Novation K-Station by dhollmusik
A little background:
The DX7 I reviewed earlier was the first in a 2-year mad synth-hunt. The K-Station is the latest one, having arrived less than a week ago (but it's been on my radar for about a year).
So this is a very much first-impressions style of user review.
Sound quality and synthesis features:
Wow! I was expecting to like the K-Station but I wasn't expecting it to sound so good. I had the Supernova (rack) which I quite liked, and which certainly sounds a little more high-end than the K-Station, but the K still has a certain liquid charm itself. I actually prefer it, the sound is a touch less clinical.
There are a few significant factors I like about the K-Station sound:
- the inherent character is very liquid and alive
- the parameter changes (knobs) feel musical
- you can get the 3 oscillators sounding quite different to each other
- external effects are not necessary to enjoy its sound
Oscillator control (affects each individual oscillator separately):
Portamento is very nice. I can't comment how it compares with how skilled keyboard players might like it, but for my droney textures adding some portamento swing creates nice extra movement in the tones.
Semitone & Detune: it's quite brilliant to have separate knobs for these two functions, the Detune evolves musically too. The Semitone is obviously stepped.
PWM/PW, Mod & LFO: there's a lot of synthesis possible between these 3 knobs, 4 waveforms and pw-select button, especially as they affect the oscillators individually. The even better news is that they sound great: clean and musical movements, I especially enjoy using the LFO Depth set to Position to create transposed notes within a drone.
This has been a really pleasant surprise. Alongside the individual knobs for the osc-levels, there is also a knob for nicely wet-sounding Noise and Ring-Mod effect. Used in moderation you can create an extra dimension of space in the sound using these two effects. There is also a function for audio-input.
Surely the most popular knob in the history of synths is the frequency-cutoff! It's the first thing you check out on your new synth and the one you show off when friends come round.
Fortunately, it's a pretty good one on the K-Station. Like everything about its sound character, the filter sounds moist, and the Resonance adds proper screech while not losing too much thickness. We also have knobs for the Envelope-Depth, and even the Key Track and LFO2 Depth. The filter has two types: 12/24db.
So lots of sound-sculpting room. The filter is not as mighty as the one on the Supernova, but I like it anyway...filters don't always have to sound massive, they just have to sound good.
This is pretty standard stuff: 2 knobs for delay and speed and buttons to switch waveforms and type. This is for me the weakest section of the K-Station's synthesis as it exposes the lack of brutal bitey snappiness in the envelopes. The LFO spiel still sounds nice, but when compared to higher-end synths you do sometimes miss the hard snappiness factor.
I'll start with the slight weakness of this section, which concerns the lack of hard snap in the attack envelope (see also LFO above). But this is only a minor complaint as the rest can sound quite beautiful. The great thing about this section is that you have 4 knobs for the Mod-ADSR and 4 sliders for the Amp-ADSR. This leaves you a lot of room for evolving pads and searing leads. I've also managed to get retro-techno arpeggiators going by ensuring the decay and sustain levels are just right.
Standard, but nice enough. The mod-wheel is assignable. The pitch-progression sounds good.
Not as strong as the other sections, and the relative weakness of the snappy-end of the envelopes is shown up here again. For example my old Korg DW-8000 had a far more intoxicating-sounding arpeggiator thanks to the quality of the hit it produces at the beginning of each note. The K-arp also lacks some more interesting variations.
Surprisingly decent. My Boss VF-1 unit doesn't necessarily improve on the sound, but it does make it all a bit tighter. The K-Station's internal effects are mostly good enough to stand alone. The Distortion is the most brutal part of the synth, adding a lot of EQ-heft rather than classic distortion. The Delay sounds fair, especially when you find the sweet spot in the timing (I like "67" for drones/evolving pads). If you want more programmability then you'd need a dedicated unit.
The Phaser is good (there's no flanger), but the Reverbs and Chorus less so. I would recommend an external unit if you want good reverbs or flanger/chorus.
I actually haven't tried the vocoder yet so no comment there.
All in all I rate the sound quality a whopping 9/10. If I was a little more objective I might score it 8/10 but personally I like the character a lot.
The V-Station (software version) and A-Station (rack) are according to internet reports very similar-sounding, tho' neither can compare with the K-Station's perfect playability.
Ease of use:
This is an easy 10/10. The K-Station is sumptiously playable. Try it.
You can see the mass of synthesis features it has above. It does miss other features like aftertouch and a sequencer, but these are small beer as when you really want to play & compose you use your master keyboard and sequencer of choice.
The X-Station is well known as offering itself as an audio interface, but this can't be compared with the K-Station as its synth-engine is based on the KS-series (the K is based on the A-Station). You might come across user opinion that rates the KS-engine higher than the A-engine. I've used the KS5 and wasn't very impressed, it sounded thin and a little lifeless. To my ears the K-Station is not just far more playable, but also sounds superior.
If features are more important than sound quality, then the X-Station looks like a good bet.
I've only had it not one week yet, so can't really comment. So far all good.
Bang for buck:
€200-€300 is amazing value for such a fine-sounding and synthesis-heavy instrument. It's 2-octave size is great for just having on your lap and playing anywhere, or taking it with you for a jam. I personally much prefer having 25 full-size keys over 37-mini-keys ala Microkorg/Micron, and of course if you do want to play it properly you can just use a larger master keyboard (not possible with the Xiosynth 25 for example).
Out of all the mass of synths I've had arrive since my frenzy began 2 years ago the K-Station comfortably ranks up there with the Korg Polysix and Access Virus KB as synths which are instantly a hit. Whether it remains a hit like those two time will tell...but it suits my style very well.
Here is 25 minutes droney demo (from 14:00 the VF-1 was used as external effects, before that point it's all 100% K-Station):
Here's some more minutes of similar fluff (pure K-sound):