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Apollo Twin Solo

Thunderbolt Audio Interface

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Best Thunderbolt Audio Interface

Apollo Twin Solo

  • Don Makoviney
  • Last Updated: February 8, 2016

If you're running Mac OS X and have a Thunderbolt port, the best digital audio interface for most people is the Universal Audio Apollo Twin. It's preamps are extremely rich and versatile, completely configurable with included software. It has a solid build, with a stout aluminum housing and intuitive interface. With all of this, PLUS zero-latency, the Apollo Twin by Universal Audio is the one to get.


What is a Thunderbolt Audio Interface?

These interfaces are connected between your microphones (or instruments) and your computer. They connect to your computer using the Thunderbolt connector found on all new Apple computers, as well as a slowly growing number of Windows machines.

If you’ve already dabbled with digital audio interfaces, chances are you’ve used a USB interface. If you choose to stick with USB we have a guide for the best USB digital audio interface.

So, these are basically the same thing, except it uses the Thunderbolt connection on all new Macs and MacBooks,

Why is it so great? Thunderbolt ports transfer data twice as fast as the fastest USB port (USB 3.0), which makes it an ideal way of recording when you are dealing with a large number of instruments and vocals. Sometimes you’ll run into latency with USB interfaces, which causes a bit of a lag (or delay) when recording. So, recording a full band would be a great use of the Thunderbolt connection. DJs and electronic musicians that perform live with many different sources would also be able to take good advantage of fast data transfer a Thunderbolt connection provides.

apple-thunderbolt-v-usb-3-speed

 

Do I Need a Thunderbolt Audio Interface?

If you have a Mac with a Thunderbolt port onboard, then probably.

Otherwise, probably not.

Why? Well, our guides are generally focused around home use – the spare bedroom or basement studio. In these scenarios you are usually work alone, or with one or two others. Chances are you’ll be recording only one or two instruments in at a time. In these cases, you’d do well to buy a great USB audio interface instead. With the money you save, put it towards something else useful for your studio.

But here are some reasons you might need one:

If you have a setup that uses lots of MIDI controllers and other USB devices (i.e. a DJ or electronic musician), you probably know how easy it is to run out of USB ports, and even with a USB hub, you run into limitations. So, if the audio interface is moved over to the Thunderbolt connection, you now have a USB port free, and in fact, have removed the soundcard (your interface) completely from USB, freeing up all kinds of data transfer speed on the USB bus.

Confused? Read more on it here.

But I Already Have a Firewire Audio Interface, and it Works Great!

If this is the case, you can purchase a Firewire to Thunderbolt adapter for under 50 bucks. Pretty much all Firewire devices will work this way, and some manufacturers straight up encourage it.

However, make sure you double-check Thunderbolt compatibility with your Firewire interface manufacturer before hitting the BUY button on the $50 adapter. Usually you can check their support pages, forums, or even just email them to find out.

Oh, and the Thunderbolt interface is way faster (refer back to the chart above). So fast, in fact, that latency will be a thing of the past.

What Makes A Good Thunderbolt Interface?

We want:

  • No latency issues: No exceptions.
  • Ease of use: Get up and running quickly.
  • Reliability: No history of production issues or factory flaws.
  • Support: Good warranty, timely response to questions, good documentation, and online resources.

Some Things To Keep In Mind

The Thunderbolt audio interfaces we recommend here are primarily for Apple computers. So if you are a Windows person, check out our small and growing list of Windows-compatible Thunderbolt audio interfaces at the bottom of this guide.

Our Pick

The Apollo Twin SOLO (made by Universal Audio) is the best Thunderbolt audio interface for most people.

User reviews and expert reviews both universally acclaim the reliability and sound quality of the Apollo Twin.

Universal Audio also builds much more powerful interfaces, like the Apollo 8, which has enough inputs and outputs to record an entire band in a medium or large professional studio. These interfaces are highly regarded – even the newest models by the company are based on their decades-long legacy of high quality, great sounding pre-amps. The only difference is that these days, much of this is modeled with their software, which is tightly integrated with the hardware.

To take advantage of everything that makes the Apollo Twin the best Thunderbolt interface, you’ll need to install the included plug-in software, as well as their console software. The console software actually looks like a regular recording console, as you can see below:

ua-apollow-twin-console

This console software is where you choose which of the vintage mic preamps you want to use, if you want too. You can also use any of the software plug-ins you might wish to record through. Via a switch, you can choose to simply hear the affected sound (i.e. monitor the sound) while recording clean, or you can permanently add the affected sound to the what you are recording.

If you are someone who records mostly solo, with occasional accompaniment with one or two others, this will more than handle the task. You’ll get the same great sound and ease of use, at a fraction of the cost of the large professional interfaces.

Apollo Twin Is Compatible With Other Universal Audio Interfaces

Should your studio grow (it probably will!) you can upgrade to a larger interface, like Universal Audio’s Apollo 8 and it will work right alongside our pick (the Apollo Twin). With “Apollo Expanded: and UAD v8 (Universal Audio Drivers v8), one Apollo Twin can be combined with other Thunderbolt-equipped Apollo models to create an expanded studio setup — up to four Thunderbolt Apollos and six UAD-2 devices total — adding I/O and DSP as your studio grows.

User Reviews

Chad Johnson, writing a review on Sweetwater, confirms latency is not an issue at all:

I had a little issue with the install/configuration … The Console app is pretty sweet! Its like having a soft mixer inside your computer that shows you everything going on inside the module and can apply plugins direction inside the software during recording. Which takes the loud away from your CPU/DAW. I can now use overdub mode inside my DAW and have no latency at all. Its all in real time and no glitches.

An Amazon reviewer noted it’s solid performance with both Pro Tools 11 and Logic X on a 2011 MacBook Pro:

The Apollo twin has performed beautifully for me. I’m using a late 2011 MacBook Pro in my studio, and running Yosemite 10.10.1. I’m running both Pro Tools 11 and Logic X, the Apollo twin works flawlessly in both, and even though Pro Tools is not supported by Avid on Mac Yosemite, it works perfectly for me.

Expert Reviews

In Sound On Sound, the reviewer was impressed with the rugged quality, and the unusually versatile mic preamps, and way it mimics analog preamps with it’s tightly integrated Unison software:

The double whammy of excellent sound quality and UA plug-ins in a desktop format has obvious appeal, and I can imagine that many existing UAD or Apollo owners would be interested in adding a Twin to their setup for portable duties or to act as a high-quality monitor controller and headphone amp.

For Mac users to whom portability and excellent sound quality are more important than having a lot of I/O, the Apollo Twin sets a benchmark that will be difficult to beat

The reviewer at Music Radar noted the quality build and useful interface controls and integration with the software. He also liked how it was pretty much the same as the larger “professional” interfaces, like the Apollo 8 (16-in, 14-out):

The preamp stage matches the design of the other interfaces in the Apollo range and, for many, this will be as key a feature as the capacity to run UAD plug-ins. The emulation process doesn’t only extend to UAD effects but also to the design of the inputs which, via Universal Audio’s Unison technology, mimic the behaviour of classic tube and solid-state devices, copying their characteristics to provide extraordinarily high-quality results.

Over at Pro Tools Expert, the reviewer was impressed with the sturdy build quality, and intuitive physical knobs and interface:

One thing is certain when you first hold the Apollo Twin, in creating an affordable Apollo it’s not been by skimping – this thing is built like a tank. On the front panel you have everything you need to set things up without having to constantly look at the computer, from a multi function big knob (no jokes please) to selectors for all the main functions such as input type, low pass filter, phantom power.

Apollo Twin SOLO and Apollo Twin DUO. What’s The Difference?

The DUO is about $200 more than the SOLO. For the extra cost, you get another processor for handling effects (i.e. signal processing).

What does that mean?

It means you’ll have more horsepower for effects processing. If you typically use a lot of VST plugins, in addition to the included Universal Audio plugins, you’ll want to spring for the DUO.

You can get prices and reviews on the Apollo Twin DUO here, and here’s some used/discount options at eBay.

Budget Options

There isn’t a lot to choose from that costs much less than our main pick. If Thunderbolt was a requirement and price was an issue, for $300 I’d get the Tac-2 from Zoom:

zoom-tac-2-budget-thunderbolt-interface

 

Zoom’s free TAC-2 MixEfx Macintosh application enables you to boost the functionality of your TAC-2 further still. It allows you to set mix parameters and add high-quality effects such as reverb and echo; you can also apply a low cut filter, do phase reversal, or set AUTO GAIN for each input independently. In addition, there’s a LOOPBACK function that blends the input signal with the playback signal for zero latency, as well as three memory slots for saving user settings with quick recall.

The reviews have been generally great. It’s also bus-powered, so you won’t have an AC Adapter to worry about either.

Zoom TAC-2 from Amazon $299.99

 

Windows Options

Thunderbolt is still a rare sighting on Windows computers, but they do exist in the form of really expensive laptops; also cards to be installed on desktop computers.

This guide is updated often, so we will update with new Windows Thunderbolt options as new products arrive for testing, and some of the forums and professional reviewers have more hands-on time.

If you are recording on a desktop Windows computer, there are several expansion card options. Here’s a list. While this is outside the scope of this guide, check with your desktop manufacturer to make sure the expansion card you are looking to buy is compatible with your machine. You can usually do this by visiting the website of your computer’s manufacturer and searching their support documents, or sending an email to the support team.

In the meantime, we’d suggest going with the USB 3.0 versions of the Apollo Twin for Windows.

Wrapping Up

Bear in mind, our main pick is for Apple computers running OS X and with an included Thunderbolt port. It is not Windows-compatible (at this time, anyways). The Apollo Twin will handle most anything you throw at it, and latency will be a thing of the past.

  • It doesn’t include a Thunderbolt cable, which is weird and kind of lame. But you can get Thunderbolt cables here.
  • The Apollo Twin also uses a power adapter, so you’ll need to make sure you have room for that.

If you are the type that records an input or two at a time, the Apollo Twin by Universal Audio will handle the job perfectly, with no latency. You’ll have a rugged interface that will provide you with years of use. The addition of the incredibly versatile Unison effects software, modeled after Universal Audio’s well-regarded preamps and channels strips, make the Apollo Twin the best Thunderbolt interface for most people.

Happy recording!

 


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Best Thunderbolt Audio Interface

Apollo Twin Solo

Best Thunderbolt Audio Interface

Important Specs

Connection Thunderbolt for Mac
Form Factor Desktop
Simultaneous I/O 10 x 6
A/D Resolution 24-bit/192kHz
Analog Inputs 2 x XLR/TRS, 1 x hi-Z
Analog Outputs 4 x TRS, 1 x stereo headphone
Digital Inputs 1 x ADAT optical or S/PDIF optical
Number of Preamps 2
Phantom Power? Yes
Depth 6.2"
Width 6.31"
Height 2.6"
Weight 2.35 lbs
more specs

Synopsis:

If you're running Mac OS X and have a Thunderbolt port, the best digital audio interface for most people is the Universal Audio Apollo Twin. It's preamps are extremely rich and versatile, completely configurable with included software. It has a solid build, with a stout aluminum housing and intuitive interface.

Zoom TAC-2

The Budget Option

Zoom TAC-2

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- M

Sources

  1. Walter Lindley, American Songwriter, 20130116
    Review: Apogee Quartet Desktop Audio
  2. Paul White, Sound On Sound, 20121101
    Apogee Quartet Review
  3. Sam Inglis, Sound On Sound, 20140601
    Universal Audio Apollo Twin Thunderbolt Audio Interface & DSP Accelerator For Mac OS
  4. Jono Buchanan, Music Radar, 20140416
    Universal Audio Apollo Twin review
  5. Russ Hughes, Pro Tools Expert, 20141213
    Apogee Ensemble Thunderbolt Review - Thunderbolt 2 Audio Interface For Mac
  6. Staff, Universal Audio Support Page, 20150910
    Universal Audio Thunderbolt Support Page
  7. Chad Johnson, Sweetwater,
    Apollo Twin SOLO Reviews on Sweetwater
  8. Amazon User, Amazon.com, 20141227
    Apollo Twin: User Reviews
  9. Russ Hughes, Pro Tools Expert, 20140128
    Universal Audio Apollo Twin Review - Thunderbolt Equipped Audio Interface
Originally published: October 13th, 2015
  • Jacob Perl

    In regards to your comments about using a Firewire to Thunderbolt adapter: am I right in assuming that you’d still be limited to the slower throughput of the FW? That wasn’t entirely clear.

    • Don Makoviney

      Hey Jacob, thanks for asking. Yes, you’ll still be limited to Firewire speeds. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve made a note to update that this week.

Important Specs

Connection Thunderbolt for Mac
Form Factor Desktop
Simultaneous I/O 10 x 6
A/D Resolution 24-bit/192kHz
Analog Inputs 2 x XLR/TRS, 1 x hi-Z
Analog Outputs 4 x TRS, 1 x stereo headphone
Digital Inputs 1 x ADAT optical or S/PDIF optical
Number of Preamps 2
Phantom Power? Yes
Depth 6.2"
Width 6.31"
Height 2.6"
Weight 2.35 lbs
more specs



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