apollo Twin USB’s latency doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of playing guitar or keyboards through a computer—anything below 10 ms is fast enough for me. But using the Powered Plug-Ins’ talent of giving you no latency is something else, as now you really do have a real-time playing experience. (And note that unlike UA, which calls using Powered Plug-Ins a near real time playing experience, I just called it real time. One or two ms of latency is near real time, so technically UA is correct; but in reality, I don’t know anyone who puts their head one to two feet away from a speaker, so you are getting a real-time experience.)
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                  • #10
                    Cool info Craig. I'll be watching the progress. I've been half glancing at the Twin for a while. Even though a tiny bit off-topic, when you get to the Marshall testing, I'd like to know how well Softube have nailed old jmp heads. If they even were trying to get that happening.

                    Being from the old days, I'm thinking I'd often use the Apollo with stuff like Studer or Neve plugs dialed in at the front end so that my incoming signal is committed and printed to that sound right away. Purposely ...so I wouldn't try guessing at a zillion possibilities later.



                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by bookumdano4 View Post
                      Cool info Craig. I'll be watching the progress. I've been half glancing at the Twin for a while. Even though a tiny bit off-topic, when you get to the Marshall testing, I'd like to know how well Softube have nailed old jmp heads. If they even were trying to get that happening.
                      I'll do some audio examples, and you can judge for yourself

                      Being from the old days, I'm thinking I'd often use the Apollo with stuff like Studer or Neve plugs dialed in at the front end so that my incoming signal is committed and printed to that sound right away. Purposely ...so I wouldn't try guessing at a zillion possibilities later.
                      Well you may or may not be able to resist temptation...one of the cool aspects of Apollo Twin USB is you don't have to print with the effects, although of course you can. You can simply hear what they would sound like, with AFAIC zero latency, but apply the effects later.
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                      • #12
                        My First Apollo Twin USB "Gotcha"

                        Pilot error is always fun...I was getting intermittent operation with the AC adapter today. I thought maybe it was defective, or my barrier strip had a dead outlet, or something. The moral of the story is to remember that the AC adapter plug that goes into Apollo Twin USB is a locking type, you don't just plug it in randomly - there are little flanges that require plugging it in properly, and giving it a half-turn to lock it into place.

                        I believe this may be a CCPF (Curious Cat Prevention Feature).
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                        • #13
                          The Console

                          Now that we've taken a first look at the performance and found out that yes, USB 3.0 makes a difference, let's take a look at the Console software.

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                          The above screen shot show the basic configuration: two analog inputs (mic, line, or instrument), S/PDIF digital input, and two “virtual” inputs (more on these later). The top of the Analog channel strips duplicates what's on the front panel: mic/line switch, highpass filter, +48V phantom power, pad, phase (polarity) flip, and link, which gangs channel pairs (e.g. Analog 1 and Analog 2) in stereo instead of treating them as two mono channels. The communications between Apollo Twin USB and the Console app is bi-directional. For example, if you enable the front panel pad switch, the Console pad button follows and vice-versa.

                          Incidentally when you do switch, you’ll hear a click. This implies that the switching is done by relays, which guarantees no signal degradation because you’re dealing with what’s essentially an electronically-controlled mechanical switch, not electronic switching via FETs or CMOS integrated. Don’t get me wrong; the quality of semiconductor switching can be excellent…but there’s nothing better than a relay.

                          If you choose ADAT optical input instead of S/PDIF, the mixer grows 8 more inputs at 44.1 or 48 kHz (choosing 88.2 or 96 kHz restricts ADAT to four channels, while 176.4 or 192 kHz yields two channels of ADAT). While eight more channels starts to get unwieldy, UA gives you plenty of view options. You can show/hide individual inputs, hide aux returns, choose an overview that shortens the fader throw somewhat to see both inputs and inserts, or choose just inputs, inserts, or sends to have the longest possible throw on the faders. These views also have keyboard shortcuts.

                          Furthermore, there are flyouts. For example, suppose you want to see Analog 1’s sends without choosing the view that shows all sends at once, click on the overview’s Sends thumbnail for Analog 1 and voila—a flyout with a “close-up” on the sends:

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                          You can also do the same for inserts, where you can insert up to four of UA’s Powered Plug-Ins. Each slot has an enable/bypass button and “replace” button for choosing a different plug-in:

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                          You can also call up presets that populate multiple inserts at once, including several "signature sounds" from various audio luminaries.

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                          The input stage also lets you open up the “Unison” option for calling up “Unison-enabled” plug-ins. Now if you’re a synth player…no, this doesn’t stack all the voices on one key! Instead, it provides control from the plug-in over the input stage’s analog characteristics. It’s getting late so we won’t take this any further for now, but because we’re still in “input-land,” tomorrow let’s look at what Unison is all about—it’s very clever.

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                          Meanwhile, here’s one more observation before signing off: I was pleasantly surprised how effortless it was to change sample rates. With SONAR, some interfaces require closing SONAR, or closing and re-opening a control panel, or some other gymnastics. I thought that was just “part of the deal” but with Apollo, when I changed sample rates on SONAR, the Console followed right along without a second thought. It balked only when I wanted to see what would happen if I selected 384 kHz, which Apollo Twin USB doesn’t support. SONAR just said “It’s not supported” and reverted to the Console’s current sample rate. This is quite slick, and since I assume this is a property of the drivers, then I assume you’ll get similar results with any DAW.
                          N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                          • #14
                            Cool. The Unison feature on input is something I want to be sure to get a handle on. Even though the focus here is the overall interface, I hope UAD pops the new Fender Tweed Deluxe over for you to incorporate into even just a tiny part of the review

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                            • #15
                              Unison Mode

                              So here's the deal. UA accesses parameters within the hardware preamps that control gain and impedance so that even if you're using digital control, you're not changing the digital data stream, but rather, the analog hardware itself.

                              Clearly some people at UA are guitar players because an amp's impedance makes a big difference on the sound of a guitar plugged into it. Most "DI" instrument inputs are high impedance, so any effects caused by an impedance change either need to be handled externally to the input (e.g., MOTU's zBox DI, the "Drag" control on Radial Engineering preamps) or emulated digitally. However, the interaction between input impedance and a passive magnetic pickup is quite complex. The pickup has resistance, reactance, and capacitance, all of which interact with the impedance. While digital emulation can approximate how impedance will effect a pickup, unless they're modeling is based on your pickup, it won't be the same.

                              But remember that the cable you use will also be a factor, and that's not emulated. So if you want the same sound you get on stage going through one of the amps that UA models, then you need to use the same cable you use on stage if you want to be a stickler for accuracy.

                              Ditto gain staging, although the effects tend not to be so dramatic. If you have two gain controls in a preamp, turning up the first one while turning down the second - or turning down the first one while turning up the second - may produce the same level, but the character may not be the same.

                              Note that UA has also built some user interface goodies into the Apollo Twin USB when working in Unison mode so you don't get too lost, and are aware when you are controlling these physical parameters. Rather than describe them all, UA has made a video which explains the topic pretty well.



                              However, I was confused when the video said that the 500 ohm impedance setting gave a brighter, louder sound with a mic than the default 2 kOhm setting because there was less mic loading. That certainly goes against my experience, where it takes a higher impedance to produce less loading. Maybe the setting is 500K instead of 500 Ohms? Or maybe the labels are reversed...or maybe the star system where I was raised has different laws of physics. Anyway, that doesn't detract from the feature itself.

                              So is this some game-changing mega-feature that will cause other interface companies to fold up their tents and say "We don't control analog with digital, might as well give up"? I don't think so, because the differences are subtle. However UA is all about subtlety, and this kind of attention to detail is one more reason why UA is considered a master of its art. UA seems to believe something that I believe as well: every little dB adds up, and a chain is only as good as its weakest link. While I don't think anyone considers UA's preamps a "weak" link anyway, the Unison mode makes it a stronger link.
                              N E W S O N G ! To Say 'No' Would Be a Crime (Remix) is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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