Novation Nio 24 News: Gordon is the bass player in Bloc Party who are very much the kings of indie rock, having scored the NME Album Of The Year with their debut album Silent Alarm and a UK number 2 and US top 20 with the follow up, 2007’s A Weekend In The City. As they begin work on their third album Moakes is keen to get to grips with some new recording technology and share his thoughts with the world. Bloc Party’s Gordon Moakes tells us why he uses the Nio 2/4 USB audio interface.
“For my recording needs I’ve been after something really portable with straightforward controls and a quick way to get sounds up and running. I am anything but a sound geek: in fact I am a sound engineer’s worst nightmare: a musician. Only joking! But now I know the difference between XLR, headphone socket and midi (and it took a while), I’m ready to start playing around on my own with a computer and a guitar. If I’m doing stuff on the fly, and I’m talking tour buses and kitchen tables here, I’m not interested in waiting two hours while somebody connects a bundle of cables into some complicated looking units. I just want to plug in and start playing”
“Okay, first things first. I need to plug in the Nio 24 and get it up and running. This is as simple as connecting it to your laptop’s USB slot. I’m using it with Ableton Live, also in the spirit of ease and speed. As a band, we use ProTools and Logic in the studio, and they’re both great tools, but I’ve been using Live at home after giving it a trial run and realising that I could be recording and arranging parts pretty much instantly, without having to spend two weeks reading the manual first. It seems set up so that you learn as you go. It took me less than half an hour to program in a beat, loop it, and arm a track ready for a guitar part. Simple!”
“The inputs on the Nio24 are self-explanatory. You can plug in a guitar and a mic and have one, the other or both armed for recording. With Live, the easiest way seems to be to use the nio as both your input and output audio source, and route the output on to your monitors or headphones. This way what I play or sing will be coming out of the same hole as whatever I’ve already got playing in Live. When using mics of course, headphones are safer. Now, you could play a guitar with your own pedal set-up straight into the nio, or there’s nioFxRack (these kind of things always have compound titles with capital letters in the middle of them I find). The nioFxRack is basically a digital pedal and effects rack that comes with the 2/4. You can easily get a crunchy guitar, or a bit of reverb or chorus going, whatever retro tones float your boat. What you might want spend a little time doing is getting a balance you like on the nio box. You’ve got input and output levels to play with and on top of that a monitor mix, so you can control the level of what you’re playing against what’s already recorded.”
“I’m going to start in my area of speciality: where else but in the bass place? Doing justice to the sound of the bass guitar is one of the hardest things to get right whatever you’re recording, whether it be tin-pot little demos or your shiny new multi-million pound major-label debut. How do you get it to sound crunchy, ominous, crackling with energy and yet still retain that bowel-rumbling intensity that is so important to carry the weight, the heart, the balls of a recording? This is really my ongoing quest, my Holy Grail in many ways, so it’s something I’m keen to explore with the nio 2/4.”
“Obviously I can’t expect to reproduce the sound of my beloved Ashdown double 8×10 cab rig going through something as teeny-weeny as the nio, but there are some things I can do to compensate, or at least ways to explore alternatives. This, like many things when it comes to recording, is really about trial and error. Or more accurately for me, seeing what you can get away with before things start blowing up.”
“I never use a pick live, but I’ve had to concede without the sheer blow-your-head-off amp power of my live set-up sometimes you can’t always get the same definition and attack at a more modest volume with just fingertips. A pick gives the option of an extra edge of definition which can make all the difference going into your laptop. It depends what kind of sound you’re going for. The sound I’ve perfected over our first couple of records is quite a clean sound, with bite, but one that relies on a fair bit of subtlety that comes from the tips of my fingers. Now I’m trying out quite a caustic, distorted sound and also some more synthetic sounds, so the pick brings an interesting clank to the tone.”
“I’m using one of my trusty spare Fender Precision basses, the powerhouse of the bass world - now and always my model of choice. I could do another column about that, but for now let’s just say it’s the sturdiest (boy it needs to be with the thrashing I give the thing), most reliable of guitars and I think it kind of understands me. I should point out however that I think being a trainspotter about models of guitar isn’t necessarily the key to getting a sound that you like when recording in this way: in my view the nio is versatile enough to get something workable whatever you plug into it. It might need a bit tweaking, but that’s the skill of recording like this. After all, it’s not about replicating a bass sound you’ve already got, it’s about building something out of nothing. The ‘x’ factor might be a particular guitar for you, but for me it’s about the challenge of creating something unique. The trashier the guitar, the bigger the challenge, right?”
“So what are you options for sound? Well, here’s where you have to start playing around with nioFxRack. The default sounds are as good as any place to start. ‘Bass Fat’ was a decent kick-off for my needs, but by accident I ended up on ‘Guitar Clean Jazz’ which doesn’t sound too auspicious but turns out to be chunky with a nice edge to it. For levels going into the nio, I find you have to be fairly careful with clipping on bass (it’s not quite so key with guitar sounds), but as a rule, the dirtier the noise you’re after the more free-and-easy you can be with clipping. As I said before, trial and error is key. Push it, see what happens. Hit things at random. It’s not very scientific, but if you don’t allow yourself a margin for experimentation then you never discover anything with these kind of tools. To be honest with you, I don’t know what half the buttons on the ‘Focusrite Compressor’ do, but you learn by twiddling. I’m not a big fan of piling in effects and with the nioFxRack you can at least see very easily just how many modules you’re going through, since it’s designed to look like a real effects rack. Another benefit of this layout is that it’s very simple just to turn off whole effects or modules, which helps you work out what, if anything, each one is adding to the sound. If in doubt, scrap it and start again. For a basic sound, I stole the EQ settings from ‘Bass Fat’, added them to ‘Clean Jazz’ and then turned my input level on the nio down to iron out some of the pops and scrapes. Bingo!”
Novation Nio 24 uses Direct FX Technology
Nio 2/4 is Novation’s first 2 In / 4 Out mobile USB interface embracing Direct FX technology. Direct FX Technology places a host of
powerful FX at your fingertips including five of the world’s finest guitar amp models, alongside 4 distortion pedal effects. Filters, Delay, Chorus and Phaser effects have been derived from the algorithms of Novation’s synth giant, the Supernova II. The Nio24 also features new EQ, Compression, Gating and Reverb solutions from signal processing experts, Focusrite.
Nio 2|4 provides a quick flexible direct mix monitoring solution. With all key processes accessible from nio’s hardware, independent switching between three different monitor mixes is simple; the user can easily create custom mixes of two stereo computer audio streams alongside live inputs with applied effects. This, combined with four phono (RCA) outputs and flexible metering make Nio 2/4 the ideal solution for laptop DJs and live performers especially since nio24 comes bundled with Ableton Live Lite 6 and a host of other software.
Direct FX technology’s
ultra-low latency environment provides an unmatched freedom to create,
allowing all of Nio 2/4’effects to be used in real time. This same
unique environment ensures rock solid and lightening fast performance. Novation’s unique Direct FX technology places a powerful multi-effects engine within nio 24’s custom drivers. These effects rest close to the core of your computer, working independently of other software and providing powerful ultra-low latency effects for hassle-free, real time jamming and recording.
This same unique environment ensures rock-solid, lightning-fast performance, making it the ideal interface solution for home recording, live performing and DJ’ing alike; one size fits all. With two headphones outputs, the Nio 2/4 is also an ideal solution for the classroom environment. Two inputs are available for recording high quality audio into the DAW. Both an instrument jack and microphone XLR with phantom power
are provided. As an alternative to these inputs, a pair of RCA
inputs can be used to record a stereo signal, from a record deck, CD
player or synthesizer for example.
Finally, Nio 24 provides MIDI i/o and is also class
compliant with both Mac and PC, connecting via USB and bus powering
with each. In addition, the unit is class compliant with Mac OS X
With robust rock-solid hardware, flexible software and
powerful FX, the Nio 2/4 is more than just a USB interface.