Apogee enter the software guitar-amp controller fray promising tight integration with all things Apple...
Apogee need no introduction as manufacturers of high‑spec converters and audio interfaces, but since they cosied up with Apple, they've also come out with some seriously attractive devices aimed at the home-studio musician. We've seen the Duet audio interface, the One interface with its built‑in mic, and now we have the Gio, a combined USB (and USB‑powered) interface and controller for the guitar player working with Logic Studio 9, Main Stage 2 or Garage Band 09. The Gio also works as an interface with other DAWs that support Core Audio, and the switches send out MIDI data that you can map as required, but if you are using one of the Apple DAWs mentioned, there's really no setting up to do, other than selecting the Gio as the active interface and maybe adjusting input sensitivity. Sample rates of 44.1 and 48kHz are supported, at 24‑bit resolution.
Included in the box is a stereo jack to dual RCA phono cable, a 10-foot USB cable and a CD‑ROM containing driver software and a PDF User's Guide. A separate application called GioConfig is loaded during installation and allows the user to choose a response curve for the connected expression pedal that matches the popular Yamaha FC7 or Roland EV5 pedals. If you use a different expression pedal, it will still work, but there's no guarantee either of the curve choices will be exactly to your taste.
The Gio provides control over recording functions, preset changes and plug‑in bypass in Logic 9's Amp Designer and Pedalboard or the Playback and Loopback features found in Main Stage. Garage Band 09 and Logic users can use the Gio to select and control the DAW's amp and stomp-box plug‑ins and also to initiate recording, with access to all the main transport controls. Just like a traditional guitar pedalboard, individual stomp-box plug‑ins can be turned on or off during performance, or even while recording. Aside from there being no dedicated Cycle button, the transport buttons correspond to their Garage Band 09 and Logic Pro on‑screen counterparts.
As many guitar effects are stereo, and to allow playback of a stereo DAW mix, the output from the Gio is a TRS stereo jack socket capable of driving headphones, powered speakers or a power amp. It may also be fed into a guitar amp for live performance and there's a dedicated output setting for this. Again, separate phones and speaker outs would have been welcome, but I can appreciate that Apogee wanted to keep the product both simple and affordable.
The physical package is built to be perfectly at home on the floor, with its 7 x 18 x 2.5 (inches) casing, non‑slip rubber strips on the base and heavy‑duty footswitches with adequate spacing for those with wide feet. The guitar input is on the expected quarter‑inch unbalanced jack socket and has a high input impedance to match a typical guitar output. Personally, I think the product would have been more complete if it had also included a mic input for players who also sing, but as long as you're happy to overdub vocals, you could plug a separate mic preamp or mixer into the jack input.
A further jack socket provides an input for an optional expression pedal to control volume, wah‑wah or a selected effect parameter, such as delay time or modulation rate. An intuitive MIDI learn system lets you select a plug‑in control and move the pedal to automatically assign it. In Logic, you must first nominate the Gio as the desired controller, in the Control Surfaces Preferences section.
On the top surface are 12 footswitch buttons, five being the square transport controls assigned to record, play/stop, fast‑forward, rewind and return to the song start. These are clearly invaluable if both hands are busy playing guitar! Five round buttons control the stomp effects, and there are two triangular rubber switches at either side of the panel to control the Previous/Next functions. These either change the channel strip preset in Logic's Arrange window or step up and down through the presets in Amp Designer or Pedalboard, depending on which window is highlighted. All the transport buttons illuminate when operated, while the stomp buttons have rectangular windows above them, illuminated by multi‑colour LEDs. These change colour to match the colour of the Logic or Garage Band stomp box they control and dim when the effect is bypassed — very sophisticated! The USB socket is on the rear panel, along with the input, output and expression‑pedal jack sockets.
Once it's connected and the software installed, the Gio appears in the list of available user interfaces as a one‑in, two‑out device. It can be used alongside other hardware or, if the application supports it, can be used only as the input while other hardware handles the output. For example, running Logic Pro 9, I set the Gio as the input device and my M‑Audio Profire 2626 as the output, and it worked fine. There was also no conflict with my Logic Control setup: the Gio appeared automatically in the Controller Preferences window and did its thing with no further intervention. The latest Garage Band version also has support for the Apogee Gio built in.
The Gio works so seamlessly that there's almost nothing to say, other than that it does exactly what's claimed of it with no fuss. The audio quality is what we've come to expect of Apogee, though you need to adjust input sensitivity to match the output from your guitar for best results. This is achieved via a software control panel directly accessed within Garage Band or in Logic from the Options / Audio menu. This same panel also lets you adjust the output level and decide whether the output should feed headphones/line or an instrument amp. A control panel that appeared in the Dock might have been a more friendly option, though, ideally incorporating GioConfig, especially for those swapping between applications and/or instruments.
The Gio is a very solidly built piece of hardware that benefits from the high quality of Apogee's converters. Even though I'd personally be happy to pay a little more for a unit that also sported a mic input, the Gio does what it does well and with the minimum of fuss. I'd have liked to see the two control panels merged into one and located in the dock, but that's really not a deal‑breaker. Though the Gio can be made to work with other Mac‑hosted DAWs, clearly the greatest benefit is to users of Apple's own audio software, as here the Gio really does provide a plug-and-play solution with perfect integration. Whether you need this degree of control in the studio depends very much on how you work, but I can see the attraction of the hands‑free approach. It's also ideal for live performance. If you're a Mac‑using guitar player working with Logic, Garage Band or Main Stage, the Gio has much to commend it.
Generic floor controllers have been available for some time, but this dedicated approach minimises setup headaches. Companies such as IK Multimedia, Waves and Native Instruments also make hardware controllers specifically to match their own guitar amp and effect software, so in part the choice comes down to whether you want to use Apple's guitar amp/effect software or you prefer to use a third‑party product.