21 years of inNovation

 

1992 - A new way of making music.

Novation Electronic Music Systems, as it was originally called, was established in 1992 with the introduction of the MM10, a keyboard system for the Yamaha QY10 music workstation. In our video, you will see a 'MidiCon', which never went into production, but was the design on which the MM10 was based, and the first hardware controller Novation ever made. The top of the MM10 included a slot into which the QY10 could be place, holding it upright, the two units being linked by short cables. The MM10 offered two octaves of full-size velocity-sensing keys and the two units together made up an effective and popular music workstation. It was followed later by the more versatile MM10-X.

1993 - A Bass synth that made history.

 Bass Station and Bass Station rack brochure image

The following year saw the introduction of the Novation Bass Station (also know as the Bass Station Keyboard), today regarded as a classic synthesiser. Its influences went back a decade to the classic TB303 Bassline, a portable compact synthesiser designed for instrumental accompaniment. It was hard to programme and never succeeded in its originally-intended market, but by the end  of the decade enterprising musician performers were taking the little box and processing it externally through effects units to produce some of the core sounds of ‘acid’ music. Bass Station took this idea and developed it several stages forward, using a pair of digitally-controlled analogue oscillators (DCOs) with pulse and sawtooth waveforms, plus an LFO with random, triangle and sawtooth waveforms, to replicate the sound of a monophonic twin-oscillator analogue synth and making it capable of significantly fatter and more vibrant sounds than the product that inspired it. Bass Station included a 2-octave keyboard with pitch and mod wheels and an intuitive control set. It was ideal for bass and lead lines and synth effects, as well as providing extensive MIDI controller data. One of the features that made the Bass Station, as Novation co-founder Ian Jannaway puts it, “an all-time classic of the synth world” was its filter, designed by Chris Huggett (who has been associated with Novation ever since) and based on the unique filter he had designed for the famous OSCar synthesiser a few years before. Bass Station is still available today in the form of the Virtual Bass Station plug-in, including all the sonic features of the original.

1994 - More than just a 'Bass Station in a Rack'.

Novation introduced a 1U rack-mounted version of the Bass Station – the Bass Station Rack. In addition to changing the form factor, Bass Station Rack added a number of features that made it an instant hit, and one of the few new analogue synthesisers released since the 1980s. Excellent for creating the fat sounds that became a sonic signature for this time, Bass Station Rack included dual ADSR envelope shapers, 12/24db per octave filter, oscillator sync, and LFO – all the elements of a traditional analogue synthesiser, but with DCOs for the ultimate in stability. In addition to the ability to store 60 patches, Bass Station Rack included a built-in MIDI/Control Voltage (CV) converter. This made it possible to control the unit from an older analogue synth with CV outputs, or control analogue synths via MIDI using the Bass Station Rack. An analogue input was provided for processing external sources. VintageSynth.com notes that it has been used by artists such as William Ørbit, Biosphere, Massive Attack, Orbital, Apollo 440, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Jimi Tenor, Laurent Garnier, ATB, Sneaker Pimps, Out of Logic and Underworld.

1995 to 1996 - Redefining the drum machine.

Image taken from the Drum Station brochure

Having gone one better than the original TB303, Novation now went on to outclass the classic Roland TR808 drum machine, with the DrumStation, released in 1995. By this time, the standard method of producing TR808 sounds was to use simple samples – either ones you made yourself (as the present writer did) or purchased units that used them. DrumStation went beyond this by

using what Novation called ‘Analogue Sound Modelling’ (ASM), featuring digitally-synthesised models of the original waveforms, which could then be shaped and controlled. DrumStation included all the sounds of the TR808 and its successor the TR909, and the same tone controls for each sound, including tone, attack, decay, tuning, ‘snappiness’ and distortion (depending on the sound). The unit included DIN sync sockets to synchronise units like the TB303, TR808 and other DrumStations to it. In addition to authentic reproduction and control of the original sounds, DrumStation featured a full MIDI implementation with control of all parameters, 40-memory programmable drumkits, and eight assignable outputs.

1997 - A super upgrade.

1997 came around and along with it an updated version of the Bass Station, the Super Bass Station. This took the original design and added an arpeggiator, noise source, ring modulator, an additional LFO bringing the complement to two, a sub-oscillator (an octave below Oscillator 1), analogue chorus and distortion effects, keyboard filter tracking, stereo outputs and panning, enhanced memory, analogue trigger signal output and more. The unit had 200 programmes, 150 of which could be edited and stored. These updates proved a success and moved the instrument out of the ‘acid’ niche of the Bass Station and into the wider world of synthesis.

1998 - A new standard for Polyphonic synthesis.

SUPERNOVA original brochure image

In 1998, Chris Huggett joined the Novation team full-time, where his first project was the now-classic Supernova. Built into an impressive 3U rack-mount enclosure, Supernova set new standards for polyphonic synthesis. Huggett identified the fact that the main problem for instruments available at the time was that they lacked quality effects in multi-timbral performance modes. Supernova addressed this deficiency by providing a complete multi-effects processor for each of its eight audio output parts – and a total of 56 programmable effects available on all voices all the time. Supernova originally featured 16-note polyphony, later expanded to 20 with a new operating system, and three DCOs with ASM to recreate the classic analogue synth sound. A comprehensive filter provided low-, high- and bandpass filtering with 12, 18 and 24dB/octave, with resonance and self-oscillation, plus overdrive and key tracking, where the filter tuning could follow the keyboard. Two powerful LFOs and two ring modulators completed the sound modification capabilities and the Supernova specification was rounded out with eight analogue outputs and full MIDI implementation. Supernova and its successor, Supernova II, have been used by Orbital, ATB, The Faint, Sin, Jean-Michel Jarre and A Guy Called Gerald, and can truly be said to have attained star status.

1999 - It's all about arpeggiation!

Brochure cover image of the original Nova

Novation’s Nova was released in 1999, and essentially repackaged the Supernova into a desktop performance module based around the same synthesiser engine. Again using ASM to create its analogue-like sounds, the 12-note polyphonic Nova featured three independent oscillators, a variable noise source, and a pair of ring modulators for each voice. Six multitimbral parts were provided with individual audio outputs, and there were two external inputs and a 40-band vocoder on board. A mixer section allowed all these sources to be combined to produce exceptionally fat and complex tones and timbres. 42 simultaneous effects were provided in addition, along with a sophisticated arpeggiator providing 384 mono, poly and user patterns, with arpeggiated and sustained sounds being able to be played simultaneously. And of course, Nova featured a full MIDI implementation.

2000 - A new synth for the new millenium.

Image from the original SUPERNOVA II brochure

The following year saw the release of an update to Novation’s Supernova, the Supernova II. Supernova II was available in 24, 36 and 48-voice models with additional 12 or 24-voice expansion boards. Available again in a 3U rack-mount format, the Supernova II was also available in a 61-note performance keyboard version with velocity and aftertouch, enabling sound tweaking during live performance. FM synthesis capability was included along with ring modulation, dual analogue inputs and a 42-band vocoder. An 8-part arpeggiator was also on board and in its full version this British-designed and built supersynth offered 8-part multitimbrality and 48-voice polyphony, with 57 and 2304 oscillators running simultaneously.

2001 - Bass Station and Supernova come together to form the A-Station

Angle and front image of A-Station

In many ways, the 1U rack-mounting Novation A-Station, released in 2001, can be thought of as a cross between the Bass Station and the Supernova. The voice architecture was based on the Supernova, featuring ASM (Analogue Sound Modelling) digital oscillators instead of simple DCOs. A-Station added 8-voice polyphony and overall although the unit looks like a Bass Station from the outside, inside it has a number of Supernova capabilities. There are three oscillators offering sawtooth, triangle, sine and PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) plus noise, and there is a basic FM synthesis engine that can be used for a more edgy sound. There are also dual LFOs with sample and hold and MIDI synchronisation. The filter is a lowpass resonant type with 12 or 24 dB/octave slope. As far as effects are concerned, the A-Station includes reverb and delay, plus a 12-voice encoder for processing external sounds – which can also be used as an oscillator source and processed via filter and envelopes. An arpeggiator is also provided.

Novation’s K-Station was a 2-octave keyboard version of the A-Station with 8-voice polyphony, three ASM oscillators providing a range of waveforms plus FM synthesis and a noise source, a 12-band vocoder, arpeggiator, dual ADSR envelope shapers and two LFOs, reverb and delay effects It also featured a large LCD display and 25 knobs for realtime control, all of which generate MIDI controller messages, plus 400 memories. The front panel of the K-Station is extremely ergonomic and has become a standard in many universities and academies for the teaching of analogue synthesis. 

2002 - Hypersync matches rhythmic effects to MIDI

K-Station cutsheet image original

Released in 2002, the sleek KS Series – KS4, KS5 and KS Rack – used enhanced versions of the K-Station engine with a range of additional features. The KS4 was a 4-octave keyboard, while the KS5 offered five octaves. Keyboards are semi-weighted and include aftertouch, and all 33 control knobs on the ergonomic control section send MIDI. The KS Series included four-part multitimbral operation with multiple assignable audio outputs and a separate effects processor for each part, as found on the Supernova. The KS Series saw the introduction of ‘Hypersync’, allowing the musician to automatically match rhythmic effects to MIDI clock.

2003 - Back to controllers....with audio and soft synths

With the market moving increasingly towards the desktop computer taking centre stage for music production, the Remote 25 MIDI controller keyboard was conceived in 2003 to bring back “hands on” tweaking to the computer musician. In addition to the Remote 25, which was MIDI based, the Remote 25 Audio provided the same facilities with the addition of a built-in USB audio interface and later developed into the X-Station.

Incorporating many of the features that made the MM10 so successful years earlier, the Remote 25 was designed as a state-of-the-art portable, compact MIDIcontroller. It featured a range of electronic templates that provided a new level of control for all the leading music-making software solutions. It also set standards for keyboard quality on MIDI controllers, featuring velocity and after-touch sensitivity along with a two-dimensional touchpad.

Also released in 2003 were the V-Station and B-Station. These software products, still available today, provide virtual emulations of the K-Station and synth classic Bass Station respectively. Both are available for Macintosh and Windows platforms, in both VST and AU formats. 

2004 - The All-in-X solution - X-Station

2004 saw the release of the X-Station, which followed on from the Remote 25 and Remote Audio 25. It was in many senses a completely new type of product, the idea being to create a complete professional music making environment simply by adding a computer/sequencer, microphone and monitoring. X-Station’s ease of use particularly appealed to the musician on the move – they could set up a studio in minutes wherever they were. Its impressive feature list brought together a Novation class 8-voice ASM-based synth engine, powerful template-based ReMOTE style MIDI control and a high quality 2-in, 2-out stereo audio interface and multi effects engine. It featured a semi-weighted aftertouch keyboard, too. The two separate multi-effects units could be used independently, offering Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Compression, Distortion and EQ, all of which could be used simultaneously.

2006 - No keyboard - Just control

When is a keyboard controller not a keyboard controller? When it doesn’t have any keys, quipped Paul Sellars in SOS in November 2006 when he reviewed the Remote Zero SL, an addition to Novation’s MIDI and USB controller range – most of which feature keyboards – with no (zero) keys. What the Remote Zero SL did offer was an enormous selection of knobs, buttons, sliders and trigger pads that could all be freely assigned to virtually any hardware device or application that supports MIDI. A wide range of templates were provided to control popular software and hardware devices including many popular soft synths and applications. 

At the heart of the Remote SL range was Automap, which detects the sequencer in use and the software plugin instruments used in the project. It then intelligently and logically maps the software’s controls to the SL’s host of Rotary, Slider and push buttons, a facility that works with any of the supported applications (Cubase, Nuendo, Reason, Logic and Live among others). By simply selecting an instrument in the host, the Remote SL detects it, updating itself automatically with the correct parameters, their names appearing in the large, well-lit LCD displays. Select another instrument and the settings and display update almost magically.

2007 - An interface for the modern performer 

Musik Messe in 2007 saw the release of Novation’s Nio 2|4, a multi-platform compact 2-in, 4-out USB audio interface aimed at musicians in general and guitarists in particular, bundled with a specially-selected complement of 20 software effects in the Nio FX Rack application. These are linked to the hardware via Novation’s Direct FX technology, allowing them to be configured from the controls on the Nio front panel and making them feel like part of the hardware, almost like a guitar effects pedal – a concept enhanced by the look of the unit.

2007 also saw the launch of the XioSynth, a keyboard synthesiser with USB audio interface and template-based MIDI controller, available in 25- or 49-key versions. Like the X-Station, it featured Novation’s X/Y touchpad (the ‘X-Pad’) and included a synth engine based on that in the X-Station with the addition of filter overdrive and the X-Gator patch programmer, which can be configured to gate each patch to create expressive 16-32-step rhythmic patterns synchronised to MIDIclock. The units featured three oscillators with analogue classic waveforms and wavetables plus the ability to sync oscillators 1 and 2, pulse-width modulation and dual LFOs. The 2/4-pole filter offered high- low- and bandpass operation and there were twin envelopes. Six effects were provided: Delay, Reverb, Chorus/Phaser, Distortion, 3-Band EQ and Stereo Pan. Synth programming was via a matrix-style front panel with 11 knobs, each with a button.

2008 - A controller for the masses, dedicated to plug-ins

Nocturn, released in 2008, took the Automap technology from the Remote SL range and applied it to a compact and astonishingly easy to use control panel. Utilising the automation frameworks used by various plugin architectures such as VST, Audio Units and RTAS, Nocturn instantly downloads a list of controllable settings provided by a plug-in and assigns them to its combination of knobs and buttons. Whether you make changes on the controller or on-screen, the two are always synchronised. Eight touch-sensitive rotary shaft encoder controls are provided, with a ring of LEDs around each to indicate its setting. There is also a touch-sensitive crossfader and a special Speed Dial knob that has multiple functions, allowing patch selection and the ability to instantly control any parameter on-screen without any setup procedure.

2008 and early 2009 saw the update of the Remote range to include touch-sensitive knobs and sliders and Automap technology. SL MkII controllers were available with 25, 49 and 61 note velocity/aftertouch keyboards or with no keyboard at all (the ‘Zero’ version). Eight rotary shaft encoders were included, with LED rings to indicate their setting.

2009 - Launching a new way to make music

2009 saw the release of the fruits of a new partnership between Novation and German software company Ableton, with the release of Launchpad, a multi-button controller for the popular live control application Live, which originated an intense wave of enthusiasm for live controllers of this type. The unit consists primarily of a grid of 64 (8x8) brightly illuminated square buttons, with additional round buttons along the top and on the right. Apart from the USB port, there are no other controls or connectors (the unit is fully USB bus powered).

Once drivers are installed it’s simply a matter of plugging the Launchpad in and selecting it as a controller in Ableton Live. The unit is supplied with Ableton Live Launchpad Edition which comes with a library of sample instruments. The Launchpad button grid works in one of four modes. Session Mode corresponds to Live’s Session View, where each button is assigned to a Clip – a piece of audio or MIDI that may or may not be looped. Empty Clip slots are indicated by the button not being illuminated; yellow buttons indicate a Clip loaded; green buttons indicate a Clip playing and red buttons a clip recording.

The right-hand buttons call up Scenes – a row of Clip slots. The second mode is Mixer Mode, where the buttons control tracks in the Session View and you can control level, panning and other parameters using the buttons as a kind of touchable bar-graph. In the two User modes, the buttons can be assigned to any controllable function, such as a parameter in Live. Launchpad includes Automap. They come with presets, for example User 1 is set up for the virtual pads in Live’s Drum Rack.

2009 - Nocturn gets keys 

Nocturn 25 and 49 were released in 2009 and essentially see the Nocturn rotary encoder-based controller enjoying the addition of a 25- or 49-note velocity/aftertouch keyboard. The controls can be used either as standard generic MIDI controllers or Automap can be used to automatically register all controllable parameters provided in a plug-in and assign them to the appropriate control.

Automap for iPhone and iPod Touch was released in 2009 and is an app providing remote control of DAWs, effects, sequencers or plug-in parameters using two faders and eight buttons on an iOS device.

2010 - One for the digital DJ, and Nova returns, Ultra'd. 

Dicer, released in 2010, consists of a pair of hardware button sets – five large operational buttons and three mode select buttons – designed to attach to the corners of a turntable or laptop and allow users of DJ applications such as Traktor and Serato the ability to control loops, cues and effects, though the exact functionality depends on the host application. Typically, in Hot Cue mode, you can set or delete cues with the main buttons. Loop Mode lets you set a loop, move it back and forth and control the loop length. Finally, Effects mode (eg in Traktor) lets you activate the effects module and control the wet/dry balance.

Released in 2010, UltraNova is a ‘Nova’ series analogue-modelling synthesizer with a powerful effects processor. It is a single-part synth taking the legendary Supernova II synth engine as a starting point and packing it with the latest technology, with brand new features including wavetable synthesis, even more powerful filters, a software editor and a revolutionary new touch-sense performance mode. Ultranova provides up to 18 voices, 14 filter types, 36 wavetables, and 5 effect slots, while Patch Browse enables you to browse 300 sounds by type & genre. Touch-sense controls enable totally new sound-shaping & performance possibilities, for example triggering envelopes, LFOs, filters or FX by just touching the encoders. A large rotary control instantly allows fine control of any parameter. Featuring 37 full-sized keys and aftertouch, a 12-band vocoder and maximum control, Ultranova also includes a built-in 2-in 4-out USB interface and can be bus powered. It can also be used to stream audio to and from a host computer. Both analogue and digital stereo outputs are provided. The Ultranova includes a software plug-in editor and patch librarian for full visual editing.

2011 - A DJ controller for controllerists, and the Impulse keyboard 

Novation Twitch, launched in 2011, is a DJ controller with a completely new take on DJing and performing. It has Touchstrips to navigate tracks and you can slice-up your beats and mix them back together totally on the fly. Twitch also has a built in audio interface. At the heart of Twitch is the use of innovative ribbon strips as controllers rather than the traditional turntable emulators. These give a great deal more flexibility and allow for functionality impossible with tables.

Impulse, released in 2011, is a range of professional USB/MIDI controllers combining a 25-, 49- or 61-note precision semi-weighted aftertouch keyboard with a full control surface providing full DAW including mixer, transport and plug-in instruments and effects powered by Novation’s Automap control software. Impulse also has 8 back-lit performance pads that can trigger drums, effects, and launch Live clips. A large LCD panel is included. The hardware is ruggedly designed for life on the road.

2012 - A small synth with a big sound - MiniNova 

MiniNova was released in 2012 and is a powerful micro synth with 37-note keyboard based around the same synth engine as the UltraNova, capable of creating and editing sounds with up to 18 voices and powerful effects. The VocalTune function can recreate iconic urban and hip hop vocal sounds, as well as classic house and techno voice effects with the onboard vocoder. MiniNova is a live synthesiser allowing sounds to be tweaked and modified in realtime. Eight ‘animate’ buttons enable warping and twisting off sounds alongside a dedicated filter knob, four further editing knobs and oversized pitch and modulation wheels. The 256 onboard sounds can be searched instantly by type or genre, and there is room for another 128 user presets. MiniNova can add up to 5 effects to each voice including distortion, reverb, chorus/phase, delay, compressor, EQ and Novation's own gator 'stutter' effect. A line input allows instruments to be routed through the effects engine or the vocal effects. A range of free soundpacks created by eminent artists and sound designers including Chuckie, Daniel Fisher and more are available for download.

2013 - The Launch range expands and Bass Station returns

Launchkey is a range of 25, 49 and 61 note keyboard controllers with up to 50 physical controls including 16 velocity-sensitive multi-colour launch pads that trigger clips and launch scenes in Ableton Live. As well as enabling hands-on control of a DAW mixer, instruments and more, Launchkey is an integrated software/hardware instrument. The control surface has been designed to work tightly alongside two intuitive apps for iPad: the Launchkey app and the Launchpad app, plus the powerful V-Station & Bass Station synth plug-ins for Mac and Windows.

Launchkey app includes 60 exciting synth sounds that can be used immediately in performances and productions. Launchkey app offers a uniquely fast and fun way to play with sound, making it possible to change sounds instantly using interactive graphics.

The Novation Launchpad app is an app for iPad that makes it possible to create beats and music instantly. The extensive included selection of high quality loops and sounds can be combined in the multicolour 8x6 Launchpad grid to make and remix music. Built-in time stretching always keeps everything locked in to the beat, so loops never go out of time. Eight volume sliders allow quick volume changes and FX modes offer DJ effects such as beat-repeaters and synced filter effects. The app borrows some of its key features from Novation’s ‘Launchpad’ hardware, used by many of the worlds famous DJs and performers.

Twenty years ago, Novation released the ground-breaking Bass Station – a compact, elegant, analogue synth with a penchant for thick, fat and juicy bass sounds. Two decades later, Novation presents Bass Station II: a superb analogue monophonic synth in the traditional mould, but with the latest innovations. Based on the classic Novation Bass Station from two decades ago, Bass Station II has been completely re-worked for the 21st Century, with two filters, three oscillators, patch save and a fully-analogue effects section. There’s a step-mode sequencer, arpeggiator, a dual octave (25-note) velocity-sensitive keyboard with full-sized keys, and a comprehensive modulation section. There’s also full MIDI I/O and USB connectivity. Bass Station II’s signal path is all analogue, including the effects section, with three analogue oscillators (two independent oscillators plus a sub for rich bass sounds) and a noise generator; two discrete filters, Classic and Acid, with built-in overdrive; Distortion and Osc Filter Mod effects; dual ADSR envelopes and LFOs, and powerful Arpeggiator and Step Sequencer. Bass Station II’s traditional control layout breaks everything into modules for easy and familiar access, with dedicated pots, switches and sliders. But unlike a traditional analogue synth, there’s plenty of storage for custom sounds – there are 64 factory presets plus 64 more user slots in the hardware – and more can be stored on a computer.