novation peak review

Review: Novation Peak – Mixdown Magazine

Words from Sam McNiece

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Digital synths have been around since the the 80’sthat produced some of the most iconic synth sounds of the past 30 years and yet to this day we have people willing to eschew all the technical and programming advantages of digital in favor of the allure of classic analog synthesis.

Synth purists with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) will squabble for days over what made that particular analog synth on any given track so “warm,” “rich,” or some other subjective shorthand used to describe a great-sounding synth tone. Yet at the same time they will ignore digital synths for their “clean” or “sterile” sounding output.

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Anyone working in 2022 will probably be able to tell you that the holy grail lies somewhere in the middle: a signal chain that takes advantage of both digital and analog components to provide something that is both rich in tone and highly flexible in tone. application.

Enter the Novation Peak, a hybrid analog and digital synth that claims its oscillators sound completely analog while being made entirely in the digital realm. This eight-voice polyphonic synth features three octaves per voice, an analog multimode filter with multiple distortion stages, three quality effects, multiple LFOs, and a modulation matrix that can affect just about anything else.

Emulating this analog “warmth” in the digital realm relies on using a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chip instead of standard DSP. The FPGA can run in parallel, which speeds up internal processing, which Novation says has a direct impact on the sound.

Since the Peak is a hybrid analog and digital synth, the conversions that take place within the audio between the pre- and post-filter signal are imperative. Novation really took this one step further, using eight DAC chips for each voice, sampling at over 24MHz (500x standard audio processing). This essentially eliminates aliasing within the Peak’s built-in processing, allowing you to use the wavetable functionality (which we’ll get to later) without that harsh and annoying top end you might find in VST wavetable synths.

Using NCOs (Numerically-Controlled Oscillators) on their New Oxford Oscillators, the Novation Peak produces some of the richest oscillator sounds I’ve heard in my day. There’s even a setting to add diverge and drift to further mimic an analog sound by tuning all 24 oscillators a little further from center, either at a fixed level (diverge) or over the course of change the time (drift).

Each oscillator has an identical control set to each other, allowing for a wide range of tone control on synth patches. These controls are pitch octave, coarse and fine tuning, waveform selection, pitch modulation, and shape amount, which changes the waveform of the oscillator. Plus, you can dive into the oscillator settings and use the Saw Dense and Dense Detune options to create the super saw of your trance dreams.

While you can use classic waveforms to shape your sounds, wave tables are also available on all three oscillators. You can use the included ones that range from subtle variations to extreme and even use novation Components to add your own wavetables to the Peak for additional sound design possibilities.

The mixer section of the Peak has volume controls for all three oscillators, plus a ring modulator that multiplies oscillator one and two together, a noise generator and a VCA gain which is essentially a level control for the oscillator mixer before it hits the filter section.

After mixing oscillators you come to the analog part of the Peak, the filter part. This resonant multi-mode filter features low-, band, and high-pass filter options on 12 or 24 dB/octave cutoff slopes with standard frequency and resonance knobs in addition to key tracking, and a handful of modulation options on the surface (with many more). in the mod matrix, but we’ll talk about this later). The nice thing about this all-analog filter section is that it’s independent for each of the eight voices. This allows this synth to apply both the analog pre- and post-filter distortion per voice as well as the overall distortion that a wide range of additive harmonics can add to the signal chain.

There is an amplitude envelope in addition to two modulation envelopes and four LFOs (two are in the menu) which have quite a few physical knob assignments. This combined with some other parameters creates 16 “hard patched” modulation parameters that are great for making quick and decisive moves on the Peak, avoiding menu dives and modulation assignments that often stifle creativity.

For those more adept at creating synth patches, the modulation matrix has 16 flexible assignments that allow you to assign a multitude of controls, whether that be MIDI/CV in, LFOs or envelopes, to even more parameters on the Peak. The mod matrix can be explored further by using the moving buttons that essentially act as momentary and lockable modulation switches that can change the sound with the push of a button.

In addition to all these fantastic features, the Peak has three special effects that can all be used simultaneously to create a track-ready sound, all in the synth. The Chorus, Delay and Reverb all sound excellent and I found during testing that I couldn’t turn them off on any of the patches I made because they added so much to the sound. That’s not to say you can’t turn them off, there’s an effects bypass button that takes them completely out of the signal chain if you want to.

The built-in arpeggiator is more complex than the single button on the surface suggests. There are multiple playback modes, including up, down, random, and chord, which, combined with the rhythm parameter, allow you to generate more than the average 16th-note arp sound. Rhythm has 33 different playback sequences that will follow the playback mode of your choice, playing simple or complex patterns that can be combined with swing and the octave range for interesting results.

Most of the controls on the Peak live within your eyesight, making for an intuitive experience when using them. There are digital menus for some of the lesser-used parameters, including FX, LFO, modulation, oscillator, voice and arpeggiator settings. Most could probably live without them, but they bring more functionality to the Peak, and as they continue to update the firmware (the last update was a month before this review was written), Novation can continue to build on what is already a exceptional synth.

All in all, this sleek and modern digital/analog hybrid is a beautiful sounding synthesizer that emulates analog sounding oscillators with ease, combining the best of both analog and digital worlds in one box. Whether you want to create lush pads, dense leads or biting bass sounds, the Novation Peak should be at the top of your list due to the sheer range of sonic prowess the unit is capable of.

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