Universal Audio has been at the forefront of audio recording technology since the 1950s. The current incarnation of the company, under the helm of founder Bill Putman Sr.’s sons Jim and Bill Jr., is dedicated to reproducing classic analog recording equipment for the digital age. For a drummer looking to build a project studio, UA offers the Apollo 8P Thunderbolt audio interface, which includes eight Unison mic preamps, a bundle of high-powered UAD effects plug-ins, and QUAD Core zero-latency onboard processing. The 8P can also cascade with up to four other 8Ps for additional mic inputs.

At First Glance

On the surface, the Apollo 8P looks like a typical high-end audio interface. There’s a large preamp gain knob on the front panel, two quarter-inch input jacks, an LED screen depicting the input level of each channel, and buttons for channel select, phantom power, phase reversal, -20dB pad, and high-pass filter. The back panel has two ADAT inputs, two ADAT outputs, two Thunderbolt connections, word clock in/out, eight line-level outputs, and eight XLR inputs for microphones. The physical components of the Apollo 8P are sturdy and sleek, but the real power of this interface lies in what’s hiding under the hood.

UAD-2 QUAD Core DSP Acceleration

The biggest strength of the Apollo 8P is the onboard processor that allows UA to integrate its analog-modeling plug-in software with the hardware so that you treat the microphone signal with preamp simulators, compressors, EQs, and other effects on the way into the recording software on your computer. Not only does this allow you to carve out a more mix-ready sound from your drums before recording them to disk, but the QUAD Core DSP also takes on the processing demands of those plug-ins so your computer can run more efficiently. All of the individual channel adjustments for the inputs on the Apollo 8P, including the application of effects and the Unison mic-pre simulators, is controlled via UA’s own intuitive Console app (shown below).

Unison Analog Emulation

Anyone who’s spent time in a professional recording studio or has flirted with the idea of building a project studio at home has likely heard or read lore about how important it is to have classic analog compressors and mic preamps in order to capture a high-end sound. The problem is that those pieces of hardware are often priced well beyond the start-up budget of a drummer looking to lay down tracks for YouTube videos or independent recording projects.

To bridge the divide between major recording studios and cost-conscious home-studio owners, UAD developed what it calls Unison technology, which allows you to convert the clean, precise sound of the Apollo mic preamps into near-exact replications of revered models by Neve, SSL, API, Manley, and UA. The 8P comes with a Unison version of UA’s classic 610-B channel strip, which I found to be a great choice when I wanted to get a fatter, grittier, and more vintage tone from the Apollo. The other Unison channel strips can be downloaded from the company’s website for about $200 each, which is a fraction of what it would cost to purchase an analog version.

The Rest of the Effects

The Apollo 8P also comes with great-sounding reproductions of Fairchild 670, Teletronix LA-2A, and UA 1176SE/LN compressors, Pultec MEQ-5 and EQP-1A equalizers, the high-powered Precision Mix Rack collection, the UA Precision Enhancer Hz for beefing up low-end frequencies, a Raw distortion stomp box, Softube guitar amplifier simulators, and the natural-sounding RealVerb Pro reverb.

An Instant Upgrade

If you’re in the market for a powerful, professional-grade interface with incredible flexibility and expandability, the Apollo 8P is about as good as it gets. When comparing recordings we made of drums using the 8P to those we made with an older unit from another company, the difference was astounding. The 8P made the spot mics on the drums sound fatter, punchier, and more realistic, the overheads had a lot more detail and clarity, and the room mics conveyed the distance and depth of the studio in a much more three-dimensional way.

When we started messing around with applying effects and Unison preamp plug-ins to each channel within the Console app, we were completely blown away with what the 8P can do. Being able to dial in the exact sounds we were looking for, which could range from clean and simple to ultra-processed and funky, and having those sounds be baked directly within the audio files as they were recorded, was a game changer. Since no additional plug-ins had to be applied within the DAW, our computer worked more efficiently, and the tracks sounded mix-ready without any further tweaks.

The Apollo 8P isn’t a cheap interface; it costs around $2,000. But given that it includes eight world-class mic preamps, has its own processor to prevent overworking your computer, and comes with a handful of great-sounding digital reproductions of some of the most legendary effects processors in the history of recorded music, we feel that it’s worth every penny…and then some.