Jan 3

INTRODUCING THE NOVATION MININOVA

I do love Novation Synths and I am still very happy with my Supernova II rack that I picked up for a good price a few years back. More recently after a considerable break Novation got my taste buds going again with the Ultranova and now in a world of small portable gadgets and people with tiny fingers they have released the Mininova. Designed to take anywhere, fit anywhere, play anywhere and sing and no doubt compete heavily with the excellent and very popular MicroKORG.

I know before I play a note that I am going to love the sound because it has the same synth engine as the Ultranova but personally I am not a great lover of small keys. However, this is not going to stop me enjoying every minute of this fun instrument that looks as if it has all the power and oomph of a full blown synth. I think what intrigues me here is that if it is basically an Ultranova, can you manipulate the sound differently with alternative set of controls? This may be difficult to see and hear without the two synths side by side – but let’s see if we can find out. Novation say that the Mininova is an Ultranova in a performance synthesizer format. The Mininova certainly seems to have a few tricks that are not on the Ultranova.

THE BLUE MACHINE OUT OF THE BOX

Set up takes seconds and you are playing immediately. Just plug in the power wart, the Gooseneck microphone supplied and your headphones, switch on and away you go. I love the way it lights up with an excellent sized LCD showing very large text – (well done Novation), backlit midnight blue pitch and modulation wheels and eight pad buttons that do an assortment of flashing, changing colour and remaining static. It all looks very inviting, professional – looking and colourful. Despite its small keys, it does not look like a toy as some have said but provokes curiosity as to what all the controls do.

As well as the Gooseneck microphone and power supply, it comes complete with a Manual, USB cable, a Software download card and Warranty Registration card.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE?

Well it should sound like an Ultranova but on first play, I think it sounds different somehow. Maybe it’s the fact that Novation have improved on the presets and give you instantly likeable thrills. It is certainly a sound set that demonstrates the potential and capabilities. As I work my way through its 256 Preset patches, I find squelchy acid bass, raw squealing leads, Trance Arps, Dubstep wobbles, Chillout Pads, vocal noises, soundtrack effects and silky strings among other gems. It is an up to date soundset and if this is what you are looking for, you won’t find much to dislike. If you looking for true recreations of other instruments, I would say this is not for you. Someone asked me how many piano sounds there are on the Mininova. I thought this to be a strange question but oddly enough there are a few. They all have that very modern and up to date edge to them and very much what you would expect a piano sound to be in today’s music but certainly not for the purists.

The Mininova is every bit as powerful as the Ultanova with 18 voice polyphony, 3 oscillators per voice, one noise generator, two ring modulators, 14 conventional wave shapes, 36 wavetables and 20 digital waveforms, 14 filter types, 6 envelope generators per voice, five effects slots (to select from 2 Distortions, 2 Compressors, 4 Chorus/Phase effects, 2 Delays, 2 Reverbs, a Gator and an EQ), a vocoder & vocal effects processor and a flexible arpeggiator which rhythmically adds interesting nuances to enhance the sounds further. There are also 20 modulations sources per patch and 66 destinations to give you endless modulation possibilities. If you want to store your own patch creations there is a space to store 128 patches in the User area and if you want a much greater user area you can save as many as you wish on your PC.

CONTROLLING THE NOVATION MININOVA

Well you can’t help notice the smart looking Pitch and Modulation wheels backlit in blue. In use I found these to have a solid feel about them and do exactly what they should. For a synth this cheap, they certainly have a quality build about them. The Pitch wheel is setup to return to the centre position when released. To the right of these is the 37-note (3 octaves) keyboard which has velocity sensing but sadly no aftertouch. (It will be nice to review a keyboard soon that actually does have aftertouch). Interestingly and annoyingly the Mininova synth engine does respond to external aftertouch, although the keyboard itself generates only velocity.

Above the Pitch and Modulation are the Octave buttons which are also backlit to indicate how many octaves you are up or down. Each press transposes the keys up or down one octave to a maximum of four octaves. The colour displayed by the buttons indicates the number of octaves shifted as follows:- Red 1 octave, Magenta 2 octaves, Purple 3 octaves and Blue 4 octaves. If you have both LEDs off then the lowest note on the keyboard is one octave below Middle C.

Next up is the Arpeggiator which has a tempo knob, On and Latch buttons. Above this, is the Master Volume knob (which adjusts both the level control for the main audio outputs and the headphone output) and the XLR input for the included gooseneck microphone to perform some vocoder sounds.

To the right of this is a nice and clear custom 2 x 8 character LCD dot matrix display which allows you to see your patch selections. What I like about this display is that it neatly and cleverly gives you a small bar graph meter which shows you the audio input signal level, the tempo in BPM as well as other useful status information – excellent idea – well done Novation. Under this and the best place for them are the navigation buttons – ‘Page’ to step forwards and backwards between menu pages. Menu / Back button, ‘OK’ button and ‘Save’ to save alterations to patches.

The next section gives you another great design feature and a large knob to select a subset of available patches by either Type or Genre. There is also an ‘All’ selection so that you can browse through patches sequentially. What a great idea which gets another thumbs up from me. There is an added bonus of a ‘Sort’ switch so you can organise your patches sequentially or alphabetically by patch name. I hope some of the other keyboard manufacturers are taking note here of these simple but extremely effective ideas. Also in this section is a rotary encoder data wheel and patch up and down selection buttons.

Moving on we have the very large knob to take care of the filter cut-off frequency – great fun, good size and every synth should have one. To the right of this, is the Parameter Matrix which has four rotary tweak controls. The function of each control is determined by the setting of the ‘Perform Row’ selector ( a six-way switch) located to the right of the matrix. This is an easy setup as you simply select the row and tweak the relevant parameters with one of the four rotary controls.

Below the Matrix are eight backlit, multicolour, pressure-sensitive pads buttons numbered 1 to 8. You can use these in three ways, firstly to either to Animate or Arpeggiate. Well I understand ‘Arpeggiate’ but I am not sure what Novation mean by ‘Animate’. Apparently ‘Animate’ adds a pre-determined parameter change, so as you are playing you can hit one of the pads to alter or add effect to the sound. You can do some great Dub Step live playing with these; they are enormous fun and bring further enhancements to the sound patches. If you want to keep the ‘Animate’ parameter change on, there is a Hold button. The third way that the eight pads can also be used is in conjunction with the ‘Favourite’ Button to save and recall your best eight patches.

VOCALS ON THE NOVATION MININOVA

As you get carried away by all the Synth features Novation have packed in here, it is easy to forget about the fact it has some great Vocoder and “VocalTune” effects.

The 12 Band Vocoder allows you to create some really great sounds by combining synth sounds with either your voice or another instrument such as a guitar. You can produce all manner of robotic vocal sounds and effects or if you want to you can sing chords. Novation are no strangers to vocoders and have been working on them for some years now. I think this is a much better vocoder that the one you will find on the Korg’s Microkorg XL. I am trying to remember my time with the Ultranova and I know it is only guesswork but I think the Mininova’s Vocoder has some improvements over the Ultranova.

Using the Vocoder is very easy and Novation explain it simply by saying – “. First set the TYPE/GENRE control to VOCODER/VOCALTUNE, and select a patch from the available subset. Now hold one or more keys down and sing into the microphone (or play the instrument connected at EXT IN). You will hear the sound of the synth, modified by the external audio input. As with any other patch, you can alter various parameters with the FILTER and four rotary encoders in the PERFORM section, or use the Animate functions” – easy when you know how. As you work your way through the vocal patches, you will find that two of them, “Aaah 1” (B073) and “Aaah 2” (B074), do not make use of the built-in microphone. Although these use the MiniNova’s Vocoder functions, they use fixed formants which are stored with the Patches. At the end of the day, I would start by simple experimentation and have some fun and see what the Mininova can do for your own vocal sound

OK so here is a big bonus over the Ultranova, the Mininova adds the good old “VocalTune” effect to give you that sometime annoying but very popular AutoTune effect. The VocalTune works by allowing you to sing and tune your sound by playing monophonic melodies on the keyboard. It is great fun and a very suitable addition to the on-board Vocoder.

THE SOFTWARE EDITOR AND PATCH LIBRARIAN

I do like it when companies decide to help you further to develop your own sounds as well as organise them by providing you with two essential software items – an editor and a librarian. It is always much easier to see what is happening on a big computer screen than on a small LCD. I haven’t seen the Editor yet, I believe Novation are still working on it. The Patch Librarian however you can download from them. This is very similar to the Ultranova Librarian. It is very clear and easy to understand and allows you to load in other patch sets, organise them and save onto your Mac or PC.

Although, there was no software included in the MiniNova that I am reviewing, On the outside of the box, it shows that you get Ableton Live Lite, Novation Bass Station softsynth, and a Loopmasters sample pack with 1GB of samples included as well as the Editor and the Librarian. Perhaps they will include it all as one package when they have finished developing the editor but for now you will need to download it.

MAKING YOUR CONNECTIONS ON THE NOVATION MININOVA

Around the back from left to right, we start with the 9v power supply input. Interestingly the Mininova can also be powered via USB. Next are MIDI Out and MIDI In, a Sustain Pedal Input, 1/4″ stereo headphones output, 1/4″ stereo left and right outputs, an external input for processing via the Mininova’s various processors and a Kensington Lock. There are no battery compartments as you may have expected, possibly because it can be powered by USB.

CONCLUSION

The Novation Mininova has such a fantastic array of sonic possibilities for such a small compact synth whereby normally you would need far more controls to achieve this. It impressed me right from the outset with its cool blue look, excellent lighting effects and user-friendly layout that is so easy to get to grips with.

It may be a mini-synth but the designers have done a great job here allowing you to on the fly edit with fast access to predetermined changes or let you wild by using your own judgement on how the sound should change. Let’s face it – everyone enjoys a bit of real-time manipulation.

I think if I could be granted a wish for my own Novation design, I would want a Mininova with the Ultranova keys with aftertouch. I think the competition would be then be very worried. Anyway back to the real world where cost is a big issue for everyone – as it stands at the moment, I don’t think there is anything out there that matches this price, quality build, great design and performance so I am sure the competition are already worried. As an afterthought the Mininova may have worked very well as a rackmount, especially as rackmounts are making a little bit of a comeback at present – just a thought.

If you are looking for something that takes up very little room, has cutting-edge sounds and adds some variation to your Roland, Korg or Yamaha patches then this is probably something you should buy today.

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Absolute Music

COMING SOON ON THE NOVATION MININOVA

I will shortly be releasing 64 sounds for the Novation Mininova called ELECTROVA:-

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