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We had an opportunity to see the Novation Circuit groove box in action at NAMM, and were so impressed we immediately requested a review unit. After getting our hands on one, we can confidently say that this is one of the best groove machines/beat production boxes we’ve ever encountered at this price point.
OK, that said, let’s touch upon the negatives first and get them out of the way. There’s really only one – and that is that the product documentation is incredibly weak. If you’ve never used a beat machine like this before, or a matrix-like pad-button interface for step-sequencing and synth production, you might be a little lost (and Novation certainly doesn’t help things out upon first opening the box). All right, so the documentation is pretty lame, which means you’ll probably want to do what we did and head to Novation’s YouTube videos for a quick primer on using the Circuit.
[RELATED: read more synth and keyboard reviews from Performer Magazine.]
Once you figure out the controls, the touch-sensitive RBG colored-buttons become like an extension of your brain – your fingers will start punching in sequences and fine-tuning basslines or pads on-the-fly with ease. Sound quality with the Circuit groove box is incredible for such an affordable unit – no surprise given that it is built around the Nova engine. And the ability to save and recall patches is pretty simple.
The thing that really catapults Circuit to the head of the class, however, are the amazingly responsive sound-shaping macro parameter controls at the top. Ditch the manual (yeah, we’re contradicting our earlier complaint about documentation – so sue us), and just start experimenting. You don’t really need to understand what each knob controls, just listen with your ears and let your fingers shape your sounds. The Circuit excels in this area, while other machines seem almost basic and quaint in comparison.
We dig the fact that Circuit comes with built-in speakers, so you can use it on-stage, in the studio or even in the tour van when inspiration strikes (it can be battery powered, too, a nice touch).
For the money, we were thoroughly enamored. Once we figured out how to use the interface, sequencing drum patterns and patching new synths sounds was a snap, and giving the filter a good ol’ sweep when our loops were flowing was a pleasure. Considering you also get a copy of Ableton Live Lite with this, you’ve pretty much got a self-contained music production suite for under $350. Doesn’t get much better than that.
-Nova-series synth engines and sequencing
-Comprehensive RGB-backlit 4 x 8 pad matrix
-2-part Nova-series analog-modeled synthesizer
-4-part rhythm machine
-Battery power and built-in speaker
-USB and MIDI connections
-Includes Ableton Live Lite