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Novation K-Station

Novation K-Station

4.25 4.25 out of 5, based on 1 Review

- 25-key fully-featured VA synth - liquid sound


20th September 2011

Novation K-Station by dhollmusik

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.25
Novation K-Station

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


More specifically:

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.


Mixer control:

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.


Filter section:

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.


LFO control:

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.


Envelope control:

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.


Pitch/Mod:

Standard, but nice enough. The mod-wheel is assignable. The pitch-progression sounds good.


Arpeggiator:

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.


Effects:

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.


Features:

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.



Reliability:

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).



Overall Rating:

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.


Sound examples:


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):

 

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