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Novation Summit

Polyphonic Synthesizer
By Gordon Reid

Novation Summit

Novation scale dizzying heights with their new flagship synthesizer.

There's a precedent for taking your best synthesizer, sticking two of them in a single box and adding new features to make the bi-timbral whole even greater than the sum of its parts. The most notable instance of this is probably the wonderful dual-manual Sequential Prophet 10, which combined two Prophet 5s and added numerous new functions to make it the monster it was. A more accessible example was the Roland Super JX10, which used a pair of JX8Ps as its sound generators and added a long list of extra facilities that made it a much superior instrument. Today, the concept has resurfaced in the Summit which, to paraphrase myself, takes Novation's best synthesizer, sticks two of them in a single box, and adds new features that promise to make the bi-timbral whole even greater than the sum of its parts. I wonder if it has worked?

The Technology

To understand the Summit you first have to understand the Peak, which was reviewed by Paul Nagle in the Sound On Sound May 2017 issue. If you already know the Peak, you can skip the next few paragraphs and jump to the section headed 'New Heights'. If not, read on...

The Peak is an eight-voice desktop unit that generates digital waveforms and modifies them using analogue filters and amplifiers. You can program patches using the controls on its top panel but, if you're serious about sound design, you need to burrow into its menus. These are accessed from a set of dedicated buttons that take you to each of the sections (oscillators, filters and so on) with parameters displayed on the small oLED beneath them. Fortunately, Novation chose to make the on-screen font nice and large rather than cramming lots of information into fewer pages so, although there's more scrolling to be done, the system is more accessible than you might imagine.

Novation named the Peak's oscillators 'NCOs' — Numerically Controlled Oscillators — but don't be deceived by the name, they are digital. I have no problem with this; digital oscillators can sound great, but the name is misleading. Happily, the Peak's are well implemented, providing a wide range of static and dynamic waveforms with minimal aliasing. If you want 8-bit grunge and artifacts, look elsewhere.

There are five waveform options: sine, triangle, sawtooth, pulse and 'More', which, following the Peak's upgrade to v1.2, accesses 60 wavetables, each containing five related waveforms. You can choose any position in a table and use the static interpolated waveform as the basis of a sound, or move smoothly through the table to create dynamic timbres. Using the panel controls, you can modulate the shapes of all the waveforms manually or by using ModEnv1 or LFO1 as sources, or in any combination. Although the modified waveshapes aren't described in the manual, you can view the warping of the sine and triangle waves on an oscilloscope, you can see that the sawtooth is doubled in the common fashion, and that the duty cycle of the square wave is increased or decreased. There's also a programmable SuperSaw function. Other oscillator parameters include key-sync, oscillator sync, programmable pitch-bend on a per-oscillator rather than a per-voice basis, the option to disconnect a given oscillator from the keyboard, and ring modulation. And whereas many digital synths offer some form of random pitch offset to fake the inconsistencies of analogue oscillators, the Peak does rather better, with Divergence (offset) and Drift parameters that provide a more organic imitation.

Following the oscillator mixer (which adds a noise generator with an integrated filter that you can use to create a range of spectra) the signal passes through an Overdrive before being presented to the single, resonant OTA filter per voice. This offers low-pass, band-pass and high-pass modes with 12dB/oct and 24dB/oct options for each, and will oscillate in any of its six modes when the resonance approaches maximum. In the menus, you'll also find...

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Published October 2019