You are here

Dawesome Novum

Dawesome Novum

Dawesome’s Novum is a granular synthesizer with a multi‑layered approach to sound design.

Describing Novum is no easy task as it is a synthesizer unlike anything I’ve used before. It comes with over 300 factory patches and despite the apparent complexity of what is going on under the hood, it is highly optimised for CPU efficiency and has a very approachable GUI, that can also be resized. Novum requires MacOS 10.13+ or Windows 10+ supporting AU and VST3 plug‑in formats. Even my 2012 Mac Pro (Mojave) ran it OK, though at some settings the CPU load was still close to the limit, so if using multiple instances on an older machine, it may be best to bounce the tracks as audio once you’re happy with them. The samples that form the basis of the sounds come as a separate download from the instrument plug‑in so that you don’t have to download the entire library each time there is a software update.

Basic Principles

For those unfamiliar with granular synthesis, the general principle is that the original sound, in this case a sample, is loaded into memory, but instead of simply being played back as it would be in a conventional sampler, small snippets of sound can be lifted from anywhere in the sample and then used as the basis for creating new sounds. By scanning different parts of the sample and by overlapping the grains, moving textures can be created while using fewer and longer grains produces discrete repeats. Using modulation to change the way grain samples are taken can produce sounds that are far removed from the original sample. Novum goes even further.

If you like soundscapes that continually evolve, fat bass drones or silky pads, then Novum offers an array of sonic delights from the gritty to the super smooth.

Samples are first broken down into six layers using algorithms based on machine learning. These operate somewhat like the aspects of human perception that allow us to mentally separate sounds when several things are going on at once. Simple sounds tend to be broken down into fairly similar‑sounding layers while more complex sounds or drum loops show very obvious differences between the parts. As I understand it the original sample is broken down into a very large number of frequency bands, then the layers are created by adjusting the levels of each frequency band according to the separation algorithm. If all six layers are added together, the original sound is reconstructed. Each layer then becomes a timbre in its own right and has its own complex envelope created by the extraction process, though the user can draw in new envelopes for the individual layers if so desired. These layers, which can be turned on or off, or solo’d individually, are then subjected to granular processing, so what you finally hear may bear little relation to the sample you started with.

Further processing is possible via synth‑style filters, effects and comprehensive modulation. There’s full MPE support and most parameters can be modulated either by internal modulators, such as LFOs, or by external controllers. You can also import your own samples or drum loops, giving you the opportunity to turn familiar sounds into something very different. Samples can be dragged into the main waveform display, after which it takes a few seconds for your sample to be split into layers, or different samples can be dragged on to individual layers. For example, you could combine six different choir samples, one on each layer, to create something very rich and textural. It is recommended that imported samples are at 44.1kHz or 48kHz and if the sound is pitched, Novum is able to extract the pitch.

Getting To Know You

The GUI may look a little unfamiliar at first but it’s actually pretty intuitive once you’ve spent a short time exploring it. The included waveform library, called Basics, appears down the left hand side of the screen in the browser section, each with a graphical depiction of its waveform. When one is selected its six layers are also depicted graphically. The currently loaded sound is shown top centre with power buttons below for turning the layers on or off along with depictions of the envelope for each layer. Clicking and dragging on the display rotates it so that you get a view of the six layers, each of which has a different colour assigned to it.

Patch presets are accessed via the icon to the left of the patch name box at the top of the browser and are arranged in categories such as Pads, Basses, Leads, Drones and so on, plus there are several banks contributed by individual sound designers. Sounds can also be searched by name — for example, you may want to view all the patches containing the word Strings. A star can be added to favourite patches so that you can also filter by favourites. On the main wave display, white circles depict the position and movement of the granular ‘emitters’. Modulation sources used in the patch are shown on the right of the screen with a plus button to add more sources if needed.

Two Lock icons allow the user to lock in place the timbres and/or their envelopes making it possible to try new presets while retaining the timbre and envelope settings from the previous patch, which can bring up some interesting variations. User sounds can be dragged directly on to the spectral display, after which it takes a few seconds for Novum to deconstruct them into timbral layers. When dragging different samples on to individual layers to create more complex layered sounds, these can be from the basics library or from an external sample library or short audio file.

The Timbre ‘flower’ allows different sonic textures to be explored.The Timbre ‘flower’ allows different sonic textures to be explored.The fun starts when you start combining attributes of one sound with another, which you can do by dragging a new sound waveform on to the line of Timbre power buttons. Now you have the timbral filters and envelopes from the new sound applied to the sound you originally loaded. If you want to replace only a single layer, you can drag and drop single layers from the sound waveform selected in the browser on to a specific layer in the current path. Taking the envelopes from a drum loop, for example, then applying them to a more consistent sound, can produce some very interesting rhythmic effects.

Five view sections access controls for Timbre, Envelope, Synth, FX and Mod with the relevant controls being shown below. In the Timbre view, the ‘Timbre Flower’ is bottom centre and this offers a means of varying the sound of the currently selected layer with the original timbre in the centre. Moving upwards softens the sound while to the right the sound becomes more noise‑like. Moving down makes the sound more like that of a conventional synth. ‘Homogenize’ is designed to help smooth out sounds that might start to sound a little dirty after editing or exchanging envelopes, apparently by removing phase information. The small orange brackets to the left of a control allow linking so that edits apply to all six layers rather than to individual layers. At the very bottom of the window you can see the incoming MIDI notes.


As the sound engine is based around granular synthesis the settings for Grains and Grain Emitter in the Timbre view have a profound effect on the sound — as do the filter and effects settings found in the other views. There are six effects types with the option to run them in series or parallel. Of particular note are the gorgeous Shimmer and Cloud reverbs, which can have a massive effect on the overall sound — so much so that it can be useful to turn them off when editing patches as they can overwhelm some of the more subtle changes. Some of the patches can sound quite lumpy without the effects switched on but add the effects and the end result is transformed into something silky smooth. This is evident in some of the string and choral settings, which manage to sound really ‘expensive’.

There are various settings for the start position of the grains, gain loop points, grain Density, positional Jitter, Blur, Grain size and so on, all of which can be modulated via the available internal LFOs, envelopes, random generators, sequencers and so on or via external MIDI control. There’s also the option to draw in custom LFO shapes. Where relevant, the internal modulators have the option of free running or DAW sync. As the Grain Density is reduced, the individual grains cause the sound intensity to be modulated as sound is only generated when a grain is playing. Grain Size generates more grains at lower settings so the pulsing effect heard at lower densities will be faster. It is also possible to add random panning to each grain.

Speed and playback pitch are independent so drum loops can be changed in pitch while maintaining their original tempo. Via the Envelope tab, the envelopes for the layers may be viewed in detail and new envelopes drawn in as required. As new envelopes are created, they are reflected in the main waveform display. There’s also a familiar ADSR envelope shaper at the end of the chain but before the FX section. Comb filtering can be applied to introduce string‑like timbres and controls for the grain emitters are also found here.

The Syn section offers more familiar synth‑like controls including filters, distortion and the Syntify slider.The Syn section offers more familiar synth‑like controls including filters, distortion and the Syntify slider.In the Syn menu, there is a Dirt control to add harmonics as well as resonant filtering and a Syntify control that manipulates the harmonic structure to make it sounds more synth‑like if required. There’s a lot of heavy maths behind this seemingly simple control and there are two choices of character for Syntify, so you just pick whichever sounds best. Other synth style controls allow for detuning, pitch adjustment, transpose and so on. To modulating a parameter, click on it to select it and then adjust in the modulation amount using the circular dial next to the desired modulation source. You can even use one modulator to modulate another. A similar process is used to assign parameters to external control sources such as the mod wheel.


It pays to start fairly simply, first by exploring the presets, then by making some tweaks to them to what that sounds like. Switch off the effects to hear what the granular engine is really doing and then experiment with the granular settings. You can also solo individual layers to hear what they sound like and sometimes a sound appears more focussed if not all the layers are used. When you get around to combing elements from different sounds, it is best to keep an open mind and just experiment as sometimes you get a wonderful surprise and other times a grainy mush that is too dense to be useful.

I don’t have any real criticisms of Novum as the designer has put in a lot of hard work to provide intuitive controls for what is in reality a very complex instrument. It might have been fun to add in the option of adding random octave shifts to some of the grains as you find in many of the stand‑alone granular effects processors on the market, so I mentioned this to the designer and it was hinted that something along these lines and beyond is already in the pipeline for a future update.

Granular synthesis does tend to have a certain diffuse character though constraining the grain activity close to one part of a sample can yield more focussed results. On the other hand, if you like soundscapes that continually evolve, fat bass drones or silky pads, then Novum offers an array of sonic delights from the gritty to the super smooth. In this respect its FX section does a lot of the heavy lifting, especially where you want to add a dreamy ambience. It perhaps isn’t the instrument to choose if you like realistic depictions of acoustic instruments, but then it could be argued that the world has enough of those already. Novum is a playground for sonic experimentations and excels at providing backdrops for other instruments where some simple external controls or basic modulation setups can add a lot of movement to the sound. When you consider the complex technology underpinning this instrument, it makes you appreciate its very approachable user interface even more, especially the drag and drop operations and the straightforward way in which modulation assignments are made.

As to who Novum is aimed at, sci‑fi or fantasy soundtrack composers are obvious candidates as creating dramatic beds and cues is very straightforward and the end results can be truly epic. Then you have the experimental EDM, Chill or ambient composers for whom Novum is simply the gift that keeps on giving — just recombining elements of the existing library could keep you busy for months. In fact anyone who wants a break from the mundane will have a lot of fun with Novum, and with a generous 90 day demo period there’s nothing to lose.


  • Novum’s unique approach means that you can get a lot of mileage out of splitting and recombining even a relatively small number of source samples.
  • Easy to use at a basic level but there’s plenty of depth to explore.


  • As with many granular synths, the resulting sounds do tend to have an identifiably granular character that often sounds somewhat diffuse.


For creating shifting textures and beds, Novum does a great job. Definitely one for the more experimentally minded.


$179 including VAT.