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:


  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.