UNIVERSAL AUDIO ARROW THUNDERBOLT 3 INTERFACE

Published On June 6, 2018 | Reviews, Uncategorized

It’s now easier to get yourself onto the UAD Powered Plug-in platform.

Review: Christopher Holder

Arrow is a beautiful piece of industrial design. The gun metal grey, steel chassis, the metering, the big knob; it’s all solid. It’s a desirable looking piece of kit.

Think of it as a primo $700 desktop interface with great 24-bit/192k converters, and two top-draw preamps, and Arrow is already shaping up as a high-ranking wishlist item.

But we all know that’s not really where our desires truly lie. 

It’s the UAD plug-ins. These are the plug-ins that have ‘turned’ rusted-on, analogue die-hards; plugs that are defining the sound of top-quality commercial productions the world over.

SHARPEN UP

Arrow promises 11 UAD plug-ins straight out of the box, including a Marshall Plexi Classic Guitar amp emulation, LA-2A and 1176 compression and Pultec EQ. It’s a super-tasty smorgasbord and well worth Arrow’s price of admission. 

The plugs are selected for Arrow’s bus-powered ‘record anywhere’ ethos. Namely, there’s loads of scope for applying these plug-ins during an ad hoc tracking session, not just as insert effects for the mix.

UA is marketing Arrow as the world’s first Thunderbolt 3 interface for Mac and Windows. This works fine for me as I’ve recently purchased a mid-spec’ed MacBook Pro that’s dispensed with boring real-world I/O (ethernet, USB etc) in preference to a parsimonious complement of two USB-C holes (gotta love Apple).

Getting the Arrow working was about as easy as connecting up the Thunderbolt 3 cable (not included, and still new enough to be stupidly expensive), registering the device and downloading the installer/plugs. Note: you can’t use any ol’ USB-C cable, it’s got to have the Thunderbolt logo on the connector.

THUNDER STRUCK

If you didn’t get the memo: Thunderbolt 3 uses the USB-C plug, but delivers lightning quick 40Gb/s data transfer (USB 3.1 operates at 10Gb/s, by way of comparison). Thunderbolt 3 is bi-directional with four lanes of PCIe Gen3. It appears to be a transmission protocol well suited to the world of audio.

Arrow isn’t a device that’s going to push the bleeding edge of Thunderbolt 3’s limits. It’s a 2×4 interface. We may not be talking about recording a multi-miked orchestra but the two Unison mic preamps combined with UA conversion and the real-time UAD plug-ins means you can monitor, for example, a hi-z guitar input through the Marshall guitar amp simulator at near-zero latency. It’s a delicious prospect for a bus-powered portable setup.

I pulled Preshan away from his UA Ox review to monitor his Strat through the Marshall Plexi Classic amp sim, and a RealVerb plate. I also ran him through the Pultec EQ and the Raw stomp box emulation. The SHARC DSP chip was only ticking over and Preshan reported great ‘zero’ latency playability. I had a blast toggling through the various presets on the UA plugs. Every patch sounded amazing in its own way. There were no bad sounds. These are very classy plug-ins.

Of course, you can call up your selection of UAD plugs from within your DAW. And why wouldn’t you? They’re likely to be better than anything you currently have in your arsenal.

POWERED HUNGRY

By way of a minor niggle. The installer includes all 90+ UAD plug-ins; leaving it up to you to filter the ones you’re authorised to use. Otherwise a whole host of ‘zombie’ plugs that are off limits (unless you pull the credit card out) will sit there taunting you every time you want to insert an effect. My guess is Universal Audio sees a lot of authorisation sales after midnight and half a dozen beers, when acquiring that Distressor becomes a matter of life ’n’ death!

STRAIGHT AS

Arrow is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly it’s the most cost-effective way to join the UAD Powered Plug-in family, and you’ll never look back. If you upgrade to an Apollo down the track your plug-in investment will follow you. 

Secondly, Arrow is significant for the fact it’s using Thunderbolt 3 for data and power — it’s nearly half the price of UA’s Apollo Twin and the Arrow doesn’t need a power supply. I can’t think of a more desirable and more capable interface for under a grand.  

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