If you fully jumped into the home recording studio revolution ten years ago and haven’t added much since, you’re probably ready to upgrade your workstation. You might have been cutting edge then, but now you computer is sluggish, the DAW interface looks dated, and consider yourself lucky if your hard drive stores more than 250 MB. Mobile recording is out of the question- you’re likely tethered to a wall outlet for power. It’s a recipe for a frustrating and uninspiring recording session.
These days mobile recording has evolved so much that it’s possible to record and mix a professional-sounding track without needing a full service studio. And two forward-thinking products can immediately rejuvenate your recording setup. The Universal Audio (UA) Arrow is the latest addition to the company’s line of audio interfaces, which are revered for their build quality, stability, audio fidelity, and unparalleled state-of-the-art plug-ins. Nearly every pro studio has UA in its setup. And, as most DAW companies recommend recording to external hard drives, it’s necessary to have one that’s stable, fast and reliable. This year, OWC, a leader in this area, has specifically addressed the needs of recording musicians with the introduction of the OWC Envoy Pro EX line of SSD external hard drives.
Paired together side by side, the Arrow and Envoy take up less space than your accompanying 13” computer. With just these three items, a pair of headphones and a microphone, you have a fully pro, portable studio that fits into a medium-sized backpack. That’s pretty crazy!
Used in conjunction with UA’s robust software eco-system, the Arrow brings you amazing audio fidelity for a ridiculously affordable price. The quality-to-price ratio is off the map, making the Arrow hipper than any other 2-channel audio interface on the market.
The Arrow is easy on the eyes, with a stylish charcoal grey look, metal chassis and solid feel. It features two combo XLR/¼” inputs, two stereo L/R outputs and a Thunderbolt 3 connection on the back. The front face of the unit has the headphone output and a ¼ Hi-Z input (which automatically disengages the back input). The top of the unit has level meters, +48v phantom power selector, a pad which lowers the db input, a polarity switch, a link input for pairing channels 1 and 2 and a level knob which controls monitor and headphone outputs.
The Arrow is a Thunderbolt 3-only device—it runs on the latest generation of Macs and Windows. The beauty of this is it is bus-powered, which means you don’t need any external cables or wall warts; it plugs directly into the Thunderbolt 3 input on your Mac or PC. One cable from the Arrow to your computer, two speaker cables out (or your headphones), and, along with your mic or instrument cables, that’s it! There are no breakaway cables—a huge plus. Just keep in mind that, keeping with UA’s forward-thinking approach, the Arrow is not backward-compatible—you can’t run it on older, Thunderbolt 2 computers. You also have to make sure to use a Thunderbolt 3 cable to connect the Arrow, which is tricky, as USB-C 3.1 cables look the same as Thunderbolt 3 cables, but are, in fact, different.
Another key feature of the Arrow is the software package that is bundled with the hardware unit. A suite of 14 stellar UAD plug-ins, including emulations of the most iconic processors and amps such as the 1176 and LA2A compressors, 610-B preamp, Pultec EQs and Marshall Plexi amp emulation can help take your recordings to the next level.
After putting it through its paces, I can say unequivocally that the Arrow is one hell of a unit. The preamp and converters are top-notch, especially at this price point. Vocals and guitars record clean and warm. I also had no problem with latency while recording on Pro Tools 2018.4 at buffer sizes of 64 or 128 samples on a 2017 Macbook Pro. All in all, it’s a very intuitive, high-quality package that can take any singer-songwriter’s demos to the next level.
All of the Envoy series are SSD drives, which means there are no moving parts and a much lesser chance of a surprise hard drive failure. And like the Arrow, the Envoy is portable, ruggedly built and looks sharp. It’s also ridiculously fast, with a transfer speed up to 1800 MB/s, working seamlessly with the computer/Arrow setup to create a hassle-free recording experience. And for the pro engineer, the Envoy proves to be invaluable for transferring session files from the recording studio to the editing room to the mix studio.
My only quibble with the unit is minor- the integrated cable is a little short. It’s designed for sitting flat on a table next to your computer, but if your laptop is elevated on a stand, the hard drive might dangle, stressing the cable.
Both the Universal Audio Arrow and OWC Envoy Pro Ex work exceptionally well independent of each other. But paired together with a new state-of-the-art computer you’ll be on the cutting edge for years to come.
Universal Audio Arrow: $499
OWC Envoy Pro EX
250 GB: $249.99
500 GB: $349.99
1 TB: $499.99