Okay, everybody’s been seeing their computer too much lately. So Novation’s Circuit Tracks does stuff with no screen, no menus, even no power plug – and squeezes tons of musical power for the money, at US$399 (about 399 EUR with VAT).

Remember Circuit? It was supposed to be a “beginner” box for music makers, until advanced users fell in love with it, too. And Novation’s engineering teams have been squeezing unexpected new features out of it regularly ever since. Plus, while some of the Circuit’s rivals still struggled on the software front, Novation delivered lots more functionality via a browser-based interface for sample loading and editing.

Circuit Tracks, leaked fairly widely over last days, is now officially announced and it has tons of stuff you wanted – while still remaining a budget buy.

Velocity and control. Don’t forget, those are velocity-sensitive pads, even. That also makes this a compact controller for lots of stuff, and now even more so with dual MIDI tracks, external audio, full-sized MIDI jacks, and custom CCs. You could use it with Ableton Live; you could use it with a synth or external effects.

Pattern powers. Plus as gradually introduced over the years on Circuit, you get non-quantized recording, step probability, pattern mutation, microtiming, pattern start and edit points, play order, different sync rates – stuff to make really dynamic performances.

This is just a preview – my review unit only just got here – but it looks really promising.

Full-size MIDI in, out, and thru jacks – no more dongles.

microSD sample loading.

Audio input lets you add live FX to an external source and mix it with your other parts, so this is an effects box, too – great if you have a synth you want to use with it that would otherwise be dry.

What that input is not (apparently) is something you can record or sample – so the workflow is still to do your sampling on computer (or another device that writes to microSD), then select those samples in your drum tracks.

More tracks (well, duh, the name). As before you get four drums tracks – which since they can be any samples you want could be something other than four drum tracks. And you get two polysynths. But now you also get –

More MIDI. Two MIDI sequencer tracks, so you can use this to sequence external gear. That’s only two, but for tabletop studios it sounds great.

Easy computer connectivity. So yeah, the point of this is getting away from menus and screens, but that also means that when you do need to edit or work with sessions you don’t want to have to dive into tiny screens and confusing menus on the hardware. Novation as per usual have a smart browser-based tool (and now a standalone app, as well, if you don’t want to remember whether you have Google Chrome installed). So you can go deep into the synth engine, make custom patches and macro assignments, manage samples (cough, Roland, when?), and even make MIDI templates and backups and check out artist presets.

That was true before, but they’ve redesigned Components completely. It really looks like native software.

The new workflow – more power in the browser/standalone Components tool, more integration with external gear (for sequencing, routing through Circuit’s mix and effects, sidechaining).
Novation launched its browser-based editing powers with Circuit; for Circuit Tracks, the whole thing gets a new look.

Actual battery power. There’s a rechargeable Li-Ion battery onboard that promises up to 4 hours of battery life. You can throw some snowballs at my head if you see me in Berlin, because I screwed this up on Roland’s latest box – theirs does not have an internal battery but assumes you will provide a USB power bank (like for phones, etc.). (That’s my fault, not Roland’s.) This one does have one, though – and I’ll check how the LED brightness looks when it isn’t plugged in.

It’s still really cute. You know, the amazing thing is, this still looks like Circuit. It even keeps exactly the same trigger layout. <strong>(Correction – those buttons looked so much nicer, I started to hallucinate; Novation kept the buttons as-is but upgraded the look and feel.) So minus the cosmetic updates, it’s a similar svelte design and similar footprint. It’s great seeing something that looks so … well, humble. You can focus on your playing.

The only downside really is, you don’t get separate outs – just stereo out. (Well, they had to make room for full-sized audio and MIDI jacks.)

I’ll do a full breakdown of exactly how this differs from the original Circuit, but for now let’s just put all the basics in one place.

What’s new:

  • Click track
  • Double the synth patches per pack (128, up from 64)
  • Double the number of projects (64, up from 32)
  • View Lock lets you edit patterns that aren’t currently playing – ah, that’s great for live performance.
  • Side Chain now lets you choose which source you want.
  • Pan automation. (Far OUUUTTT….)
  • Dedicated edit triggers

And as a refresher:

  • 8 encoders with LED indicators (and knob movement recording, etc.)
  • 2 polysynth tracks
  • 2 MIDI tracks – sequence external gear, plus custom CC mappings (with 8 presets)
  • 4 sample-based tracks (“drum” tracks)
  • 16 scales (hey, I’m loading my microtuned samples on… or waiting for Scala/TUN support in a firmware update on Components!)
  • Reverb, delay, side chain FX
  • Master filter (DJ-style, with both low-pass and high-pass – yeah, also useful live!)
  • microSD slot
  • 2x mono audio inputs (which I think you can also link as stereo – reading the manual now)
  • Route audio through delay, rever, and side chain
  • USB-C
  • MIDI in + out + thru – full sized
  • Headphone out (minijack), stereo L/R out
  • Sync out (analoggggg!)

But let’s just back up a second here.

For anyone who wasn’t into Circuit before because it assumed you did everything on that little box, this really now coexists well with any number of affordable, fun instruments – synths or whatever you play. You can sequence them, run them through effects, use them to sidechain, whatever.

Really the thing this box is not is a sampler. So if that’s what you’re after, you still will probably look elsewhere. And if the polysynth and onboard effects aren’t your style, this probably also isn’t for you.

But then again, even being able to get a couple of tracks of MIDI and custom sample kits in this tiny form factor at this price is already enough for many.

And this would make an ideal companion to our own MeeBlip. So you can bet I’ll be giving it a workout right away – mine just got here (literally, the doorbell just rang). So if you’ve got questions or stuff you’d like me to test, give a shout!



PS, if you saw the leaks and wondered – what about that Rhythm one? Here’s the deal: