Which Universal Audio Interface Should I Buy? | Decibel Peak Academy

which universal audio interface should i buy

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Once I started earning income from my music, I knew it was time to make some investments. After doing some research, I became obsessed with Universal Audio and immediately asked myself the question, which Universal Audio interface should I buy? The answer to that question is different for everybody, but you’ll know for sure by the end of this article!

Now you’re ready to start recording music at home professionally. Universal Audio is one of the most revolutionary companies out there, so I’m glad you’re interested in purchasing one of their audio interfaces. Owning my first Universal Audio interfaces changed the way I produced, mixed and mastered music for the better! However, with all the different products they’ve created, choosing the right one can be a challenge. That’s why I’d like to help you answer the question so you can revolutionize your music career as soon as possible!

You should buy the Universal Audio Arrow if you seek affordability without compromise

If you’re asking yourself, “which Universal Audio interface should I buy”, the best place to start would be with their most affordable product. The Arrow was the first Thunderbolt 3 audio interface and also the most reasonably priced Universal Audio has ever released.

However, those who didn’t have computers with Thunderbolt 3 ports were disappointed.

ConnectivityThunderbolt 3
DSP processorSingle-Core
Preamps2x Unison-Enabled
Inputs2x Combo + 1x Instrument
Outputs2x Balanced TRS + 1x Headphone
Resolution24-bit/192 kHz
Phantom PowerYES

If you’re wondering why the Universal Audio Arrow is priced so much lower than all their other audio interfaces… It’s because it only includes ONE single-core DSP processor. The question you need to ask yourself is if that’ll be a problem.

The one complaint I always hear about the Arrow is its limited DSP.

However, it really depends on what you’ll be using it for. The truth is most musicians/music producers would be more than satisfied with the Arrow. That’s because most of us record one track at one time. The next question is, how many plugins do you use at once?

Shockingly, you could probably host 2-3 plugins at the most without overloading the processor.

If that’s going to be a problem for you, then you can either consider another Universal Audio interface OR you can skip to the section on Universal Audio Satellites.

Regardless, the Universal Audio Arrow is the most portable audio interface with onboard DSP/Unison preamps.

It’s completely bus-powered by the Thunderbolt 3 cable (sold separately).

You should buy the Universal Audio Apollo Twin X if you’re looking for the latest and greatest

After releasing the Arrow, Universal Audio quickly launched their new series of Thunderbolt 3 powered interfaces. The Apollo Twin X is the entry-level device for the X series and features new and improved preamps.

To be completely honest though, the Twin X is literally the same as the Twin MkII.

ConnectivityThunderbolt 3
DSP processorDual-Core/Quad-Core
Preamps2x Unison-Enabled
Inputs2x Combo + 1x Instrument + 1x Optical
Outputs4x Balanced TRS + 1x Headphone
Resolution24-bit/192 kHz
Phantom PowerYES

As I mentioned, the preamps are different according to most people and the colour is different. However, the preamps aren’t necessarily better or worse. It just depends on your personal preference and whether or not your computer includes Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Personally, I prefer the preamps on the Apollo Twin X because they provide more clarity.

If you’re hesitating between the dual-core or quad-core model though, I highly suggest going with the DUO. Even if you feel that you’ll need more DSP down the road, you can always purchase one of the UAD Satellites.

I just don’t think the difference in price justifies the additional two cores.

Another thing to consider about the Apollo Twin X is the enhanced AD/DA converters. They can provide 127 dB of dynamic range compared to the 115/118 dB of the Apollo Twin MkII.

So, you’re only getting slight improvements if you decide to go with the Twin X vs Twin MkII. However, I do recommend it for the minor enhancements pertaining to the preamps and AD/DA converters if you can appreciate that kind of thing.

On the other hand, the Apollo Twin X ISN’T bus-powered, so it isn’t as portable as the Arrow.

You should buy the Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII if your computer doesn’t include Thunderbolt 3 ports

The problem with the latest audio interfaces with Universal Audio is that they work exclusively with Thunderbolt 3. So, which Universal Audio interface should I buy if I’m using an older Apple computer?

The Apollo Twin MkII is basically the Twin X with Thunderbolt 2 connection.

ConnectivityThunderbolt 2
DSP processorDual-Core/Quad-Core
Preamps2x Unison-Enabled
Inputs2x Combo + 1x Instrument + 1x Optical
Outputs4x Balanced TRS + 1x Headphone
Resolution24-bit/192 kHz
Phantom PowerYES

As we discussed in the previous section, the only real significant differences involve the preamps and AD/DA converters. The Apollo Twin MkII sounds more “vintage” in my opinion while the Twin X sounds more “modern”.

In other words, I don’t think one is better than the other.

The Twin MkII is also offered in both DUO/QUAD, but I still encourage you to stick with the dual-core unit. If you’re going to need more DSP, you’re better off going big with one of the Universal Audio Satellites (HEXA/OCTO).

For the most part though, you should be capable of recording two tracks with 2-3 plugins each.

Another thing I like about the Twin-series is the built-in talkback feature. It’s useful if you’re playing the role of sound engineer and can even come in handy if you create podcasts/YouTube videos (it’s no replacement for an actual microphone though).

The Twin-series also features the ALT monitoring function which allows you to alternate between two sets of monitor speakers. That’s something the Arrow wouldn’t be capable of doing.

The Apollo Twin MkII also requires additional power, so it’s not very portable.

You should buy the Universal Audio Apollo Twin USB if you’re not using an Apple computer

Universal Audio works almost exclusively with Thunderbolt technology (and Apple), but they were nice enough to create ONE alternative. If you’re running Windows, your best option is the Apollo Twin USB.

Instead of installing PCI-e based Thunderbolt ports (which aren’t natively supported by Windows), I’d simply go with this alternative.

ConnectivityUSB 3.0
DSP processorDual-Core/Quad-Core
Preamps2x Unison-Enabled
Inputs2x Combo + 1x Instrument + 1x Optical
Outputs4x Balanced TRS + 1x Headphone
Resolution24-bit/192 kHz
Phantom PowerYES

Once again, the Apollo Twin USB is basically the same as the Twin X/Twin MkII except for the fact that it uses USB technology. Is that really going to be a problem though? If it were any other audio interface I’d tell you to avoid it at all costs, but Universal Audio is unique.

You won’t need to worry about latency either way thanks to the onboard DSP.

If you’re using Windows, I wouldn’t consider using anything other than the Apollo Twin USB. However, I wouldn’t even consider it if you have an Apple computer with Thunderbolt ports. Even if it’s slightly less expensive, Thunderbolt has many advantages you don’t want to miss.

It’s true that Windows users won’t get the full “UAD experience”, but this is the perfect compromise.

The Apollo Console software is compatible, but LUNA isn’t currently available on Windows (not sure if it’ll ever be). It’s still better than nothing though!

To be honest though, I would consider purchasing an Apple computer instead of going with the Apollo Twin USB. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just as good as all the others. The problem isn’t Universal Audio, it’s Windows and that’s why I personally made the switch.

Basically, I think the Apollo Twin USB will make you regret using Windows more than anything.

What about the Universal Audio Apollo x4, Apollo 8, Apollo x16, Apollo x8p, Apollo x8 and Apollo x6?

So, which Universal Audio interface should I buy if I need more than two inputs? If you’re running commercial recording studios and/or need something to record your band with, you may want to consider one of the other Apollo audio interfaces.

However, you could also daisy-chain multiple Apollo Twin interfaces (up to four).

which universal audio interface should i buy

If you wanted eight inputs like the Apollo x8p though, you’d be better off NOT purchasing four Apollo Twin Xs… I ran the numbers and it would be more affordable (and more efficient) to simply purchase the x8p.

Out of all the larger Apollo Twin audio interfaces, I recommend the x8p.

The fact that it features hexa-core DSP processing is great and worse comes to worst, you can always add an additional Universal Audio Satellite. Another thing you need to keep in mind is that these larger interfaces are rackmount, not desktop.

Besides the I/O though, the components are essentially the same as the Twin X.

I just think the Apollo x8p would be perfect for recording an entire drum kit. I usually don’t use more than seven microphones, so it’s got just the right amount.

The Apollo x4 can also be used for recording drum kits if you’re using smaller configurations (bass drum, snare & overheads). However, you’d probably be better off daisy-chaining two Arrows in that case… 

I’m not too fond of the Apollo x16 because the inputs aren’t integrated into the interface (from what I understand, you need some sort of external device to connect your instruments).

If you ever need more DSP, you should buy one of the Universal Audio Satellites

In case you haven’t realized, everything Universal Audio runs on DSP (kind of like how cars run on gas). So, which Universal Audio interface should I buy if I need maximum DSP?

In my opinion, you shouldn’t really take DSP into consideration.

ConnectivityThunderbolt 3/Thunderbolt 2/FireWire/PCIe/USB
DSP processorQuad-Core/Octo-Core

Even the Universal Audio Arrow can become unstoppable when daisy-chained with an octo-core UAD Satellite DSP accelerator. It would cost you less than realizing that your Apollo Twin X QUAD doesn’t provide enough DSP and then purchasing the Satellite anyway… 

At that point, the difference between Arrow/Satellite and Twin X/Satellite isn’t that significant.

That’s why I prefer saving on the actual interface (especially if you won’t need that much DSP) so that you can invest it later on the Satellite when you ACTUALLY need it. You can disregard my suggestion, but you’ll realize that I was right once it actually happens to you.

Personally, one single-core DSP unit is perfect for 99% of my needs.

For most of us, I think the real decision is going to be between the Arrow and the Twin X/Twin MkII. The UAD Satellites will only become necessary if you decide to convert your entire plugin collection to Universal Audio (that’ll be much more expensive).

If you’re purchasing your first Universal Audio interface though, you won’t even need to consider those Satellites. If you decide to complete your mixing and mastering with UAD plugins exclusively, then you might want to consider them!

Keep in mind that the Universal Audio Satellites are available in Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 2 and USB.

Which Universal Audio interface did I buy (and why)?

Can you guess which Universal Audio interface I’ve been using? If it’s not obvious, I’ve been rocking the Arrow for quite some time now and can’t recommend it enough!

It’s the most affordable of all the UAD devices and in my opinion, it’s the best.

I use my audio interface to record guitar/bass and the occasional vocals, so I’ve never ran into any DSP issues. The UAD plugins are so great that I normally use one at one time, so my DSP load is usually around 50%.

I keep things simple, so I don’t know what I’d do with two cores (or EIGHT)!

That being said, if you’re anything like me, you’ll absolutely love the Arrow. If you need more power though, I still think the Apollo Twin X/Twin MkII would do you justice. The only reason I’d go with the Apollo 8xp is if you were recording drums OR an entire band.

However, the one thing I hope you took from this post was the ability to SCALE your studio. You don’t need to worry about not having enough DSP, you can always add more.

You can also add more inputs/outputs by daisy-chaining multiple UAD-2 devices. For example, you can have four Apollo Twin Xs and two octa-core Satellites (not the most efficient setup, but hey, it’s possible)!

So, which Universal Audio interface will YOU buy?

If you were asking yourself, which Universal Audio interface should I buy… I hope you now know which one is right for you! The one thing I realized from studying Universal Audio’s catalogue is that their devices are all pretty much the same. You just need to know which inputs/outputs you need and plan your scaling process. In other words, you don’t need to replace old gear. You can simply add MORE! If you’ve enjoyed learning about Universal Audio interfaces with me, consider subscribing to my weekly newsletter for more great content like this. Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time!

2 Responses

  1. Great article, one note.. the satellite dsp is only good for mixing in post. It can’t be combined in uad mixing console to use for real-time recording. I was disappointed when I learned this!

    1. Hello P8,

      I should have made that more clear, it’s been quite some time since I updated this post. I’m as disappointed as you though…

      It’s the same when it comes to using UAD plug-ins without the hardware (you can’t). It never occurred to me because I don’t use their plug-ins in post-production.

      I just use them to record (usually the amp models and/or compressors). I think UAD is great for that, but I now understand why some may resent their tactics!

      Thanks for bringing that up, I’ll be updating the post soon. Take care!

      – Stefan

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