Novation MiniNova : a Little Bit of This a Little Bit of That


Respect to this toy that got me back into owning hardware. However that decision was purely on specifications and price – for one gig I needed a small keyboard that makes sounds as well as controlling things, handles the funny voices and fits in my suitcase wrapped in undies. And I had to buy new (contracts / taxes) and didn’t want to spend very much.


I bought it not ever having heard it, because one gig right? The rest of my life was going to be virtual instruments. But then…


It wouldn’t be hard to beat that level of non-expectation. The Mininova did that, but also proved to me that hardware could compete in the range of sounds possible. Unlike most hardware it is a very broad brush. It doesn’t seek to be anything in particular and manages to approximate all kinds of things. If you were to own one keyboard I’d recommend this or the bigger Nova with a clear conscience.


Sensible review here.


The first thing I liked are the three oscillators, which have a good library of waveforms, samples and wavetables, but also allow a lot of bending and twisting and cross modulation. You can make an awful lot of sounds just with these before you get to the two filters. The latter have multiple modes, but nowhere near as distinct as the Micron, being just a little more or a little less of this and that.


Amps and drives and all that follow on, but really your next point of interest is the extensive modulation matrix, which is a bit overwhelming, and connected with the launch pads on the front of the box. If you’re very obsessive you can set up eight instant variations (or ‘tweaks’) on every sound – so far I’ve lacked the dedication. These same pads control the arpeggio pattern. Arpeggio is a big deal with the Nova. You could probably spend a month in prison learning just that.


As well as the launch pads there’s a grid of adjustments lined up with four twiddly knobs, not too different to the microKorg. The twiddly knobs and selector actually work pretty well, although they go nowhere near the range of twiddles needed to actually program the thing. For that you need the menuing system, which is decent, not great. Use the VST programmer to do the deep work (and wonder again why you’re not just using a VST.)


The main problem with the Nova is the lack of documentation. It’s nowhere near what you need to understand why things are there or not there. For example – the wavetables are numbered – no description. There are bizarre LFO shapes that must have an intention, but you will never know it. Everything is presented as a fact of life to be puzzled over by poets and philosophers. And the online community is dead in the water, mainly people wondering why no one will help them with some Novation wet patch.


And there are wet patches. Like how external MIDI and local control switching (e.g. using the VST editor) causes the machine to go mute with malice or become confused about timing. And the blue light broke in my mod wheel – unforgivable


The Nova is not the kind of synthesiser that you come to love for a particular sound, because it’s scatterbrained and has no overarching theme. Instead you will slowly explore it like a lost pyramid and you will find treasures.









The gear I’m currently collecting comes from the virtual analogue period, around the time I had no money and could only make music with a piece of tissue on a comb. Some keyboards I have collected recently have vocoders. I don’t remember the early part of the 21st century being particularly robot voiced, but the evidence is that men, women and dogs were all obsessed with talking through combs and tissues.


Vocoders are the synthesiser version of bagpipes.

They make me cry and I’m not thinking of bonnie Scotland. There are three reasons why you might be OK using a vocoder:


  • You are Kraftwerk or YMO.
  • You are old school vocoding a weird sound with another weird sound.
  • You are saying the words ‘pilots hate you.’


What’s acceptable is that you pass an external signal through the synthesis pathway to get some strange noises and that just happens to include a vocoder stage.


  • Good: Mininova has a vocoder plus a usefully crap auto pitch. You can also pass the external sound as an oscillator, adding filtration, ring mod and effects. This is all good for trouble.
  • OK: RADIAS has a vocoder but with some careful planning you can vocode one patch with another which sounds impressively horrible.
  • Probably dodgy: Micron has a vocoder which I have so far avoided. Likewise the JP8080. It can also pass sounds through the filter, which is not much good seeing it’s a Roland filter but oh well.


As I come across more vocoders I’ll denounce them here.

It was either this or a red car and I think I chose wisely.