It’s a new age for synths: now that we’ve all got great sounds in our computer, many people want keyboards that give them additional software control. But it’s just as nice to add some built-in sound capabilities, for two reasons: one, added value; two, something fun we can play with while we’re waiting for our computer to start up. Novation’s X-Station delivered both, with a great built-in hardware synth and one of the best keyboard controllers for software on the market, all in one unit.

Now, Novation‘s got something new, the XioSynth. (Zee-oh synth? Not sure.) It follows the X-Station hardware synth + software formula, but with a more compact design, lower price, and some fun features (with the unmistakable impression that they want to sell these to electronica fans). Think integrated step sequencer and arpeggiator, built-in effects and easy access to synth editing, and hybrid controls for playing the built-in synth and soft synths at the same time. Here are the details I’ve got so far:

Specs:

  1. Keys: 25- and 49-key versions, semi-weighted just like the ReMOTE and X-Station line, which is good news — the action feels terrific on Novation’s keyboards
  2. Controls: Knobs, X/Y touchpad, mod/pitch joystick, and 16 MIDI template memory slots with presets for various software
  3. Interface: USB connection, class-compliant so no drivers needed for Linux/Mac, plus “drivers provided that minimise the latency and make XioSynth more stable with certain software platforms.” (Shhh! They mean Windows!)
  4. Audio: Integrated audio I/O
  5. Power: USB-powered or AA batteries
  6. Synth: Details forthcoming, but I like what I see reading the controls right off the image I’ve got: easily-accessible amplitude envelope knobs, modulation envelopes, filters with a dedicated resonance knob and 12/24db switch, LFOs … and everything is right on the front panel. This thing looks like it’ll be a joy to program right from the keyboard; Novation has really done a nice job of putting a lot of synth control on just a few well-thought-out knobs.
  7. Effects: Delay, reverb, chorus, distort (with filter distortion, for some nice rauchiness), EQ/vol, pan
  8. Sounds: 200 presets, 60 of which come from “internationally acclaimed artists and producers from a variety of musical genres, namely James Zabiela, Ferry Corsten, Rennie Pilgrem, Roots Manuva, Shimon and Skeewiff.”

Now, the best bits. First, there’s a new 32-step step sequencer inside the synth, called the X-Gator. Since it syncs to MIDI clock, you can easily trigger tempo-locked sequences from Ableton Live or whatever software you’re using. That’s on top of a built-in arpeggiator, making this a really fun board for those of you who like pattern-based synth patches.

Second, the XioSynth has a new “hybrid mode” that lets it act as a controller and synth simultaneously. I had wished the X-Station would do something like that, so that you can play one patch while triggering something else on your computer. Definitely a no-brainer.

The only thing missing is the details on the synth; I’m talking to Novation today and hope to have those details for you. I’m betting at the very least a lot of the presets are monophonic, but we’ll see if they threw any polyphony in there.

The price is coming in fairly low, too, for the added synth features: £229 (25 keys), £299 (49 keys).

Smart move, Novation, too, getting this in before the onslaught of the NAMM show next week.

  • Adrian Anders

    Hmmmm, I really wish that Novation would have included a VSTi editor/integration with their latest synth+controller+audio interface. I mean it's got some nice features, but with the X50 MicroX, and SH-201 now out there, the XioSynth looks so 2003. It is cheaper than the other 3, so if the sound quality holds up it should still be a nice alternative.

    ATA

  • I don't know that a VSTi editor is really all that necessary. I had a loaner X-Station for several months, and because the audio interface is integrated, it's pretty easy to patch in the sounds as an audio source (easier than with outboard gear, more like a plug-in). I'd rather have a synth I can edit easily from the front panel. And I think the Novation synths sound better than the MicroX or SH-201.

  • Adrian Anders

    Good points. But you know me Peter, I'm just a plug-in junkie.

  • Heck, yeah! I'm still more enthused by the SL series for controlling software plug-ins. But this looks like it'll be a great deal for many people. And it's nice to see Roland, Korg, etc. going this route, too.

  • I should add, the SL also comes with an excellent plug-in, the BassStation, a software version of a beloved piece of hardware. It's great fun, and automapped, of course, to the SL control surface. There's also very good editing software. Ultimately, I'd rather have my control on hardware if I can, even as a plug-in junkie.

  • mang

    its "zeye-oh synth", apparently.

  • velocipede

    I'm happy to see that Novation has continued to built-in synth with the controller/audio i/o combo. But, I would love to see an SL with a built-in synth and i/o. If I did not already have an X-Station, though, I would definitely be considering this one.

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  • BLAKE

    hmmm should be interesting. Does anyone know when this will be available for retail in the US?

  • Nikolai

    The XioSynth's US prices are as follows:

    25 key – $329

    49 key – $399

    The XioSynth has the same specs Synth-wise as the X-Station and KS-Rack series. They're still sticking by the same old system of 3 oscillators with 17 waveforms each (Sine, Saw, Triangle, Square, White Noise, BP Noise, HP Noise, HBP Noise, Organ, Harpsichord, Electric Piano, Slap Bass, Rhodes Piano, Rhodes Tine, Clavinet, Whurly EP, and Analog Bass). It is 8 notes polyphonic and monotimbral, but most of the stuff you hear on Novation's patch player are patches made in unison rather than mono or polyphonic in an attempt to make fatter sounds. The only new features they have are the Hybrid Mode (previously mentioned – split between MIDI controller and the onboard synth) and the X-Gator (which acts as a 16 or 32 step sequencer that allows you to control the volume of each arpeggiator step). The only catch-22 is that it does not have the ability to put the signal from Audio In through effects like the X-Station did. If it could, then this thing would probably be the ultimate synth for that price range. If they wanted to they could've thrown in a vocoder ability like the KS-Rack and they could seriously level the competition with Korg and Alesis in the mini-keys market.

    Check out the Novatio site and click on "Products" on the top left of the page. Click on the XioSynth and download the manual and listen to the Patch Player so you can see and hear what it is truly capable of.

  • bob

    I hear the x station has stereo effects but they are only recorded in mono?

  • tried one of these out the other day….great functionality but sounded like a toy compared to the microkorg….damn shame the microkorg doesn't have a step sequencer….

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  • koko

    Is this compatible with Linux as an audio interface?