Novation MoroderNova – A Moustache Too Far?

Movember. Hipster beards. That game where you put a moustache on the TV and drink when it lines up with a character. Moustaches on everything.

MoroderNova

What is the Novation MiniNova?

With roots going back to the EDP Wasp and Oxford Synthesizer Company OSCar, Novation have consistently produced affordable, punchy instruments with a unique character. Their flagship SuperNova was one of the most ambitious virtual analogue synthesizers, and soon defined the evolution of mainstream techno, dance and trance thanks to a greater depth of control and expression than many contemporaries. Unlike some manufacturers, Novation has allowed new technology to make their Nova architecture increasingly affordable. Two extremely popular and affordable compact synths, UltraNova and MiniNova, have brought the SuperNova feel to a new generation since 2010 and 2012 respectively.

Nevertheless, with recent releases focusing more on control of software than synthesis, the UltraNova and MiniNova’s improvements over the original “Nova” architecture have reached most of the musicians they’re going to get to. The UltraNova is just under £400, the MiniNova a little over £300, and used values remain strong; keeping the system fresh and marketable needs something to stand out.

Special edition MiniNova – the MoroderNova

That something was announced in May 2015. A slightly patchy reception, with comments questioning the validity of a whole limited edition to package some signature sounds, suggests that synth players may not assign much weight to celebrity endorsements – unlike the guitar market where dressed-up low-end models can still command strong prices by aping the preferred style of famous players.

Still, Novation handled their collaboration well – the MoroderNova not only identifies with an undeniable legend of electronic music, it comes in at the same RRP as the regular model’s launch price (typically, around £50 extra on the street price). American retailers like Sweetwater are seemingly offering the same sort of discounts a regular MiniNova would attract, too.

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Limited to 500 units worldwide, 50 for the UK, and 5 for my preferred music retailer PMT (part of Dolphin, so I do wonder if Dolphin also had five), the pre-order announcement from Novation’s mailing list hit a couple of days after the links from most retailers inviting pre-orders – as such, I’d got an order in and saw the stock status change to “Unavailable” later in the day.

Already a fan of Moroder for many things, not least Electric Dreams and the reworked Metropolis, the secondhand MiniNova I bought in 2014 had got me back into enjoying making music again and the idea of owning a homage to a musical hero with the confidence that I already liked the core product was irresistible.

Getting the MoroderNova – number five is alive!

Differences between the MoroderNova and MiniNova are trivial in synth terms. The faceplate is silver with black graphics (some may remember the limited edition SuperNova keyboards) rather than the blue/black scheme traditional for Novation, and there are moustache and sunglasses details liberally applied. The default patch set has been partially replaced with a set of patches either programmed by Giorgio Moroder, or programmed to match signature sounds he used throughout his career – it’s unclear, though in recent videos he is seen playing the minikey synth.

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The limited edition nature comes down to a certificate of authenticity – and perhaps, if people don’t do the inevitable and share the patches, some unique sounds. It seems pretty unlikely that the large community of MiniNova owners will somehow be prevented from getting the Moroder set, so Novation should probably release them as part of the library when the limited edition synths have sold out. Mine is number 005 – surprisingly, the only indication of this is the serial number and certificate rather than a limited edition number in a more visible location.

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You may think that I just advocated giving up something that makes my new synth “valuable”, but really, I doubt many people have snapped up one of these because it’s going to have some future sales potential. It’s a bit of fun, a bit silly – the graphics tell you that this is no po-faced attempt at lending handcrafted/magical musical mojo to a mass-produced product, it’s no tolex-wrapped Moog or 5150 Kramer. If there’s any criticism I would want to make, it’s that it doesn’t quite go far enough in the silliness – Korg have done well with reverse/red & black keys on past models, and reverse keys on the MoroderNova would have enhanced the limited nature and visibility of it (as well as complementing the silver monochromatic feel).

And what of the synth itself?

MoroderNova

It’s a MiniNova, pure and simple, so there’s nothing different about the sound or controls. The minikey keyboard is still a compromise, with no aftertouch, though once you get away from the snobbery of having professional, piano-sized keys the advantages in span and speed the smaller keys present can be turned into an advantage. The USB port is for MIDI capabilities, with no audio interface unlike the UltraNova, and the audio input and microphone are unchanged.

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This is a good thing, as the MiniNova is still one of the best “cheap” synths going. Used models in good condition can be found for as little as £180, and even new they are often found for £250, or bundled with accessories that theoretically make them that cheap. The 18-voice architecture has 3 oscillators per voice, 66 potential modulation destinations, with 20 sources per patch chosen from 6 envelope generators, 3 LFOs and the usual selection of MIDI sources. Aftertouch is supported, even though the keys cannot provide it.

Each patch can be built from a selection of standard waveforms, digital waveforms and wavetables – and then, fed through up to five effects. The specification is derived from the SuperNova II, but loses the comb filter and FM capability – the latter is covered by the 20 digital waveforms. The small reduction in polyphony does not reflect a weak engine in the MiniNova though, you can make dense patches and still have plenty of notes remaining. An impressive sound creation tool can be found in the “Density” and “Density Detune” controls, which create up to 8 virtual oscillators without much impact on polyphony.

Given the low price, you could be forgiven for thinking the MiniNova sits behind even Novation’s earlier entry level keyboards – the underrated X-Station, KS/K-Station. Some of the standard patches are inevitably aimed at shop-demo impact for sure. To assume that’s all it will do is incorrect, though. An immense palette is available and the animation control, arpeggiator and complex envelope and LFO matrix allow the MiniNova to produce virtual analogue soundscapes of immense complexity and subtlety. It may be small, but this synth could step into the armoury of Vangelis or Hans Zimmer producing a classic Sci-Fi soundtrack with no sweat at all.

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For a stripped out interface, it manages to be quite intuitive too. The eye – and hand – are drawn to the immense filter control knob. Well weighted this gives great control with more precision than a typical rotary encoder or pot, and greater repeatability than a fader. It also feels good to use. Users of Waldorf’s synths and machines like the Use Audio Plugiator will find the matrix access to controls very familiar – a switch selects from rows of controls, with individual encoders. The controls “pick up” where the patch is set, and a memory indicator in the LCD tells you when you’ve returned to the original value. This layout suits performance tweaking more than patch creation, where the included MiniNova Editor and Librarian packages offer a better workflow.

The gooseneck microphone, which seems to have become a requirement for any compact virtual analogue since Quasimidi’s brief moment of glory, feeds into a rather impressive Vocoder. Novation have recognised the adoption of pitch correction throughout the industry, and alongside the traditional vocoder patches (yes, it can do all the obvious ones) a Vocal Tune capability allows the singer to control pitch with the keyboard, live. Cher’s “Life after Love” can be a reality for buskers everywhere. For sheer accessibility the MiniNova’s vocoder makes it more appealing than some standalone options where MIDI control from an external keyboard is required, and for quick & dirty vocal tweaks it’s a lot easier than trying to set up scales in an ATR/AVP or VoiceWorks.

Access to the filters is also possible – a 1/4″ audio input on the back panel can either feed the vocoder, provide a dry mono mix just to save on plugs, or be fed through the effects and synth engine. The XLR socket on top is intended for a dynamic microphone, and the one provided is sensitive enough.

With a USB port for MIDI, the MiniNova can be used to control DAWs. Novation have good form here, with the X-Station really pre-empting the soft of integration that is now commonplace. Ableton Live Lite is included with the MoroderNova and MiniNova, and whilst downloading extras, the librarian makes it very easy to deploy the library of free sounds on the website.

All of these things apply to the MoroderNova. You’ve made it this far and probably forgot that’s what this review is about. All that changes are those patches.

Patch NumberPatch NameTrackPatch NumberPatch NameTrack
C000I Feel BassDonna Summer
I Feel Love
C026CatPadDavid Bowie
Cat People
C001BadGirlDonna Summer
Bad Girls
C027CatPad2David Bowie
Cat People
C002TpGnBassKenny Loggins
Danger Zone
C028ThemeArp1Giorgio Moroder
Giorgio's Theme
C003No1Arp1Sparks
No. 1 Song In Heaven
C029ThemeArp2Giorgio Moroder
Giorgio's Theme
C004MdntLeadGiorgio Moroder
Chase (Midnight Express)
C030ThemePadGiorgio Moroder
Giorgio's Theme
C005WannaRockGiorgio Moroder
I Wanna Rock You
C031EvoBass1Giorgio Moroder
Evolution
C006BeatTheClockSparks
Beat The Clock
C032EvoBass2Giorgio Moroder
Evolution
C007BreathBassBerlin
Take My Breath Away
C033EvoBass3Giorgio Moroder
Evolution
C008FlashLeadIrene Cara
Flashdance
C034EvoPadGiorgio Moroder
Evolution
C009E=MC2Giorgio Moroder
E=MC2
C035EvoLeadGiorgio Moroder
Evolution
C010IFeelPercDonna Summer
I Feel Love
C036InLoveVocMunch Machine & Giorgio Moroder
In Love With Love
C011ScarIn1Giorgio Moroder
Intro Theme
Scarface
C037InLoveArpMunich Machine & Giorgio Moroder
In Love With Love
C012ScarIn2Giorgio Moroder
Intro Theme
Scarface
C038LABassGiorgio Moroder
Los Angeles
C013ScarOut1Giorgio Moroder
End Credits
Scarface
C039LAVocGiorgio Moroder
Los Angeles
C014ScarOut2Giorgio Moroder
End Credits
Scarface
C040UtopBassGiorgio Moroder
Utopia
C015MdntBassGiorgio Moroder
Chase (Midnight Express)
C041UtopArp1Giorgio Moroder
Utopia
C016FlashArpIrene Cara
Flashdance
C042UtopArp2Giorgio Moroder
Utopia
C017FlashPad1Irene Cara
Flashdance
C043LoveToStringsDonna Summer
Love To Love You Baby
C018FlashPad2Irene Cara
Flashdance
C044LoveToLead1Donna Summer
Love To Love You Baby
C019TpGnArpKenny Loggins
Danger Zone
C045LoveToLead2Donna Summer
Love To Love You Baby
C020CallMeBlondie
Call Me
C046EternityGiorgio Moroder
From Her To Eternity
C021NeverArpLimahl
The NeverEnding Story
C0473DegKeyThe Three Degrees
Jump The Gun
C022NeverPadLimahl
The NeverEnding Story
C0483DegLeadThe Three Degrees
Jump The Gun
C023BreathPadBerlin
Take My Breath Away
C049No1Arp2Sparks
No. 1 Song In Heaven
C024DaftKeyDaft Punk
Giorgio By Moroder
C050HarmonySuzi Lane
Harmony
C025DaftArpDaft Punk
Giorgio By Moroder

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They’re good. I particularly liked “BreathBass”, which is the distinctive bassline that drives Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”. It’s inevitable that the few music stores that have a MoroderNova in stock and on display will get very tired of that intro very quickly. As launching points for some solid dance, disco or electronica, the Moroder patches replace some MiniNova presets I really didn’t miss. It appears the patches are write protected and Novation have stated on the forum that there are no plans to reveal the patch set outside of the MorderNova, but it does feel like there could be more in there. Soundtrack landmarks, like Top Gun, Flashdance and Scarface do have the limitation that if you want to use them, comparisons will be drawn with the original track. The whole feel of each patch is retained, so it’s not the situation of “this is the basic patch used” without the post-production effects; a benefit of the Nova architecture’s effects chain.

With an impressive career spanning five decades and multiple styles, it would have been good to have some genre-crossing material from Moroder, and it’s also telling that two of his highest profile works from the ’80s are skipped – Electric Dreams, from which the eponymous song got significant airplay and a good lead and bell percussion could be curated, and anything from his restoration and remix of Metropolis, which offers great classic ’80s potential in Rotwang’s Chase, The M Machine and Cage of Freedom.

Ultimately the MoroderNova’s limited release also limits the relevance of this review, except – patches aside, the MiniNova is the same thing. 5 years after the UltraNova launched, the sound engine still has little to match it on the market, and it stands alone at the price. Moroder’s retro credibility might help a relatively young company get in on the rose-tinted glasses fuelled revival – like Korg’s RK keytar and virtual Rolands. It’s simply not necessary. When the obvious firms get in on the act, you get less than you hoped for – just look to Yamaha’s “Reface” revival models, where the scaled-down DX7 is a four FM operator engine, not the 6Op FM of the original. Novation has delivered more, for less, consistently since 1992 and it could be argued they don’t need a gimmick to sell synths.

In the future, I’d hope to see Chris Huggett’s talents turn again to something to rival the SuperNova II’s build and keyboard. The leading position of the 48-voice, multi-timbral, multi-effect system has been eclipsed (though, it took a while) and yet the 18-voice capability of the Ultra and Mini would surely be scalable to get back into the 61-key, multi-timbral workstation market. Technology and user interfaces have evolved, and what Novation could accomplish with a flagship synth would be very intriguing. Similarly an amount of attention paid to the classic OSCar has led to speculation of a re-release – and yet, the iconic machine there is the EDP Wasp, a unit that would suit recreation as a light, self-contained synth with modern quality components for the membrane keyboard and simple case. Recreations of the Wasp have commanded high figures, and the original is exceedingly collectible.

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Posted on Monday, August 10th, 2015
Under: Music Production | Comments Off on Novation MoroderNova – A Moustache Too Far?

Avantime Tips: Rev Counter Bulbs!

One of the Taylor Made Computers Avantimes.

One of the Taylor Made Computers Avantimes.

A quick update, just to put this out on the internet! A lot of UK Avantime owners have asked in various forums and mailing lists how to replace the bulbs on the small rev counter display just above the steering wheel. Yes, if you’ve got an old Avantime, that thing that looks like a small oddment tray (as it is on the passenger side) is another backlit orange LCD panel. If the light catches it at the right angle you’ll be able to see the display.

The official guide essentially talks through stripping down the entire dash, and these are 13+ year old Renault/Matra plastics, so such a process is intimidating. Chances of a 100% perfect repair, with no broken clips or screw guides, are slim. Fortunately that guide is really talking about replacing the entire panel.

It is possible, if you have sufficiently long forearms and skinny-to-average wrists and hands, to reach up from the footwell roughly aligned with the space between throttle and brake pedal. You need to lie on your back in the footwell to get your shoulder directly under the steering column to have enough reach, and be aware of the modules and wiring in the space, don’t push or lean on bits, just find the natural path straight up to the back of the display. You’ll feel a rectangular shape with three circular holes and in the holes, the bases of the wedge-style bulbs. These are Osram 38754/2351MFX6, 12V 1.2W with a socket on the base and black holder; Ring R509TMBK looks to be the right replacement and easily found in the UK for around 89p each.

To remove the bulbs, clearance is tight – I wrapped a 6mm socket in bluetack to provide enough grip. They only need a little counter-clockwise turn to release. Refitting is the reverse; I put a very small bit of bluetack in the socket to hold the bulb in place whilst feeding it up to the display.

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Once you have the knack it takes just a few minutes to restore brightness. Regrettably the centre LCD of the main display does need all the dismantling of the top panel, but at least it is just the top.

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Posted on Monday, March 30th, 2015
Under: car technology | Comments Off on Avantime Tips: Rev Counter Bulbs!

A leg to stand on…

This website became very quiet a few years ago, something I can only attribute to an accident sustained whilst forgetting how stairs work. However, being a geek/tech website, I have to give belated credit to the device that kept me mobile and able to work during a 9 month initial recovery.

The support, referred to by the inventors as a “hands-free crutch” and not offered (or widely known about) by the UK’s excellent NHS, is ideal for lower leg injuries. Their website is at http://www.iwalk-free.com – I had the original version, which was rather cruder than the current model but still very effective, and I sourced it from a UK reseller at the aptly titled http://www.peglegs.co.uk

My injury was a complex fracture (shattering, in fact) of the lower part of the tibia and fibula, which had been reset in Tunisia with plate, wires and screws. From February 2012 to November 2012, weight bearing was a bad idea, and for the first six months, impossible – even by November, the tibia had a substantial gap without bone! However, as the upper part – the shin below the knee – was fine I could use the iWalk to keep belting about. This also helped keep strength up, as otherwise recovering muscle in my legs would have taken much longer. From the end of February to July, and sporadically after that depending on pain and strength levels, the iWalk WAS my leg, and the moment I was able to get off the sofa, make a cup of tea, and bring it back to my laptop without help was amazing.

Your mileage may vary and your injuries may be different, of course, but this is a fantastic invention for solving the problem. The new model, well, I wish I’d broken my leg a year later! In case of future operations to reset the mess, I’ve retained mine, but the UK importer does rent them out for short-term injuries like ankle sprains.

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Posted on Monday, March 10th, 2014
Under: commentary | No Comments »

Recesky or Gakkenflex – the £10 TLR camera kit.

Recesky TLRLomography is built, in part, upon the foundations of low-cost cameras made, for the most part, in Hong Kong and China. The trusty Diana and Holga have proven popular for decades, and an ever-expanding pool of designs has ensured that Lomography’s product range is rarely stale.

Outside of Lomography, however, a little funky twin-lens reflex camera has been doing the rounds for a few years. Originally appearing as part of a magazine – Otona no Kagaku or “Science Of Adult”, the Gakkenflex cost around $40 when the nearest comparable TLRs were almost 3x the price. Now eBay has become home to the “Recesky” camera kit – and whaddya know, this little beauty looks surprisingly similar to that Gakkenflex. The sample I have here I bought for under £8 including shipping from China… and here’s how to put it together.
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Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Under: analogue, photography, shanzai, toys | No Comments »

Is Apple about to do it again?

1993: Apple Newton. Newton fails.
2007 – iPhone released. Dominates smartphone market.

1995-1997 – Apple Pippin. Pippin Fails.
2013…?

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Posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013
Under: audio visual, commentary | No Comments »

Matias Tactile Pro 3 for Macintosh – UK

Apple’s steady erosion of the simple ergonomic qualities of their keyboards in favour of style has reached tipping point for many – including myself. I grew up battering an Apple //e’s solid mechanical switches, and in the ’90s my Apple Extended Keyboard (originally from a Mac IIx) was fiercely guarded. Even so, when ADB was finally removed in favour of USB, Apple’s keyboards were primarily simply “cheap”, rather than “downright uncomfortable” for a typist used to exerting a bit of force. PC-targeted replacement keyboards only go so far; and as Apple introduced media and hardware controls to their keyboards, missing those symbols became more than just irritating. Matias have been producing an alternative for some years now – and as it’s been revised again and made available with international layouts, it seemed the opportune moment to take it for a spin.
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Posted on Monday, August 20th, 2012
Under: Desktop computing, retro computing | No Comments »

JooJoo’s Big Update

The JooJoo is long gone, but along with the delayed review, the final update was featured; Fusion Garage also announced new tablets, though to date no more has been heard from the Singapore based firm.
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Posted on Friday, July 15th, 2011
Under: mobile computing, retro computing, umpc | No Comments »

Crunchtime for JooJoo – the £319 12″ MID

It’s funny how one product can change everyone’s perceptions of what’s feasible on the marketplace. Nearly two years in gestation, the JooJoo’s origins are a hybrid of UMPC/MID and netbook thinking – netbook class hardware in a UMPC shell, but with the MID’s cut-down OS theory. With a stripped-bare UI, large, colourful multitouch screen and accessible x86 hardware, what started out as a gadget-geek’s fantasyevolved into a little bit of a commercial nightmare for the manufacturers and developers at Fusion Garage. None of which has any bearing, ultimately, on what you get for your cash when you find a JooJoo.

Wild JooJoos are pretty hard to find, few made it into the hands of journalists or end users but if you want your own you may track them down on eBay and the like.

(This was originally written in June/July 2010)
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Posted on Friday, July 15th, 2011
Under: mobile communications, mobile computing, umpc | No Comments »

Box Only iPhone 4 unlocking success! (Vodafone)

Following my comments on the iPhone 4 it turns out that if you are determined enough to deal with Vodafone’s unlocking team, you will get success with a Box-Only iPhone 4 purchased from Vodafone Retail. Or at least, should – your mileage may vary. Read more for the results…
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Posted on Monday, October 4th, 2010
Under: commentary, mobile communications | No Comments »

iPad – the reporter’s friend

Everyone and their dog is a reporter these days. The wonderful world of the “blog” seems to have empowered everyone with an opinion, and whoever has the best net connection, the fastest fingers and ultimately the best tech wins. Kinda. At least until you realise that you don’t make any money out of it. Regardless, with print media in my invoice book, I still want the most efficient tools. Apple’s iPad definitely makes a difference to how I can work, and here’s how it can genuinely be the ideal companion for any reporter.
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Posted on Friday, September 24th, 2010
Under: commentary, mobile computing | No Comments »