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Since Universal Audio launched its first Apollo audio interface in 2012, the product line has gained a reputation among audio engineers—especially those that cherish the hard-to-imitate sound of analog gear. That’s because, in addition to high-quality preamps and converters, Apollo-series interfaces feature powerful built-in digital signal processing (DSP) that allows users to insert UAD plug-ins directly in the recording chain, just like analog gear.
Combined with Universal Audio’s ever-growing collection of officially licensed emulations of iconic analog preamps, EQs, compressors, tape machines and other effects, Apollo interfaces are the ultimate tools for getting rich, characterful analog sound with the convenience and reliability of digital gear. UAD Satellite DSP Accelerators add additional processing power to handle more plug-ins, all without increasing the processing load on your computer.
It’s no surprise, then, that some of the industry’s top engineers are using Apollo interfaces and UAD plug-ins when recording today’s biggest artists. As part of our 10 Days of Apollo celebration, here’s the scoop on five mainstream albums recorded with Apollo interfaces and other Universal Audio products.
Working with Ariana Grande on her 2019 album Thank U, Next and 2020’s Positions, engineer Billy Hickey knew how important it would be to capture the pop star’s signature airy vocal delivery. While many engineers might reach for EQ to sculpt the top-end to their liking, Hickey admitted in a MusicRadar interview that he never EQs vocals—instead, he relies on analog compressors to emphasize the natural qualities of Grande’s vocals.
“Compressor-wise, a lot of it is the [Tube-Tech] CL 1B,” explained Hickey. “But, for most of the last album, Positions, with Tommy Brown, he really liked the chain of [Universal Audio] 1176 [compressor] to a [Teletronix] LA-2A which is fine. And in all honesty I set it up to sound like a CL 1B! So you’d get the compression of the 1176 and the tone of the LA-2A… but to me that’s kinda how a CL 1B sounds.”
When it comes to mixing, Hickey leans heavily on UAD plug-ins. While he does most of his mixing at home, he packs a Universal audio Arrow or UAD Satellite when traveling, which gives him access to the plug-ins he relies on.
“I would say I’m a little picky with my plug-ins,” Some people only work with the plug-ins that everybody has because it’s easier, but I like to bring my stuff. But at the same time I don’t want to spend hours hauling gear and packing up, so this works for me.”
After years of producing their own albums, Green Day hired Butch Walker to guide them in crafting their 2020 full-length, Father of All Mother****ers. To capture the songs in pristine quality with minimal gear, Walker chose to track with two Apollo x8p interfaces linked together for a total of 16 mic preamps, four Hi-Z guitar inputs and four stereo headphone outputs.
“With two Apollo x8ps, I can make a record that sounds as good as anything I’ve ever done,” said Walker. “I can make records soup-to-nuts on that setup.”
A fan of committing to tonal decisions while recording, rather than recording 100% dry tracks to be processed later, Walker took advantage of Apollo’s DSP and a selection of premium UAD plug-ins to imbue every track with analog character on the front end.
“Generally, I used the Helios Type 69 Preamp & EQ and API 550A and 560A EQ plug-ins across all Console input channels,” explained Walker. “This allows me to get the EQ right when tracking. I’m really not into ‘flat’ recording, where you put off EQ decisions for later.”
Walker recorded Billy Joe Armstrong’s guitars using a Universal Audio OX Reactive Amp Attenuator and a premium selection of real amps, cabinets and mics. Walker used the OX’s Dynamic Speaker Modeling to get any tone the real amps couldn’t, and according to him, nobody could tell the difference. For Mike Dirnt’s bass, Walker relied on UAD’s Ampeg B-15N Bass Amplifier plug-in, sometimes using multiple presets per song to vary the bass sound throughout the album.
Like many hip-hop artists today, Tyler, The Creator makes a lot of his music in his own DAW. But while his engineer, Vic Wainstein, has no problem working in Logic Pro, he still prefers Pro Tools for final mixing. This means bouncing tracks to transfer between DAWs, which can sometimes mean compromising sound quality. After manually exporting tracks from Logic and importing them into Pro Tools, Wainstein and his client realized they needed a better solution—enter Apollo.
“We started by bouncing tracks from Logic to Pro Tools, but to Tyler’s ear—and he’s very specific about the way things sit in the sonic landscape—the bounces didn’t sound right,” recalled Wainstein. “The fidelity of the 808s was taking a hit, and the more abrasive synths just weren’t cutting through. We tried every option to bounce tracks, but just kept hitting roadblocks. I've had experience with Apollo interfaces, but the light bulb didn’t go on until we were doing some tracks with A$AP Rocky, and his engineer Hector Delgado said, ‘Bro, all you have to do is get a couple of Apollos, and then you can dump all the tracks at once, directly into Pro Tools.’ So we did, and it worked.”
According to Wainstein, his vocal chain usually starts with the UAD Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Collection, 610‑A, or API Vision Strip preamp, followed by the Pultec EQP‑1A or FabFilter Pro‑Q 3 EQ. For compression, he uses a Rev A “Bluestripe” 1176 or Fairchild 660. The Thermionic Culture Vulture lent saturation and harmonic distortion to some of the synth tones on Igor, while the SPL Vitalizer MK2‑T added richness to certain vocal and piano tracks.
Tasked with capturing Post Malone’s unique and genre-bending vocal style, the star’s production and co-writing partner, Louis Bell, simply did what does with any vocalist—plugged his trusty Sony C800 into an Apollo Twin, set up a vocal chain with UAD plug-ins, and got to work.
“I had certain plug-ins I’d use on my vocal chain for years, but once I discovered UAD plug-ins, I found it became really easy to get results,” said Bell. “Suddenly, I didn’t need to tweak all that much to get a good vocal sound. UAD plug-ins get right to the point. Everyone assumes I use all this outboard gear, but one of the things I love about the Apollo Twin and UAD plug-ins is that I can get incredible sounds on the go, in a hotel room if I have to.”
Bell’s go-to plug-in for vocals is the 1176 Compressor, chosen for the roundness and warmth it imparts. The Neve 1073, API 550A and 550B also make frequent appearances in Bell’s vocal chains. The Brigade Chorus Pedal gives ad-lib vocals a unique texture, differentiating them from the lead vocal without drowning them in reverb. The Sonnox Oxford Inflator is another favorite of Bell’s, lending a brightness to vocals when applied heavily. Thanks to the Apollo Twin’s onboard DSP, he can capture chart-topping vocal performances wherever inspiration strikes.
While recording In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights in 2019, producer Joey Waronker tracked The New Pornographers' A.C. Newman exclusively through Apollo interfaces. Waronker utilized the Realtime Analog Classics plug-in bundle to recreate the sound of classic analog gear and restore some of that old-school commitment associated with traditional analog recording.
“With Apollo and UAD plug-ins, your project studio feels and sounds much more like a high-end studio, because you can create your own full-scale mixing board. If you have, say, an Apollo 8 and you’re using all eight inputs with a UAD Neve® 1073® Preamp & EQ Collection plug-in on each channel, it’s really like you’re using a proper outboard console. If someone wants me to work with them in their studio, and it turns out they have an Apollo, I’m happy.”
For this session, Waronker ran the entire rhythm section going through the 610-B Tube Preamp & EQ and 1176LN compressor plug-ins on the front-end to glue all the bass and drums together, then used the Neve 88RS Channel Strip to gate each drum so he could apply generous distortion without worrying about additional noise or ringing.
“I use a UAD Neve 1073 Preamp plug-in on both kick and snare pretty consistently for EQ. I also use the UAD Moog Multimode Filter quite a lot for distortion and for making drums sound rounder and more musical. Likewise, a great way of distorting and gating and tonally shaping the drums in more adventurous ways is using the UAD Valley People Dyna-Mite limiter plug-in. It sounds really true to me, it sounds real.”