Novation Circuit is Novation’s stand alone synth groove box. Novation Circuit is comprised of 2 six-voice Nova heritage synths and a 4 voice drum machines. There are 64 presets for each synth and 64 drum sound presets for the drum machine. It’s a great little groovebox and when all is said and done, its down right fun!

The 2 six-voice polyphonic synths are really flexible. The synths each have side-chain effects with 8 possible settings. The synth side chain effects respond directly to drum 1. That means it’s easy to create the desirable ducking effect with the push of a couple of buttons. The major parameters for any of the given synth presets are tweak-able from the 8 macro knobs when either synth is selected.

The 4 voice drum machine has 4 Drum parameter controls (Pitch, Decay, Distortion, Filter). These controls are accessible via the 8 macro knobs at the top of Circuit. They come in handy for quick and easy sculpting of the drum sounds.

The Novation Circuit layout over all seems to be intuitively designed with Volume, Scales, Step parameters and pattern parameters on the left. Meanwhile, transport controls (play and record) and FX, Mixer and Patterns functionality buttons on the right, topped off by the large Filter cut off knob.

At top center of the Novation Circuit there are 8 macro control knobs that Novation describes as “multi-functional rotary encoders, with associated RGB LED”. The functionality of these knobs depend on the current view. The macro controls are also record-able in performance mode.

Got it loaded with a custom #beatppl sound pack. Should have this edited and loaded later this week. #novationcircuit

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The Novation Circuit’s 32 pads layout is familiar. But I have to say that my initial thought was that the pads are too small. Then I thought back to my first impression of the Rytm drum pads… Same impression but I got over it quickly. Novation Circuit had a similar effect on me. I am not a huge finger drummer and the Circuit is designed as a step sequencer anyway. It feels intuitive and comfortable. That said, the pads are comfortable to play. No complaints there.

Accessing utility features such as octave up / down, tempo (tap tempo), swing, edit, duplicate, save and session are easy as they are all represented with dedicated buttons. No menu diving here.

The shift button allows you to access presets for synths and drums. Shift also allows access to various parameters like tap tempo.

The back is home to the power button, power connection, USB, MIDI in/out (requires included break out cables) and left / right outputs. Headphone jack is on the front of the unit. Too bad, so sad… no CV. I think that’s a definite miss for novation. Still, not a deal breaker. I was able to get around this with my little miniskiff modular synth which includes Synthrotek’s Midi to CV converter. That made it easy to connect my small modules synth and dig in.

A huge added value for the Novation Circuit owner is the ability to access, for free, the Circuit Components. This is a special user website where you can take advantage of  the following

  • Isotonik Studios Circuit Editor software
  • Firmware updates
  • Sample import
  • Librarian

As for the 2 synths on the Circuit, the real power comes into view when using Isotonik Studios’ Circuit Editor. Just a quick glance at the Circuit editor’s user interface reveals Circuits deep capabilities. These are the types of capabilities in routing and sound sculpting that aren’t readily apparent from the streamlined UI of the Circuit hardware. There is immense value in the use of this editor.

At it’s launch Novation Circuit had no sample playback capability. Since then the firmware has been updated several times. One of the major updates, in my opinion, is the ability to load samples and create your own custom libraries. This is all done from the cloud. Connecting the Circuit to your computer via USB cable, logging onto the circuit components site,  holding a a combination of buttons while switching the unit on is all it takes to start dragging and dropping samples. This is also where you’d back up and manage presets. I found it really helpful and pretty dope to be able to store my presets and custom sample sets to the cloud within the Circuit components interface.

Novation did a great job of chronicling the updates since launch on their “Evolution of Circuit” page (here

Build Quality

Novation Circuit is build of sturdy plastic. Much like the synths in the product line up, such as Bass Station 2, Circuit is travel friendly and light weight but it doesn’t appear to be fragile. One of the first things I noticed are the pads on the unit. They are smaller than I imagined and rather stiff to touch at first. I suspect, like with any new controller, the pads will give over time and become a bit more comfortable.

The knobs are plastic as well but I think they are well spaced out and large enough that in use the Circuit makes for easy navigation and tweaking.

Portability is key with Circuit. It features a small speaker on the bottom of the chassis. It is also battery-powered with AA batteries if you need to go mobile.

Major Features

  • Built in speaker
  • battery-powered
  • 2 Nova synths
  • Circuit components suite of tools
  • 4 Part drum machine
  • 6 Note polyphonic per synth
  • 64 Synth patches
  • 64 Drum patches
  • 8 Synth macro controls (Control up to 4 parameters with one knob)
  • 4 Drum parameter controls (Pitch, Decay, Distortion, Filter)
  • Mixer view with levels and mutes
  • Master FX with individual track sends
  • 16 Delays
  • 8 Reverbs
  • Sidechain effect (7 types and off). Triggered from Drum 1
  • Hi-pass / low-pass master filter

bboy_review_scale_5Overall, Circuit is dope! It has its limitation and from what I can see those limitations are fading with each update. Firmware 1.3 added Sample Flip, Infinite Envelope, Organizing Sessions, Sample Automation, and Performing with Muted Tracks. The latest update adds Drum Pattern Length (novations version of polyrhythms with drums patterns allowing for independent time signatures), Instant Pattern switching, Session coloring on Circuit and MIDI Clock settings.

Speaking of Circuits limitations, that’s kind of what makes Circuit special and charming. It makes you do more with a carefully chosen set of attributes that maybe you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

The ability to load samples is a huge win and value add for Circuit users. Couple that with the features like 16 delays and 8 reverb effects and the cloud functionality of the Circuit Components suite and you’ve got a real beat-making weapon with an eye towards the future.

If I could have my way, I’d like to see CV and Gate out on any future hardware updates. Still overall, this is not a huge deal or deal breaker for me. There are ways around this sort of modular synth integration. As it stands Circuit has a bit of a cult following and I totally see why. Novation carved out a great balance of features, functionality, portability and ease of use that makes Circuit the people’s champ.


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