Understanding the UA Console Mixer Application

Universal Audio’s audio interface & UAD-2 powered plug-in platform has steadily taken the music production world by storm since the mid-noughties. Circuit-perfect modelling of the vintage processors we all know and love married with UA's excellent converter technology (particularly in the new Apollo X range) provides the kind of 3D depth and feel you would only expect with a rack full of hardware processors. With solutions for everyone from bedroom composers to demanding professional users, it is now possible to put together an immensely flexible and powerful dream studio “in the box” – all at an affordable price. One of the most important features of UA's audio interfaces (both Arrow and Apollo) is the ability to track through the on-board processing using their unique Unison technology. This means you get to record in real time through faithful recreations of classic mic preamps, pedals or guitar amps – allowing you to commit to a sound and not just “fix it in the mix. It’s a classic workflow in a modern package. At the heart of the UAD system is the Apollo Console. This simple mixer application makes it easy to set-up monitor and cue mix routing, making it a cinch to build complex tracking chains - all with full recall. In this feature we’re going to take a look at some of the highlights of the Console application and a few features not so obvious at first glance…

Unison™ Technology

So what is Unison™ ? Unison-enabled inputs and plug-ins (when loaded into the special slot in Apollo Console) control the input gain staging, impedance loading and various conditioning elements in the analog front-end of the Apollo. These work in (errrr...) unison with the digital processing to ensure your microphone or guitar respond just like they’re connected to the input of a Neve 1073 or Fender ’55 Tweed Deluxe. Open a Neve preamp, and the gain switches in 5dB steps, move to an API 312 / Vision channel and the gain becomes infinitely variable like a pot, with a different input impedance and headroom model. Change jack inputs on a Fender guitar amp and the drive into the “tubes” is different, as is the sparkle produced by your passive guitar’s pickups. Your mics (especially dynamics / ribbons) will react differently to each Unison-enabled preamp - specifically transient response or speed. Your guitar will feel a little different under the finger tips. Push and hold the PREAMP switch (Twin MkII) or GAIN encoder (Apollo rack) and you enter GAIN STAGE mode that lets you control up to 3 sources of gain & saturation on a Unison plug-in. Conveniently a dot moves between ORANGE, AMBER and GREEN in the plug-in and on the encoder LED ring on front of the Apollo to show you what you are controlling. Anything you load into the Unison slot will always be recorded due to its location in the internal signal path, but you also have 4 insert slots to continue processing your source if desired, and these can be placed (optionally per channel) into the monitor or record path. For example, using an Apollo X8P – you can record drums with your favourite blend of preamp direct to 2” Oxide tape, all without carrying more than 1RU of equipment and for a fraction of the cost of the hardware. In a nutshell, Unison is about creating believable tone and feel with authentic user experience, and what’s more, it’s unique to Universal Audio interfaces.

Recording Aux FX Channels

Another elegant, but often overlooked feature of the Apollo Console, is the ability to record various input streams via the user-editable driver I/O assignment. So, you have your input coming in via channel 1; you’ve setup a killer chain with a Manley Voxbox, 1176LN Rev. E, API 550A and Oxide Tape… you’re committing to the sound and printing the 3 inserts because well, why not? Your vocalist needs some reverb and delay in the monitor mix, so you set-up an AMS RMX16 reverb on AUX 1 and Korg SDD-3000 delay on AUX 2. You can hear them in the control room, your artist has the FX sent to their cans, and you are monitoring through the Apollo Console for near-zero latency feel & comfort. You play your first take back. It sounds fantastic, but dry because you only recorded input 1 - the FX are fed by the live input within Apollo Console, and not present on DAW playback. You can create some internal send buses in your session, copy the RMX16 / SDD-3000 settings over and run them as host plug-ins for playback… a cool option - and UA have a helpful copy & paste menu at the bottom of each plug-in window to allow moving settings between Console and DAW easily… However, you can instead record the AUX channels directly from the Apollo driver. Each vocal pass now gets recorded dry (Input 1) with 100% wet reverb (AUX 1) and delay (AUX 2) recorded alongside. Place these 3 channels in a DAW group and it’s like arming, punching & editing on one channel. It can be helpful to leave the group permanently record-ready and muted to avoid clashing with Apollo Console monitoring (or disable software monitoring in the DAW if required). You can easily adjust the wet/dry balance on playback, perform the FX on the way-in, create reverse reverbs in seconds simply by editing the recorded audio. It’s efficient and creative. The next day you’re doing guitars, and want to create some swirling textures with tape echo. Record the amp dry on the main channel to give you a point to return to if you need, but print and perform through the AUX channel. It’s a little thing, but such an awesome feature. Defaults on Apollo X8P for example are inputs 27-28 (AUX 1) and 29-30 (AUX 2) but you can assign them to whichever driver input number you need, even when using the baby Arrow! Just be sure to quit your DAW whilst making changes to the I/O MATRIX panel in the Apollo Console SETTINGS menu - then save your I/O routing and restart the DAW to pick up the changes. Pro Tools users, you can reset to defaults and also save a .pio for later after any changes.

Flexible Routing Customisation

Staying with the I/O routing and settings panel for a moment, the ability to reconfigure the driver assignments is fantastic. It’s common these days to use Hardware Inserts, ya know – for all that sexy outboard gear you buy from KMR… For Pro Tools users, these have to use matching send / return channel numbers in order to work. Logic users – you have it easy, as you can “cross-patch” using the I/O plug-in to and from any output and input, so this tip is largely for PT people. In order to use hardware inserts with Pro Tools and Apollo, create a custom I/O map by offsetting the Line Inputs by 2 channels, so input / output pairs skip the first two Apollo Monitor outputs. Simply click on the device row in the Apollo Console Settings panel to assign I/O. Once set-up, Apollo reports correct input delay compensation values to Pro Tools, so hardware inserts work as you’d expect - in-phase! Be sure to re-boot Pro Tools after any I/O map changes, and this also includes changes to Apollo Input Delay Compensation and Sample Rate settings as PT needs to see the new values on launch to ensure hardware inserts remain in-phase. Additionally, by using the assignable I/O routing in multi-unit Apollo rigs, it’s also possible to ensure all mic inputs from multiple interfaces show up as consecutive DAW inputs 1-26 for example. So much nicer than other units that require you to remember to skip unused inputs and use non-linear numbering assignments. It’s the small things. For Pro Tools users, configuring the maximum available 32 ins and outs as you need is also great. You might want 32 analogue I/O available for summing or hybrid mixing, but then move to a different I/O setup with AES I/O enabled for mastering AD/DA, or all preamps consecutively arranged for tracking. This is so easy to achieve with the Apollo and makes for great flexibility.

Session Recall & Sync

Another great feature is the ability to recall the entire Apollo Console from your DAW session. You’ve done all that hard work to build the perfect front-end using Unison™ preamps, UAD inserts and AUX FX. You’re busy, you have multiple clients and need to flip-flop between songs. Insert the Console Recall plug-in into your DAW session and select SYNC. You must save the DAW project and at that moment, Console settings are stored into your DAW file via the plug-in. Upon re-opening of the project, Apollo Console will just come back just how it was set when you saved the SYNC! Just place one instance in your session somewhere (master fader is sensible). All the console processing, mix balances, input gains and 48V Phantom Power status recall with your DAW project. You’ll even get warning messages before Phantom Power is enabled in case you’ve connected some fragile mics in the meantime, and since UAD v9.9 – console channel label names are also saved within recall files! Talkback / Session Comms Since the arrival of Apollo Twin MkII and now the Apollo X range – UA have included a built-in omni-directional talkback mic hidden behind a little hole in the front panel. You can use this mic to slate take comments, chat to your talent (routable to each CUE bus individually) or record / sample ideas, as it’s available as an input source in the driver. What’s also cool is that the Talkback channel has 4 inserts available for UAD processing. Adding a Precision Limiter or compressor here can be awesome to ensure everyone in the control room is heard without blowing out your talents hearing if someone shouts into the mic! Or you could use the inserts more creatively… Also when a Twin MkII is connected to an Apollo X in an expanded system, the desktop unit takes over as talkback master, allowing you to locate the Apollo X racks in a machine room, or less ergonomically required position.

Expandable System

Finally, the coolest feature of the UA platform is the expandability. 6 devices can be daisy-chained over Thunderbolt on macOS or Windows 10, with up to 4 Apollo interfaces and 2 other devices. For example, you could start with an Apollo Twin MkII (writing / travel) and add three Apollo X8P racks for 26 total Unison™ mic preamps (a serious tracking rig). Thus growing into a system that has full monitor control, enough mic inputs to replace a console, amazing conversion and 22 cores of UAD processing. You can still add two more Thunderbolt Satellite Octo’s to this, creating a 38-core DSP system with enough power come mix time to make you weep! If you prefer to capture lots of synths, using multiple X16’s is an amazing way to process and monitor all of your modular collection without owning a hardware mixer, you don’t even have to record – just use it as a performance mixer with UAD processing on every line input. If you mix and produce “ITB”, check out the Apollo Twin or X6 with moderate I/O, and it’s possible to still add five more Thunderbolt Satellites for an incredibly powerful mix rig. The system grows with you, and the UA Thunderbolt driver is super stable and incredibly mature. There’s more than a few reasons why we love this system and are always happy to recommend it to our customers! Contact us @KMR for more info...