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Page 2: Novation Summit

Polyphonic Synthesizer By Gordon Reid

New Heights

So now we reach the Summit. When I removed the review unit from its packaging, I was very impressed. I'm a fan of the Goldilocks school of synth design — not too large but not too cramped, not too complex but neither too simple, not too heavy but not too flimsy... in short, just right — and the Summit ticked all of those boxes. Another immediate pleasure was the lack of a wall-wart; unlike the Peak, the Summit has an internal power supply with an IEC socket on the back. Bravo!

Even before switching it on, I was impressed by the solidity of the instrument and by the quality of its control surface. While this hosts a lot of knobs, buttons and sliders, the layout (apart, perhaps, from the positions of the LFOs) is intuitive, and lots of informative LEDs help to make it easy on the eye. I was a little concerned by the size of the screen, but this proved to be unfounded because the large font of the Peak has been retained.

The Summit measures 998 x 302 mm and weighs in at a  pleasantly portable 11kg.The Summit measures 998 x 302 mm and weighs in at a pleasantly portable 11kg.

At the time of writing there was no documentation but, armed with in-depth knowledge of the Peak, it wasn't a huge leap to discover what's new. Perhaps most significant (apart from its velocity- and aftertouch-sensitive 61-note keyboard and its illuminated pitch-bend and modulation wheels) is the fact that the Summit is 16-voice polyphonic and bi-timbral, allowing you to play two eight-voice Parts (twin Peaks with individual levels and octaves, and complete with their own effects) in single, layered and split modes, the last with a user-defined split point. There's also a Dual mode that's similar to the Layer mode, but which allows you to jump at the touch of large, illuminated buttons from playing one Part to playing the other, or to layering the two. Whichever mode you choose, you can direct the outputs from either Part to the stereo Main outputs or to the stereo Auxiliary outputs for separate treatment and mixing.

The Summit also boasts a stereo audio input that allows you to inject external audio into the filter inputs or the effects. If you choose the former, you can shape the external audio but you have to play a note to achieve anything; if you choose the latter, the sound will always be processed and audible. There's a level control for the external audio in each Part, so you can play one part conventionally while processing with the other if you wish.

Moving on to the synthesis engine itself, I can't see any differences between the oscillators in the Peak and those in the new model. However, the noise source now has an additional filter so you can shape it using both high-pass and low-pass filtering, which is excellent news for programming orchestral instruments and sound effects.

Another welcome upgrade is access to the Summit's 3‑op FM synthesis using physical controls on the panel. As on the Peak, the algorithm is fixed, so you may think that this is too limited to be of much use, but remember that the wonderful Yamaha GS1 (the 'Toto keyboard') offered a pair of 2‑op sine-wave FM generators whereas the Summit offers a pair of 3‑op multi-wave FM generators. When you start to experiment with modulating the operators — for example, timbral sweeps during the course of a note, LFOs to animate the sound, or even things such as aftertouch to create changes in the waveshapes as you play — a whole world of sound design is unveiled.

Moving on to the Summit's filter, another huge improvement leaps out. Dual filter mode separates the two 12dB/oct filter stages that comprise the 24dB/oct filters and allows you to select from three serial and six parallel configurations boasting a Separation parameter as well as the cutoff frequency. Each of these modes add flavours that you can't obtain from the Peak, but the parallel band-pass configuration is by far my favourite because it defines a formant filter that you can use to create wonderful vocal patches. And, as a bonus, the Separation parameter is an additional destination in the modulation matrix, which allows you to do some weird and wonderful stuff. Oh yes... and the post-filter overdrive now has its own knob, which seems like a small improvement, but isn't. It's another big one.

Another next improvement lies in the contour generators, which now have a programmable Delay stage, making them six-stage DAHDSR contours. The next lies in the FX modulation matrix, which adds another five sources to the original 13. Again, these may seem like small enhancements, but they're much more useful than you might envisage. Yet more improvements can be found on the control panel itself because many of the arpeggiator controls can be found there, the physical Loop buttons can be used as performance controls, and there are now three knob modes — relative position, pickup and snap to value. Another improvement lies in the removal of something. In his review of the Peak, Paul noted that he often lost work by grabbing the Patch Select encoder as he would a parameter edit knob, accidentally selecting a new patch and losing his edits in the process. This has now gone, which I suspect will please many programmers.

As for the Summit's sound, Paul gave you a taste of this when he reviewed the Peak. But his observations are no longer the whole story because the additions in v1.2 lifted the Peak to a whole new level, and the enhancements in the Summit take it much further still, making it both much more flexible and much more powerful than the Peak. It probably wouldn't be my first choice for screaming solos or super-deep bass and, while you can use it for those, they're not its primary raison d'être. However, I find it to be a first-class polysynth: clean, flexible and precise when you want it to be, but also capable of generating off-the-wall effects and snarly nastiness when you want it to do so.

Conclusions

Current hybrid polysynths range from low-cost instruments like the Korg Minilogue XD to much more expensive and powerful monsters such as the Waldorf Quantum and the Moog One. The Summit sits in the middle ground between these. Sure, there are huge overlaps between it and other mid-range hybrids such as the various Prophets and the Korg Prologue, but it has its own character and occupies its own space both in terms of how you might choose to use it and the sounds that you'll wrest from it. But what I like best about it is that it's so easy to use well. The extended control panel makes it a much better instrument than the Peak, and the enhanced menus remain simple and intuitive. Indeed, nothing occurred during this review that had me bemoaning the absence of a manual and for that (as well as everything else) Novation are to be complimented.

A final thought... Although I can draw upon many keyboards when wanted, there are only two that are permanently hooked up and switched on when I'm writing or recording in my studio. One is my beloved Korg OASYS, and the other is a 48-voice Novation Supernova II Pro X. The Supernova is now approaching its 20th birthday, still sounds great, has never gone wrong, and does everything that I ask of it. The pre-production review unit was rock solid throughout my time with it so, if you like the Summit and it can achieve the same reliability and longevity, it should be worth every penny.

The Rear Panel

Novation Summit rear panel connections.

Starting on the far right, the Summit's USB type-B socket carries MIDI but not audio, as of course do the five-pin DIN MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets alongside it. Next to these, there's a 3.5mm input for an analogue modulation (CV or audio) signal plus two pedal inputs that can be allocated the usual range of functions. There are six audio connections: two output pairs (Main and Aux) and an input pair that allows you to direct external audio to the filter/amplifier/effects chains or just the effects for processing. At the other end you'll find the IEC mains input for the internal power supply.

Thanks For The Memories

The Summit adds 512 multi memories to the 512 Patch memories found in the Peak, so storage is unlikely to be a problem. It's also worth noting that, according to Novation, the Summit will be able to import Peak patches and reproduce them correctly so, if you decide to upgrade, you should be able to bring your existing library with you to play sounds with double the polyphony or to use them within bi-timbral setups. I was unable to test this but have no reason to believe that it won't work as claimed.

Peak Vs Summit

Peak v1.2 Summit
--- 61-key velocity- and aftertouch-sensitive keyboard
--- Pitch-bend & mod wheels, octave switches
Eight voices 16 voices
Mono-timbral Two-part multitimbral with single, split, layer and dual modes
Voice mode selectable in menus Voice mode selectable from the control panel
FM available through the mod matrix FM available from the control panel
LP filter for the noise generator LP and HP filters for the noise generator
LP, HP, BP filter modes LP, HP, BP and nine dual (parallel and serial) filter modes
Five-stage AHDSR contours Six-stage DAHDSR contours
AHD contour looping available through the menus AHD contour looping available from the control panel
LFOs 3 and 4 available through the menus LFOs 3 and 4 available from the front panel
Single effects section Dual effects sections (one per part)
Stereo audio outputs Main and auxiliary stereo audio outputs
--- Stereo audio input routed to filter input or effects
Arpeggiator controls in menus Arpeggiator controls on the control panel
512 patch memories 512 patch memories + 512 multi memories
12VDC (wall-wart) PSU Internal PSU with IEC socket

Pros

  • Everything that the Peak offers, plus much, much more.
  • The Dual filter architecture is a huge advance.
  • Despite the wealth of features, it's simple to navigate and program.
  • It's bi-timbral, with independent effects and, if wanted, independent outputs for its two Parts.
  • Responds to poly-aftertouch.
  • Looks and feels solid and robust throughout.
  • Has an integrated universal power supply.

Cons

  • You can't use MIDI CCs as sources in the mod matrix.

Summary

The Novation Peak costs around £1100$1399, but two greatly expanded Peaks within a keyboard offering numerous other enhancements will cost just £1899$2199. I have to profess that it's one of the nicest, most intuitive hybrid synths that I've ever reviewed and, while it's not all-encompassing (nothing is), it looks great, it feels great, it sounds great, and it's not going to break the bank. What's not to like?

information

£1899 including VAT.

www.novationmusic.com

Published October 2019