Jon Whittaker | Mar 12, 2019 | 0
Synth Histories – the Novation Supernova
The Novation Supernova was one of the most influential synths the UK brand ever made – here’s a potted history…
UK synthesizer and music technology brand, Novation, has an impressive CV to say the least. Breaking through with the superb Bass Station analogue synth, against a tide of digital synths (check out the all-new Bass Station II, too), Novation has been operating outside of expected norms and trends ever since.
Its back catalogue of products is an embarrassment of riches. The Drum Station drum module, A-Station, K-Station, KS4 and KS5 synths, not to mention the Launchpad, and more recently the Ultranova and Mininova have all won countless plaudits, along with plenty of comments along the lines of ‘This is so useful- why has no-one done this before?’ Well, that’s innovation for you- it seems simple when you have the answer in your hands.
One of the most revered of all its products is undoubtedly the Novation Supernova synth. This blue, powerhouse of a synthesizer is so well thought of that owners can’t bear to part with them even now, and those that made the mistake of selling bemoan the day they did. The synth ‘DNA’ lives on in the Ultranova and Mininova, however.
So what was it that made the Supernova so great?
Colossal power, intuitive Novation design, stunning sound
When the Novation Supernova arrived in 1998, it landed in the midst the dawn of a new synthesizer age: the age the virtual analogue synthesizer. Synths using this technology used maths to model the signal path of an analogue synth, so that a digital synthesizer could sound and behave like an analogue model, but with all of the benefits of digital.
Forerunners were the excellent Nord Lead, and Roland JP-8000. One of the drawbacks of this technology was that it required substantial processing power from the synthesizers CPU, which at the time was pretty limited. This meant that polyphony was usually fairly low.
The Novation Supernova exploded onto the scene with a whopping 16-voice polyphony (expandable to 20 with an OS update)! This is impressive even by modern standards (remember, in this era, there wasn’t an endless supply of audio tracks to record to when resources ran low, and finished productions were usually mixed in real-time to a 2-track medium such as DAT, Minidisk or even cassette).
The Supernova was built with a 3-oscillator synth engine, which made creating thick patches easy. Two LFOs meant that warping the 3 oscillators into things that are far more complex was equally, a breeze.
Not satisfied with this, the Supernova provided 7 programmable effects per voice, along with two ring modulators. Oh, and it had eight assignable outputs, too, and a comprehensive filter section.
Unlike many synths, it wasn’t packed with ‘showroom presets’ either (the type designed to dazzle in the showroom, but that aren’t particularly useful in reality). The on-board sounds were excellent, but hugely useful, too. So much so, that many fans hunt hunt down preset sample sets, in the absence of a real unit in their studio.
It also had a really flexible arpeggiator- the king that you could play around with, hold a chord, and have and inspiring foundation for a new track, instantly. It sounded huge, but could still be clean and articulate.
The Supernova II appeared some time later, offering a keyboard version, 32-note polyphony, more user memories, FM synthesis, an on-board vocoder, and expanding many other areas. Crucially, though, it was still blue 😉
A friend of mine used to have a Supernova, and I was always insanely jealous. It sounded amazing, and could produce any sort of sound, from familiar, fat analogue sounds, and edgy leads, to bell-like tones and more. On top of this, it had none of the technical drawbacks that its peers seemed to have (no note stealing here), and it was so easy to use.
It is for these reasons that many synth users still lament the day that production ceased on the Novation Supernova II, and also the reason that the Ultranova and Mininova have been (deservedly) so applauded upon launch.
These two new synths are based on the very same sound engine as the Supernova, but with the added advantages of modern convenience. So, you get USB MIDI connections, and the ability to edit sounds via a host computer. Plus, many of its controls are touch sensitive, making performances even tighter and easier. They’re still blue, too 😀
I now have a friend who has an Ultranova, and I’m very jealous of him, too (*sigh* history repeats itself…)