Submitted June 29, 2015 by Kurt N in Robbinsdale, MN
"Powerful synthesizer which greatly exceeded my expectations."
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I bought this primarily for the flexible vocoding and vocal tune capabilities. What I didn't expect was a very powerful synthesizer. One I started working through the parameters, I realized I have one very serious instrument on my hands. If I could design a synth myself from scratch, this would be it.
It's digital and that's apparent in some of the presets. The raw waveforms sound cleaner than those on an analog synthesizer. It's capable of producing very warm sounds with the right programming. I was able to program identical patches on this and my Moog Sub 37, played them side by side and had trouble telling the difference. You can create which cover the full spectrum of what's possible with a "modular" synthesizer. It behaves like a modular system because of it's extensive modulation matrix.
First and foremost is the voice architecture. They thought of everything and even a few things I wouldn't have thought of. The control panel is simple and very well thought out. You get plenty of real time control with the filter and performance knobs. the octave and animate buttons add more live performance capabilities. I use the animate pads a lot more than I thought I would. The LCD screen is large and easy to read. One tip I want to pass along addresses the fact that it doesn't run on batteries. It's not true! you have the option of USB power. Simply get a portable USB power supply with a minimum 1A output, plug it in and you're good to go. If you don't want the power supply sitting loose, put a piece of Velcro on it, a piece on the MiniNova, attach. Voila, instant battery compartment! My one nit pick on features is that the instrument isn't multitimbral. It can only do one sound at a time. That sound can be very complex and can change from one end of the keyboard to the other, but you can't do layers and splits. When working with a sequencer, you are limited to one channel and one sound. This is the only major feature I felt should have been present and wasn't. One other thing worth mentioning is that it doesn't put audio out over USB. It send and receives MIDI data only. Not a big deal for me. I have it plugged in to a USB mixer in my studio.
Ease of Use
Programming is very easy if you have a fundamental understanding of synthesis. If you don't, there's a good tutorial in the instruction manual. To program from the panel, repeated presses of the menu button moves you through the menu hierarchy. The left/right buttons take you through the individual parameters. Once you get used to this somewhat fiddly process, navigation is pretty easy. You go to the parameter you want, use the data knob to dial in values and you can listen to the changes in real time. A software editor is included which shows you a lot of parameters all at one and allows you to jump quickly between them. I use both the editor and the control panel when I'm creating a program. The editor has to opened as a plug in within a DAW program. This another nit pick I have. It would be nice to have a stand alone version of it. The DAW setup is a bit clunky and I had trouble setting it up, but I finally got it working. If you don't have DAW software on your computer, fear not. The MiniNova comes with Ableton Live Light, which is a free download when you register the instrument. You can use this DAW for your editor. Be sure to get all of the downloads. You'll need the system folder, editor/librarian and Ableton downloads for this. You will need to configure the MiniNova as a plug in within Ableton. Instructions for this are on the Novation website. The MiniNova comes with 256 presets and 128 blank memory locations. New programs can be written to any memory location including the presets as long as memory protect is turned off in the global menu.
It appears to be very well made. Even though the size and appearance make it look like a toy, the construction is solid and the controls are sturdy. The select switch for the performance matrix feels a bit flimsy, but not enough to concern me. I think this instrument will hold up well on the road as ling as it's protected and handled properly. I have mixed feelings about the mini keyboard. It keeps the footprint of the instrument small and is quite playable unless you are doing complex arpeggio and chord combinations. I tend to play it a lot via MIDI from a larger keyboard.
As far as the value goes let me put it like this. If you were to take the voice architecture of this instrument and implement it as an analog synthesizer with separate controls for each function, you have an instrument with would cost well into five figures. I know there are other competing mini synths near this price point, but I can't get over how perfectly thought out this is and the fantastic sound quality it has.
This is my first experience with Novation so I haven't had to contact customer service. The registration and free download process went without a hitch.
The Wow Factor
This instrument is extremely appealing. I could make good music without it, but working with a synthesizer which has what I consider near perfect voice architecture is a real joy. It makes me regret not buying a Super Nova when they were available back in the day.
41+ years experience in electronic music. Former professional, currently hobbyist.
Pop, jazz, classical, experimental, EDM
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