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Novation MiniNova

Novation MiniNova

4.15 4.15 out of 5, based on 2 Reviews

The MiniNova is a very capable VA with mini-keys, with a nice build quality and sound quality, accessible and performance-oriented.

4th October 2015

Novation MiniNova by keystation

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 3 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.25
Novation MiniNova

I own and cherish my MicroKorg - an outstanding 12-year-old synth design that packed (then) unprecendent synth power into a nice little package. But a year in the electronics business is a "dog year" and things have changed dramatically, generally for the better. My small, crowded studio could not accommodate a full-size keyboard synth. So I went looking for another mini-synth to complement the MicroKorg (along with my Microbrute, Volca Keys and SQ-1 Sequencer).

The first candidate was Korg's MicroKorg XL, which is supposed to be the natural successor to the venerable MicroKorg. The XL does offer USB connectivity and a more robust sound engine than the original. But Korg skimped on tweakable knobs, assuming that most users would probably rely on the substantial number of presets offered. The XL also looks spare and un-sexy, more like a cheap 60's combo organ. Then throw in Korg's $100 XL premium over the MicroKorg and this eased off my list.

As for the MiniNova, I had to overcome my previous, "love-hate" relationship resulting from my previous affair with Novation's lamentable, X-Station, Synth/Audio Interface/MIDI DAW Controller. The X-Station valiantly tried to answer three needs with one box, but in practice, this turned out to be a mediocre performer. However, being a forgiving person, I searched for a MiniNova on eBay, where the "sweet spot" price range of a good used unit runs between $260 to $300. I got mine for just a shade under $300 and it showed up in excellent condition.

The MiniNova has a deceptively-simple-looking control layout. Generally speaking, on the front panel there are five control zones: (Clockwise from the L) The main volume and microphone input. Patch selection, programming & library controls. Filter and performance controls. Animation & Arpeggiation controls. Octave switches and performance control wheels.

In the patch section, there is large rotary switch is used to select program "genres" such as "Classic Synth", "Dubstep", "Rock-Pop", etc. Left and below this knob are a rotary, toggle and two push button switches used to organize and select patches. To the left of this is a generous, lighted, LCD screen describing patches and/or selectable patch parameters. Below the screen are six pushbottons used to program new patches and access specific patch menus.

The unit comes stock with 256 preset patches on board, most of which are quite good as-is, while others are promising enough to spend time tweaking. The presets are chiefly aimed at the needs of Novation's target market, which are EDM producers and performers. Having the UltraNova's digital synth engine, most all patches have a brightness and extra sheen in their sounds, which complements my MicroKorg's darker virtual analog tones quite well. And as luck would have it, the MiniNova and MicroKorg MIDI together nicely, allowing for the creation of big, robust pads and complex arpeggios.

Speaking of the arpeggiator, it is one of the best I've encountered on any synth, at any price. On the left side of the synth are switches for arp activation and latching, with a rotary tempo knob. On the right lower half of the panel are 8 arp step buttons which are switchable to an "animate" function, which triggers various functions of the performance section. There are also buttons that can be used to latch the arp or assign favorite patches to the multi-function arp step buttons.

The upper right portion of the panel is the performance control section, which has one large, easy-to-tweak filter knob. Four more smaller knobs are combined with a switch to fine tune control of parameters such as "tweak", "(FX) tweak", filter, filter env., amp env. and oscillator. The intuitive layout of these controls should please live performers who will like the effective, multi-function performance knobs that can be easily found on a darkened stage.

Upper left is the volume knob and an XLR input for the (included) gooseneck dynamic microphone for the on-board vocoder. Lower left are the octave switches and LED-lighted control wheels for pitch bend and modulation. The wheels also are larger than typical on mini-synths and have a very precise feel and good calibration.

The 37 key keyboard still has mini-sized keys, but the keyboard is 5/8" wider has 1/8" more travel than does the keyboard on the MicroKorg. Overall, this is the best-playing mini keyboard I have used or tried to date.

On the back panel are jacks for headphones, stereo analog outputs, instrument inputs, DIN MIDI in/out (but no thru), USB, and 12 volt power (wall wart included). There is a slide power switch in the back that selects either the wall wart, or 5V USB to run the synth, but the pretty LED lights in the control wheels won't light up using just USB.

The MiniNova is not designed to double as a DAW control surface. I guess Novation learned their lesson with the gone-but-not-missed X-Station? They also may be trying not to compete with their own LaunchKey and Impulse MIDI controller lines.

The build quality of the MiniNova is good. Quality plastic framing and metal front and rear panels are used. Its ability to withstand road wear should be similar to the competing MicroKorg (+XL) or Roland JD-Xi.

In summary, I recommend the MiniNova.

19th June 2016

Novation MiniNova by cr73645

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 3 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.25
Novation MiniNova

Build quality and hardware
The MiniNova (MN) is very well built, with a good overall quality feeling coming from the unit. Its mini-keys are nice to use, but don't have aftertouch, and from what I've heard, are a bit fragile (no problems with mine). All knobs feel very good, even better than the BS2.

I really like how portable it is. Lightweight, small footprint, and still has several good qualities such as MIDI connections. It is actually why I bought it (needed a really small 37-keys MIDI controller).

This is where I think that the MN has 2 sides: performance-wise, it is great, since you get access to ANIMATE (performance tweaks while pressing a soft pad) and four knobs for different synth parameters; tweaking-wise, it feels that some fixed parameters could've been better selected, and you have to do everything via editing menu. That's why it gets a 3-star here...

Sound quality
This is pretty much subjective, but I really like how it CAN sound. Presets are not even close to how good it can be, and I wouldn't use ANY of them in any music. By tweaking and making my own sounds, I'd say that it is a pretty decent VA and does a better job than pretty much everything in its price-tag.

That bright sound you hear on almost every demonstration is not my favorite side of it, and it can sound more mellow/dark than it might seem. I gave it a 4-star simply because you can get some weird artifacts with the "density" thing (supersaw/supersquare) and some modulations.

Synth capabilities
Well, as said before, it is pretty good in the synthesis department. You can check out the specs, but some of the highlights are 20 modulation slots, 2 filter with selectable routings and overdrive modes, ext. in can be used as an oscillator, wide selection of LFO waveforms, good wavetables, good simple vocoder.

With some work, you can make some very modular-esque sounds, pretty much every famous sounds from the past, and more. It also does have a good bass, considering it's digital, and the EQ can actually help a bit. For those who want more digital sounds, it does some FMish sounds too and good wavetable classic sounds.

The effects are not the best, but are editable and can give an idea of how the sound would be inside a composition (I'm currently using ITB effects and recording dry).

While editing inside the unit is possible, it can be a huge PITA. The excellent editor is one way to make it easier. The implementation isn't perfect - for example, you have to set MIDI to channel 1 inside the MN, or you won't be able to listen to it - but it surely does a good job at making everything accessible. A really nice tool for the instrument.

Bang for buck
If you need a small synthesizer, really deep synthesis, vocoder and still can be used as a portable way to control your modules, I'd say that the MN can't be beaten. Yes, yes, we have several mini-synths nowadays, but I don't think that any of them is as capable as it.

One thing must be noticed: don't get it for learning synthesis - it is pretty bad at it. The interface is horrible for that. Another thing: if you don't need something this small, get an Ultranova - way better keys and interface, that can actually be used for learning stuff.

Even with its bad characteristics considered, I'd say that it is an excellent little synth.

10th October 2017

Novation MiniNova by Music Bird

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 3 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4
Novation MiniNova

I tried the Mininova.
It has good filters, which are selectable in 6/12/18/24 dB highpass, bandpass, and lowpass, the bass is nice. There are a few good presets, mostly the Classic ones. I wouldn't recommend it for learning synthesis, because of the menu diving. It can do a wide variety of sounds, thanks to the wavetables. Some wavetables are good for choir sounds, some for brass, some for organ (of the Farfisa variety), some for bass. You can even get some classic Prince tones out of it. It has OK filters, which can be good, but the potential to make "quack" type of synth leads is sometimes hard, because the resonance doesn't get too harsh with some levels of cutoff. It can do all the latest sounds for producers of pop and house. It also does a mean hip hop/trap 808 bass. I think it's great for synthwave, because you can easily create brass sounds, including with the digital waves some semi-realistic horn sounds, and arpeggio bass, the envelopes are pretty fast. The saving of a new patch requires turning memory protection off. The bass can get so nasty and growly, and can be great for funk, techno, dubstep, dancehall, reggae, house, and synthpop. It also provides space for 100 user tones.

All in one, you have a great polysynth VA which is good for many.

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