Sonic LAB Review: Novation Mininova

Compact Nova synthesizer   30-Oct-12

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14:41 mins    

This is not a new Korg MicroKorg - this is the Novation Mininova, though you could be forgiven in thinking that there’s a pretty striking resemblance. Separated at birth even.
When you consider that the MicroKorg was one of the biggest selling synths for a long time, you can see that Novation want a piece of that. And so they created the MiniNova - it's the UltraNova synth engine squeezed into a smaller shell - 37 mini keys, four knob parameter matrix, genre and category bank switch plus a gooseneck microphone for vocoder and input duties.

The Nova engine has 18 voice polyphony and monotimbral operation - that means only one sound at a time. Each voice has:
3 Oscillators
1x Noise Source
2x ring modulators
Square, sine, tri, sawtooth and pulse waves
20 digital waves and 36 wavetables
2x multimode filters
20 modulation slots
6 envelopes
5x effects slots

This is as you would expect, but what makes the Novation Mininova different is it's performance control - this seems a bit unlikely considering it's diminutive size, but it's true.

Welcome To The Matrix
First up, the parameter matrix - this in itself is nothing new, but the easily accessible row selection slider makes it swift and easy to flip between parameter sets for quick tweaking. The biggie though is the Animation Control -these are the same as the touch control on the UltraNova but are 8, backlit buttons, that also double as 8 favourite memories and 8 arpeggio step select switches. In Animation mode, it is possible to map each of these buttons to any of the 66 possible destinations, giving you instant parameter changes - these can be subtle or dramatic, depedning on how they are programmed.
What this means is that as well as the four tweak knobs, you have another 8 ways to tweak the sound.

Sound Engine
There are no surprises in the way the unit sounds, with the number of waveforms available, some complex harmonic sounds are achievable, the effects play a strong part in the sound of this synth with plenty of algorithms to choose from including EQ, compression and distortion - which are used to great effect to improve the sonic weight of the basic oscillators.
With the oscillator density and detune - giving you hypersaw like waveform multiplication and vSync giving the oscillators the chance to scream -  there’s a lot of tonal variation.

Effect algorithms:
EQ - 3 band, Compressor 1+2 ratio, threshold and ADSR,  Distortion 1+2, Delay 1+2 - single and multiple echos, Reverb 1+2 hall and room, Choruse 1-4 chorus and phasing,  Gator - 32 step sequencer.

We have the same 12-band vocoder as the Ultra, but with the addition of some new Vocal Tune patches - these take the incoming signal -  and tune it either  via  dynamic processing or by using the keyboard to pitch the signal - you can do that  hard AutoTune type stuff with it if you wish.


While it is possible to edit all parameters via the front panel, its not a barrel or laughs, Novation tell me that in addition to currently available librarian software, a full editor will be along soon - which will make the whole process a lot more fun and like to have you creating unique sounds of your own.

Stereo output (2x mono 1/4 jack) stereo 1/4 headphone output,
inputs  - mic (XLR) and line,  sustain pedal, MIDI in and out plus USB - this is not a MIDI  interface  but you can choose which ports you use to communicate with the MiniNova.
9v power input, though you can power it from the USB port.

I was impressed with the Mininova, somehow more so than with the UltraNova. I think this is perhaps due to the clever way in which you can get to many sound parameters with a minimal amount of front panel  controls. Somehow because of it's small size it sounds bigger than it looks if that makes sense?

A good prospect for those just wanting to get a first synth and access to so some contemporary synth sounds, or a more experienced user who wants the Nova synth engine, but doesn’t need all the keys and control.
At this price the Mininova is hard to  ignore. - recommended

Available now
£299, €399, $499



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11 Comments... Comments are closed while we transition to Disqus

Thomas    Said...

Nice review, thanks! You need to check the last 10 seconds though, the sound is screwed up. I have an Ultranova - can I get the new patches from the Mini?

30-Oct-12 11:35 AM

Derek    Said...

Novation say yes:


30-Oct-12 11:46 AM

Ted    Said...

An accurate review, IMO.

I just picked on up last week. A few quirky crashes will probably be resolved by the in-progress OS update. But the sound of this thing is worth your attention. Very flexible. Filter has a "Q Normalization" parameter that makes the resonance go from juicy (yet polite) to loud, wet Moog-sine self oscillation.

The 8 animate buttons are this synth's secret weapon and if this system clicks for you, you won't want to perform on much else. Think about it: 8 momentary, latchable backlit buttons that connect your choice of the generous modulation sources to various destinations, including recursive modualtions (modulating other modulation sources - very modular!). This is not a toy! Sounds expensive, feels nice, looks handsome, is super affordable, and kills the Microkorg without mercy. Thick, glossy subtractive synthisis and a very nice vocoder for the bandcount. Reverb is pretty much studio quality, rare in microsynths of this class. (Vocaltune effecs are fun as well.) Probably you need one.

30-Oct-12 12:44 PM

selercs    Said...

Just like the AKAI Miniak, this looks like a Korg imitation...but it sounds pretty good and I am digging the blue color.

30-Oct-12 12:49 PM

Stoltz    Said...

I expect to hear that vocoder-pitch effect on every RnB & hiphop club tune for the next 6 months...

30-Oct-12 01:22 PM

selercs    Said...

I agree it has some neat vocoder effects.

However, I don't understand why Novation still insists on Multi-timbrality. What about becoming like the 48-voice 8-multitimbral hardwares of the past (like Supernova II Pro X)??

31-Oct-12 09:25 AM

selercs    Said...

Sorry I meant mono-timbrality.

31-Oct-12 09:26 AM

Ted    Said...

selercs - multitimbres would have been fine with me, and I'm also fine without. It's true the old Novas have the Mini beat on voice count - but the Mini synth engine is a higher-resolution, more processor-intensive system.

Multi would rob from the Mini's available voices, and not everyone requires multitibrality in thier workflow, even for live use. And in a limited control interface that shares knobs and buttons a little too much already for 1 voice, how would multi even work?

A simple bi-timbral option(for a single keyboard bass/lead split)is kind of silly on a tiny 3 octave keyboard. I think not including massive polyphony and the multivoice option was one of the ways to reduce complexity and cost. I'd say MiniNova is all about form factor, sound, and price point - not about beating ROMpler-levels of polyphony. I'd rather see a more knobbed/buttoned, smaller keyless desktop-only module as a way to increase control and to double the power (and as an even less expensive single voice option.)

31-Oct-12 03:47 PM

Oranj    Said...

Hi, thanks, I was waiting for your review. Any chance of a follow-up with a tour through the sounds like you did for the Slim Phatty, Venom etc..?

01-Nov-12 05:45 AM

3000    Said...

One thing I havn't seen mentioned - depsite the big dedicated cutoff knob, sweeps with resonance reveal audible discrete steps. I thought the Alesis Ion solved this back in 2004. It's not the engine since an LFO is smooth. It's the encoder's low bit depth.

01-Nov-12 01:18 PM

TurntTable    Said...

Maybe I need to RTFM but I think the animate buttons need a global envelope control.

08-May-14 11:09 PM

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