When Novation’s little Circuit came out, it was already an appealing, simple box for making music. You got two polysynths and a four-part drum machine built in, coupled with a step sequencer, RGB pads and encoders for control, and MIDI, all for just a hair above $300. At the same time, though, you were restricted to the built-in sounds. Today, Novation are unveiling a bunch of updates that open up the machine to more customization – to personalizing it for your own use.

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There are four parts to the update:

1. Load your own samples. [Browser] Drag and drop WAV and MP3 files into the Chrome browser, and you can load up to 64 samples / (60 seconds total time) onto your machine, for chopping up melodic samples or custom drums.

2. A complete editor for sound design. [Software] Okay, so the original Circuit was a bit like “encoder roulette” – dial in a preset, turn the knobs, and see what happens. If you longed for more control, this is it. The folks at Isotonik have built a comprehensive editor that basically turns the Circuit into a full-blown Nova, by unlocking all the synth parameters inside.

3. Step editing, more playability, more MIDI connectivity. [Firmware] The 1.2 firmware update brings a bunch of new features (and fixes, of course), to do with how the hardware connects to controllers and hardware and how you can edit and play.

4. Cloud backup and librarian. [Browser] Connect Circuit to a computer running the Chrome browser, and you can store and recall presets and content – no other software or drivers needed. That means the 32 session limit isn’t a limitation any more. Plus, because it’s in the cloud, your work is accessible anywhere. Your luggage got lost at Heathrow? Borrow a friend’s Circuit, connect to the Internet, grab your content, play the gig.

We’ll be sharing how to get the most out of this with some exclusive how-to and artist coverage as part of a collaboration between CDM and Novation, starting early next week.

In the meantime, it’s clearest to see how this all works in the videos Novation has produced for the features, which they have dubbed Circuit Components.

Sample loading is the thing that I think will probably be the most interesting to people. It’s fairly limited – but those limitations themselves can be kind of interesting (something I’ll explain more in our own tutorial). You can drop as many as 64 separate samples, with that sample content adding up to 60 seconds of total time. You can’t trigger the individual samples directly, but you can assign them to the four drum part slots. You can change those assignments on the fly, too, by tapping pads as sequences play. Unfortunately, you can’t automate that on the Circuit itself (yet), but you can also trigger changes via external program change message over MIDI. And you get the usual automation and macro control of drum parts, so you can re-pitch, filter, and change the envelope.

So, for my part, I’ve now paired my Circuit with Korg’s volca sample, and loaded custom samples on each. Sure, it’s hardly an Elektron or MPC, let alone a computer, but in a live set to me it’s already a whole lot to play with. And that’s before you get to the synth.

Now, connecting a Circuit to a browser and the Web means you can load your own sample, and save and recall presets online.

Now, connecting a Circuit to a browser and the Web means you can load your own sample, and save and recall presets online.

The editor means you can also customize the two polysynth parts along with the drum sounds. Isotonik have both a standalone and a Max for Live device that open up editing every last parameter. This means two things: for synth lovers, you’ll be able to dial up your own presets, then play with those out on an insanely compact box. For people not wanting to make their own sounds, I also imagine the Circuit owner community (which is now fairly big) will have some custom sounds.

And most importantly, the eight macro knobs do exactly what you want them to in your patches.

New firmware. The new 1.2 firmware enables all the other new features, so it’s the first thing you should download. But it offers a bunch of features:

  • Record external MIDI notes and macros. Well, this is huge, obviously – it turns Circuit into a full-functioning sequencer, and also makes it easier to integrate with software like Ableton Live.
  • Dump MIDI clips from Ableton to Circuit. Here’s an example of that. If Circuit is set to chromatic mode (or you match up the keys), you can simply hit record in Circuit’s Pattern mode and record and Ableton MIDI clip right onto hardware, all in sync.
  • Momentary record. Holding record down now punches in or overdubs notes and macros. This feature alone can change the experience of playing with the software.
  • Step editing. Now you can add automation per-step – so repitch a particular drum hit, add an effect to just one step, or even use step editing to create a sequence of chords.
  • Change sounds via MIDI – Synth 1 and Synth 2 receive program change messages. The four Drum parts are all on one MIDI channel (10), and respond to CC messages to change sounds. The latter means you can trigger different slices / sounds you’ve loaded yourself – very cool.
  • Clear automation without destroying stuff. Clearing automation from a knob while in automation record or step edit mode now clears only that lane on the selected step – so you don’t accidentally destroy your work.

A lot of little glitches and problems have been fixed, too. In my testing, Circuit is really trouble free now.

Online editor/librarian. Cloud storage of sets as mentioned earlier opens up some new possibilities. It’s a backup, and it’s also a sharing tool.

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And one more thing – an iPad editor. Novation are also making available a TouchOSC template for iPad that lets you access MIDI parameters. That gives you live access to parameters outside of Isotonik’s editor and whatever macro controls you’ve assigned.

Load this on your iPad, in other words, and all your parameters are accessible remotely.

I’m going to also prod the Modstep team to provide support for Circuit in their step sequencer.

Watch this space. We’ve got an expanded tutorial and video to show you how you might work with this feature and the hardware, plus some artist interviews. Got specific technical questions? Ask away in comments and we’ll get them answered for you.

More on Circuit: https://global.novationmusic.com/circuit-components

Or get to the Components directly (you’ll need Chrome for most of it, and don’t forget to connect your Circuit via USB):
https://components.novationmusic.com/

Photos: Maria Gysi for CDM.

  • Given the sample editor runs in the browser… it looks like it’s doing Sysex-over-WebMIDI to dump samples. WebMIDI is really rather handy.

  • Yoni Mazuz

    They hinted in the fall that sending audio over USB was a possibility. Doesn’t look like that’s been implemented yet, but do you know (or can you ask) if it’s planned?

  • NRGuest

    I still wish it had three synth parts, so you could do bass, pad, and lead, but loading your own samples makes this a lot more appealing. I may have to pick one up.

  • an3

    did not see that one coming (sample import).. where cani find the touchOSC template ?

  • le chat

    This is pretty awesome. Makes me want to give it a second look – gotta’ check out the reviews/videos again!

  • msl

    Well sample import definitely changes things… actually had mine up for sale might hold on to it for a while longer now! Would prefer that and backing up wasn’t through Chrome though… good to see they are listening to users and improving it… now to get them to make that filter knob assignable per track!!!

    • Mike Wise-Miller

      Yes. Novation are really doing a great job of value-adding to this already stonking ‘little’ music creation tool.

  • Colin Laney

    TouchOSC template only available for iOS or also Android?

    • Should work on both versions.

    • Mike Wise-Miller

      I didn’t manage to get it to work on my Android phone (a Nexus 5 running 6.01). The iOS version uses CoreMIDI. I’m not sure there’s the equivalent in Android without Windows etc programs. What about a Lemur project, someone, for the Android option? Could that work?

  • jeanpierra

    Love the product concept, the execution and the new features, specially the sample import feature. However, being able to play only 4 samples is so limiting… Kick, hat, clap, snare and you are done. What a shame. If they come up with a way to use at least 8 samples it would be great.

    • Darren E Cowley

      That’s probably where buying two comes in…

      • I’m seriously considering it, using the OT as a mixer/looper.

  • prevolt

    This is huge! More customized drum sounds was the one thing I’ve been waiting for. That and less strictly quantized recording, but whatever. Looking forward to trying this.

  • This works great, totally revamps my Circuit. Here’s the drum samples I used to replace the stock ones if anyone wants a go: http://tarekith.com/assets/TarekithCircuitSamples.zip

    Does anyone know of a place people are collecting presets they’ve made for the synths with Isotonik’s excellent editor? I’d love to see what other people are doing with macro mappings.

    • Mike Wise-Miller

      Very generous re the samples. Thanks

  • Ren Udae

    Do we know if Chrome on IOS will support the new tools?

    • It doesn’t yet according to people on the Audiobus forums.

    • Mike Wise-Miller

      Nothing on iOS yet that I can find. But it does on Android (incl Librarian and Sample Import), besides the drag and drop for sample set creation

      • Ren Udae

        Well if it works on Android there is hope for Ios. For me it would be much more useful to have my circuit hooked up to an ipad.

        BTW will it require a constant web connection or just the browser?

        • Mike Wise-Miller

          Uploading sample sets i Sample Importer certainly seems to require internet on my Android, and I assume on my laptop too. And session saving in Librarian would also.

  • SyntheticJuice

    Interesting that it is done over a browser… Though I hope eventually a “local only” solution pops up.

    • Polite Society

      What would be the point of that? I think browser based editors are probably going to be the future of pc based editors. You will see less and less of the exe based ones that break as soon as you upgrade your pc, and more and more browser ones that don’t require installation and work across a number of systems with better backwards compatibility (browser cross compatibility is much better in recent years than the nightmare it used to be).

      • Polite Society

        Plus the bonus is that they tend to be more open/hackable.

  • Mike Wise-Miller

    I see that the pic of the TouchOSC iPad editor in the CDM article on Circuit has buttons for switching to different pages. Can’t find those on the one I got from Novation on my iPad Air. Anybody else go those buttons? If so, how? It’d be a real boon to get that going.

    • b3nj174

      The template can be modified with TouchOSC Editor to your liking. Let’s see how it evolves!

      • Mike Wise-Miller

        Yes. I know what you mean re the TouchOSC Editor, but I’m really not sure I’ve got the skill-set to do it myself.

  • Adam Jay

    Here’s a techno/house/electro drum sampleset I made for Circuit. 808/909/Drumatix/Miami/Rytm/A4/Tempest/Vermona/Tanzbar/CR68/Modular

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ua0fmcfuf0ypbsy/Adams-sampleset.syx.zip?dl=0

  • Will

    Peter, do you know if the source for this going to open sourced? Either the web app itself or at least the connectivity potion? Would be very cool to see what other people do with it. In particular, I’m interested in a non-Novation cloud solution.

    Also, if as a part of your deeper testing/tutorials, you could try the web app out on iOS with the free “Web MIDI Browser”(http://www.taktech.org/takm/WebMIDIBrowser/Web_MIDI_Browser.html) it would be cool to know if it works! All iOS browsers are required to use iOS Safari’s version WebKit but they can add to it (like Chrome for iOS does). This one tries to shim it by adding support for web midi but I’m not sure how compatible it is with desktop/android chrome since the web midi spec remains a moving target.

    • Mike Wise-Miller

      When I tried it with Web MIDI Browser, it didn’t quite get there.

      • Will

        Not exactly sure what that means but I’ll take it as a ‘no’ and say thanks very much for giving it a shot!

  • does sample uploading mean that Circuit is playing stand-alone after sample upload?

  • Benn

    Hi.
    I’m a bit thick, can someone give me a step by step on how to get a midi pattern from Ableton to Circuit, tried everything. Thanks!

  • Dante

    finally up to its potential

  • Luca

    Hi Peter; thanks for this interesting article.
    How did you paired your Circuit with Korg’s volca sample? Is there a way to do so without a midi host?