GI meets up with Brent Paschke (Guitarist for The Neptunes, NERD, Katy Perry, & Tricky Stewart) to decide which new system has the best sound quality for professional projects. Avid’s HD Omni w/ HD Native Thunderbolt, or UAD’s new Apollo Quad. After going back and forth on which system to purchase, GI & Brent decide to get them both and put them to the test.
-Avid HD Omni w/ HD Native Thunderbolt
-UAD Apollo Quad
-2012 Macbook Pro Retina (2.7 Quad i7, 768GB Flash Memory, 16GB Flash Ram)
-Mackie HR824 Monitors
-Beyerdynamics DT880 Headphones (250ohms)
For this shootout we weren’t interested in which unit has more channels, more processing, set up, loop back tests, or any of the other things many forums have beat to death. We simply wanted to use our ears to determine which sounded the best, and if it was Avid’s HD Omni w/ HD Native Thunderbolt that is twice the price, would it be worth the extra cash. Here’s some opinions on what we found:
UAD Apollo Quad:
UAD’s Apollo Quad is UAD’s new flagship interface with built-in DSP processing via Shark Chips for UAD’s high quality plugins. 18in/24 out, firewire or thunderbolt connectivity (via optional $500 thunderbolt card module), and high quality converters all for $2500 & not to mention pretty damn sexy! But enough of the trinkets and shiny stuff, we want to know how does this bad boy sound.
We plugged up the Apollo via Brent’s FW-Thunderbolt adaptor into his new Macbook Pro Retina and loaded up some tracks. It sounded pretty damn good! Big clear lows, highs werent harsh or over exaggerated (though upper mids seemed just a smidge forward) which is why it was probably easier to hear mid details.
Avid HD Omni w/ HD Native Thunderbolt:
Avid’s HD Omni is their smaller HD interface with monitor and headphone controls with the same converters as their HD IO. There is no onboard DSP, bajillions of IO, or any super fancy features, but as I said before, our concern is sound quality for our intended purpose.
After switching from UAD’s Apollo to the Omni and hitting play, Brent and myself both looked at each other in awe and partial disbelief. The difference for us was more than convincing. The Omni w/ HD Native TB was much more open, especially in the highs and upper mids, more realistic imaging and defined bass, and a general pleasure in listening. Our first worry was that it sounded so good, it may not be suitable in showing all the flaws in tracks for mixing, so we loaded up some songs that we new could have been better mix or mastering wise. What we already knew to be “iffy” about the tracks was even MORE “iffy” and extremely obvious. No guessing, trying to hear better, turning up or down; simply screaming in your face “FIX ME!”. Recording Brent’s 57′ Strat and playing back was like listening to him still playing right next to me. You could practically hear “into” the guitar. The big word to describe what we heard and others are raving that makes the HD Omni different is DEPTH as in front to back details and placement.
Now you may be asking why do I keep including the “HD Native Thunderbolt” everytime I mention the HD Omni since it shouldn’t have anything to do with the sound quality; I beg to differ. The headphone amp on the HD Native Thunderbolt was something in another league. It brought my Beyerdynamic DT880′s to life and I heard things (good and bad) in our test songs that I just simply never heard before. With the DT880′s and HD Native Thunderbolt Headphone amp, over compression became obvious, distortion, clarity in highs and upper mids, delays and reverbs were so impressive we both swore that we could reach out and touch them. It was even more impressive that in drove my extremely hard to drive 250ohm DT880′s with extreme ease. This little addition is what truly sold me since I felt 100% confident I could do complete late night mixes in my DT880′s and HD Native Thunderbolt headphone amp without constantly feeling the need for speakers to check everything.
Well, while the Apollo packs quite a punch in features, processing, price, looks, and even exceptional sound quality; it still couldn’t hold up to the D/A on the Omni and HD Native TB headphone amp. The Omni and Native TB Headphone amp’s clarity, openness, imaging, and ability to clearly point out flaws had us feeling like we had (in Brent’s words) “finally arrived”.
I think if features is whats most important to you; UAD’s Apollo takes the cake, but if sound quality for both recording and playback or mixing is what you want to invest in, Avid’s HD Omni and HD Native Thunderbolt is the clear answer. And for the skeptics who say they can’t hear that much of a difference, simply get the Apollo and be happy. For the rest of us that CAN hear a major difference that actually affects our workflow and product in a positive way, we know the clear choice. Happy gear lurking!
Brent playing on stage with Ryan Leslie for his “Ups & Downs” live music video from his new album.