BRING IT >The NUO4 includes all of the features and connection points one would expect from a higher-end DJ mixer. Each of the four channels includes both line and phono inputs; also present are a phantom-powered mic input, additional RCA inputs and more.
Spain-based Ecler has a long-established reputation as a manufacturer of high-quality mixing consoles (most notable, its MAC line). Recently, the company made its mark internationally with the HAK line of mixers aimed at turntablist DJs. These mixers were quickly accepted as worthy competitors to Vestax, Rane, Stanton and Numark. With the new NUO line, Ecler focuses on the general DJ market, offering high-quality mixers that include some innovative features. I had a chance to play with the NUO4, one of the first DJ-oriented mixers to include a MIDI controller. Not being a user of MIDI, I thought that its inclusion in a DJ mixer was strange. When I discovered that the purpose was to allow integration with software packages like Ableton Live and Native Instruments Traktor, I was curious. Then, when I used it for the first time, I was sold.
Out of the box, the NUO4 looks like a well-made 4-channel mixer. Its high-quality matte black finish contrasts with a central silver plastic strip surrounding a fifth column of MIDI controls. The rotary knobs on each channel are notable for their oversized, finger-friendly design — Ecler clearly thought about ergonomics. And despite a large number of knobs, buttons and switches, the layout is intuitive. The mixer measures 14.5 by 12.5 by 3.1 inches and sits nicely at standard turntable height. The back panel offers a well-laid-out collection of input and output connectors. Annoyingly, however, the phono ground connectors are quite far away from two of the phono inputs, posing a bit of a stretch for turntables with the ground connector integrated into the phono cable.
At 11.8 pounds, the mixer is not overly heavy considering that it includes an integrated power supply (an excellent feature, as I hate big power bricks) and uses a standard, easily replaceable power cord. The power supply is capable of auto-switching from 90 to 264 VAC. Essentially, you can plug it in anywhere in the world without worrying about damaging your precious gear.
The NUO4 allows for the connection of a variety of devices. All of the four main channels feature both phono and H-Line inputs. H-Line (or high line) inputs are 0dBV sensitivity line-level inputs that are best suited to devices like CD players and DAT machines. The additional available inputs break down as follows: Input 1 adds an L-Line (low line) input, a -10dBV sensitivity connection best for tape players, tuners and other similar devices; Inputs 2 and 3 feature a MIDI setting that switches each input to be part of the MIDI output circuitry; Input 4 includes a mic input (via a traditional XLR connector) that features a 20dB attenuation switch as well as optional phantom power for powering condenser mics (phantom power is on by default but can be disabled by removing a jumper from a board inside the mixer); Input 5 is labeled Computer and features two pairs of RCA connectors for audio input from a computer. The primary input is rated at a sensitivity of -10 dB, with a second 0dB sensitivity input allowing an additional computer input for use with the mixer's monitoring circuitry.
The NUO4 has two master outputs: a pair of balanced XLR connectors designed to feed a P.A. system and a pair of unbalanced RCA connectors designed to hook up to a DJ-booth monitor. An additional Recording Output RCA pair is included for connecting external recording devices. As an added bonus, the mixer includes two ¼-inch headphone output jacks that are controllable with a single volume knob.
Finally, the mixer features four RCA connectors as part of an effects loop that can be assigned to each of the four main inputs through a level adjust (labeled FX Send). The level adjustment works some-what like a wet/dry mix. Boosting the FX Send adds the effects loop's signal to the signal for that input. Unlike a traditional wet/dry mix, this unfortunately boosts the resulting output level, thus requiring an additional adjustment to the input's master-fader level. This limits the ability to quickly drop the effect in and out during a live performance. Furthermore, this design allows, at most, only a 50/50 wet/dry mix for the effect on any channel. Despite these drawbacks, the effects loop is a nice addition, and each input can be separately adjusted with differing levels of effect as well as configured to have the effect added pre- or post-fader.
The top panel's layout is similar to that of most mixers on the market: The bottom third houses the main input faders, the crossfader and the headphone and monitor adjustment knobs, and the top two-thirds features the various input controls, the MIDI controller section and the primary output controls. A pair of 12-segment VU meters displays the left and right output level, and a single 12-segment VU meter represents the summed PFL (pre-fader listening), or cue level. The cue can be individually turned on or off for each input with a PFL button. This controls both the PFL meter display and the cue monitor, the level of which is adjustable via the Monitor knob.
The four main input faders are 60mm VCAs, with a fifth rotary knob to control the computer signal's level. The faders have a smooth, low-friction movement that performs well during scratches. Ecler claims that its faders have a lifetime of more than 4 million operations. Each of the four main inputs features an input-selector switch and a Gain knob as well as rotary knobs for separately adjusting the treble, mid and bass levels of each input. The Bass and Treble knobs can adjust from +10 to -30 dB, the Mid from +10 to -25 dB. Turning all three knobs down kills the signal. Each input also features a separate bass-kill switch for immediately cutting the bass frequencies, handy for on-the-fly mixing. Each input also features a three-way switch for assigning the input to either the crossfader's left or right side or bypassing the crossfader altogether. More than one input can be assigned to either side of the crossfader, allowing for some excellent mixing options.
The front plate features a Normal/Reverse switch to change the direction of the fader control (fader down equals volume down, or fader down equals volume up) as well as a rotary knob for adjusting the fader curve (cut-in time). This setting applies to faders 1 and 4 because faders 2 and 3 are MIDI faders and cannot use this feature. A nice addition would be individual fader control, allowing you to set one fader to gradual fade and another to an abrupt cut-in. Furthermore, at its steepest setting, the cut-in is just not abrupt enough. Almost 10 mm of travel is required to go from off to full on, which is not sharp enough for most scratch DJs and pales in comparison to the adjustments available for the NUO4's crossfader.
SIDE TO SIDE
The crossfader is a 45mm version of the Ecler VCA fader. For additional cost, it can be swapped for the Ecler Eternal fader — a magnetic fader similar to that of the Rane TTM 56 that Ecler claims will last 20 million operations. The Eternal is standard on the NUO5 and the HAK360, and it would have been nice to see it included with this mixer, as well. Despite this omission, the VCA crossfader performs admirably and feels quite good during advanced scratch techniques. Cut-in adjustments for the crossfader are located on the front of the mixer and allow for wonderful amounts of control of the crossfader's behavior. Along with the now-ubiquitous hamster switch (reversing the crossfader direction) is a Switch/Fade switch that changes the crossfader curve from progressive to square, with a rotary knob to fine-tune things further. Finally, there is a small Cut In (time) knob that lets you move the cut-in point closer or farther from the crossfader's extremes.
Curiously, the manual states that the Cut In adjustment will only work if the mixer is equipped with the Eternal fader; however, I was able to make it work with the standard VCA crossfader. Using the various adjustments, I was able to configure the mixer with an almost immediate cut-in and locate it close enough to the crossfader's left and right extreme that only 1 mm of travel saw the volume level go from full off to full on. Turntablists will love this feature.
GET READY FOR MIDI
The most exciting and innovative feature of the NUO4 is its MIDI Control section. Use of the MIDI features requires a computer capable of running Windows XP/2000 or Mac OS X. The mixer can be connected to a PC via a standard 5-pin MIDI cable or USB. The NUO4 features a central column of dedicated MIDI controls. This includes four rotary control knobs that also act as switches when clicked, as well as four buttons — 12 controls in all. Each of these controls can be programmed to send as many as three different MIDI messages (by using the three-way Layout switch), allowing for multiple uses of each control. An additional A/B Tap button doubles this with the intention that position A controls the left-hand virtual deck in a program like Traktor and position B controls the right-hand virtual deck.
Furthermore, when set to MIDI Control, Inputs 2 and 3 also send MIDI signals through the Gain and EQ controls as well as the main fader and crossfader. In total, 89 separate MIDI messages can be sent from the mixer, allowing for some interesting fun when used with MIDI-capable software.
Connecting the mixer to your computer requires the installation of a driver (provided on CD or downloadable from the Ecler Website). Once the driver is installed, your computer will recognize the NUO4 as an Ecler USB MIDI device. An additional install of the intuitive Control4Lab software allows you to change, load and save the MIDI channel and note settings for each MIDI control through an onscreen virtual NUO4. This allows you to create custom settings per software package.
The silver plastic cover that surrounds the MIDI controls is a removable magnetic plate with small see-through plastic windows that enable you to print your own labels for each of the controls (a template is provided on the CD). This is a nifty idea, but in reality, the small window size coupled with the silver background of the removable plate made reading the labels in low light fairly difficult.
I tested the MIDI features of the NUO4 with the Traktor 2.6 demo, an application I had yet to use. After familiarizing myself with the basic operation of Traktor, I configured it to accept MIDI input from the NUO4. (You have to activate the Ecler NUO4 In entry in the MIDI tab of Traktor's setup dialog.) Using the NUO4's default Traktor settings, I found the controls to be fairly intuitive. For example, the rotary knobs can be used to select and load songs, and the buttons can be used to play, cue, sync and loop them once loaded. Flip the three-way Layout switch to Layout 2, and you can control some of Traktor's built-in effects. Additionally, when Inputs 2 and 3 are set to MIDI, their EQ, gain and fader settings directly adjust the equivalent controls in Traktor. After a little time, I was able to load instrumental tracks in Traktor, sync and loop them, and then scratch vinyl samples over the top using Inputs 1 and 4 — all from the comfort of my mixer, with no keyboard or mouse required! Furthermore, the MIDI controls synched perfectly with the software, with no noticeable delay.
I am certain I only scratched the surface of what this mixer can do, especially given that each MIDI signal can be configured to control any of Traktor's features through the Control4Lab software and the Traktor MIDI Settings dialog. Furthermore, the options that this mixer offers when used with real-time music-production tools like Ableton Live boggle the mind. Ecler has hit on a winner with its integrated MIDI Control section, affording new levels of software control to advanced performance DJs — all direct from the mixer. Pairing this mixer with Stanton FinalScratch and the Traktor software could result in an excellent scratchable, computer-based music-performance and production setup — and I'm sure the industry is going to see more products like this in the near future.
The NUO4 is clearly a well-designed, high-quality piece of equipment, and I have every confidence that it can stand up to the rigors of road life. With innovative new MIDI features that allow superb software integration, the NUO4 sets a new standard for the features that users can expect from a high-end DJ mixer. The bar has been raised.
ECLER (DIST. BY SOUNDWERKS AUDIO)
NUO4 > $749
Pros: MIDI controller and software integration. Crossfader cut-in adjustment. Highly configurable setup. Integrated power supply and standard power cable.
Cons: Fader-curve adjustment setting for main faders. Oddly placed phono ground. Readability of MIDI Control labels.