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As part of our 10 Days of Apollo celebration, we sat down with Drew Mazurek from Universal Audio to learn more about how UA’s legendary Apollo Series audio interfaces came to be. Read the full conversation below and learn how the original Apollo audio interface revolutionized the recording industry with cutting-edge DSP technology and state-of-the-art analog-modeled plug-ins.
“One of our missions with Apollo was to make everything approachable for non-engineers. Universal Audio is an interesting company with dual focuses: preserving the heritage of Bill Sr.’s designs and the old-school way of making records, while simultaneously trying to bring those things to the masses.
When our CEO, Bill Putnum Jr and our Chief Scientist and DSP expert Dave Berners were at Stanford together, they began experimenting with DSP modeling. One of the first things they tried to emulate were the 1176 and LA-2A compressors. At the time, in 1999, most hardware-modeled plug-ins sounded pretty superficial, so Bill and Dave set out on a mission to create a more realistic emulation than anyone else at the time. So, they decided to model these devices at a much deeper level.
Bill and Dave utilized the idea of circuit modeling—unlike most plug-ins, which use generic signal modeling, UA deconstructs each design down to the component level and actually models the response of each individual circuit. Those algorithms interact with each other to make our plug-ins feel like they’re living and breathing along with your music.
I'm a long-time engineer myself—I came up with two-inch tape and analog SSL and Neve consoles—so I’m pretty familiar with all of the hardware devices we model. But when I first got my hands on the UA SSL E channel strip plug-in, it was uncanny how similar it felt to the original. It may sound kind of silly, but I feel like our plug-ins have a life of their own.
After Bill Jr. and his brother Jim refounded the company in 1999, we primarily focused on developing new plug-ins for the first 10 years. In that time, we pioneered the use of DSP strictly for plug-ins, enabling users to take the load off of their CPU and produce results that most computers simply could not achieve. Throughout the 2000s, we rolled out several iterations of the UAD-1 DSP-based platform as we honed our skills and carved out a space in the industry as the premier analog-modeled plug-in manufacturer.
However, DSP technology was still in its infancy and quite expensive at the time. Even by the end of the 2000s, most DSP-based systems were $25,000 and up, which means that professional studios were really the only folks who could afford them. Plus, if you ever wanted to record natively, meaning your recording was entirely reliant on the CPU inside of your computer, it introduced latency, which was really problematic.
People were having to do all sorts of crazy things like splitting the signal and creating a pure analog headphone mix for the talent to prevent signal delay. One of our goals with the Apollo Series was to eliminate the issue of latency while recording and mixing on your computer.
In 2012, we released the first Apollo Series audio interface, which combined the DSP technology and analog-modeled plug-ins we had been refining over the last decade into a single interface. This really changed the game for everyone because you could natively record with very low latency using a studio-quality audio interface—plus you had access to industry-leading plug-ins powered by state-of-the-art DSP chips. All of the sudden, you could simply plug in a mic and record using a modeled preamp, feed it through a modeled Neve EQ and 1176 compressor, and send it to a reverb modeled after a world-class studio.
Best of all, the engineer and the talent could both hear the same sounds instantly with very low latency—and you didn’t even have to launch your DAW to do it! You could monitor your signal chain directly from our software monitoring app Console, which allowed you to use all of these wonderful vintage processors full of non-linearities, just like their analog counterparts.
The other thing that was really cool about the original Apollo Series audio interface was you could choose whether or not to print or commit those effects. With Apollo, you had the best of both worlds: low latency so you can monitor your signal with a full complement of analog-modeled effects, and a clean, dry signal that you can tweak later. It really was a revolutionary platform.
We also had the foresight to make Apollo interfaces modular, so you could swap out cards over time as new formats became available. For instance, you can swap out the stock card on an original Apollo with a Thunderbolt card, so even an interface from 13 years ago can still seamlessly integrate into a modern studio setup. I think that really speaks to the longevity of this piece. It's a testament to the original foundation of the Apollo that we were able to create a platform that has lived on for 13 years. That’s not something you can say about a lot of other pieces.
Releasing the Apollo Series audio interface in 2012 was monumental for UA. It catapulted us from not only being the premier analog-modeled plug-in developer to an industry-leading audio interface manufacturer. Over the years we’ve continued to introduce innovative new products, including desktop versions of the beloved Apollo series interfaces to brand new ventures like guitar pedals and microphones—but Apollo was the launchpad that made it all possible.”
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