If you were waiting for a Novation Circuit that can record samples right onto the hardware, this is the one – with a full eight sample tracks to play and packed with features.
It’s funny, actually, how hard it has been to find gear that just lets you record samples on-device (not just load them from a computer) that’s simple and affordable. The Casio SK-1 came out all the way back in 1985; it’s not like this is a new idea.
And so for reasons known only the Novation, the Circuit Tracks released earlier this year did not do that, but the companion Circuit Rhythm released today does. They both have multiple, uh, tracks, and they both have basically the same workflow for sequencing and effects. So… they both have the same features for rhythm.
But here’s the basic difference:
Circuit Tracks = 8 tracks / 2 synth + 2 MIDI + 4 drum. You can load your own samples, but you can’t record them.
Circuit Rhythm = 8 sample tracks. Record directly on hardware. Slice them or play them chromatically.
Sampling on Circuit Rhythm includes both external audio input and the option of resampling.
Oh yeah, and you don’t have to record from the audio input – you can still load samples from Circuit Components for Circuit Rhythm, too. What you lose, though, is the ability to make MIDI sequences on the Circuit Rhythm – though if you’re using hardware synths that have their own built-in sequencer, you don’t care about that.
Let’s say that again:
Tracks = Drum and synths parts, load your own samples, sequence MIDI gear.
Rhythm = 8 tracks of sample parts, load your own samples or record right on the device.
That means you could think of Tracks and Rhythm as Circuit Studio and Circuit Sampler, respectively. One has a combination of external sequencing and synths with the drum tracks, one has the ability to record samples and adds extra effects and tools for working with those samples.
There is a handy comparison chart:
There’s another twist in the plot. While you can record on Circuit Rhythm, the recording is mono-summed. So while Novation put a stereo input on there, you can’t record in stereo.
That is, Circuit Rhythm like Circuit Tracks and the original Circuit uses mono samples – albeit with a stereo architecture for mixing/panning and effects.
What the Rhythm does offer is more control over sampled content. Tracks only treats those samples as 1-shots; Rhythm gives you more modes and more ways to shape sounds:
Alternative sample playback modes: Slice, Chromatic, Gated, Looped, Reverse [Tracks] are added to One-Shot mode [Tracks + Rhythm]
More sample controls: Start, Length, Slope, High-pass and Low-pass Filter, Resonance [Rhythm] added to Tune, Decay, and Distortion [Tracks + Rhythm]. Tracks has EQ in place of the filters.
Grid FX: Exclusive to Rhythm, you also get Vinyl Simulation, Beat Repeat, Phaser, Gater, Reverser, Auto-Filter, and Digitiser. None of these is available on Tracks.
There’s also a new Repeat function not on Tracks.
Those Sample and Note View options are a big deal – you can live record anywhere you like, and adjust Start, Slope (actually amplitude envelope), filter, length, tune, and distortion right on the encoders.
It’s the speed of that that gets interesting, even with the mono limitation – especially, I imagine, live.
You also get more sample capacity on Rhythm, which is good news. You can play samples chromatically, but there’s no Scale mode as on Tracks.
Other than that, it’s the same hardware. It feels really great, and it’s welcome having full-sized audio and MIDI jacks, plus microSD slot. I mean, it feels exceptionally great for hardware costing so little.
And while there’s no screen, there’s also zero menu diving. It’s a totally flat, playable workflow. After the evolution of the original Circuit, you’re also not limited to quantized rhythms and grooves, which wholly changes the openness of the device musically and lets you escape soulless grid rhythms when you don’t want them.
There’s a lot of depth in there, too – both Circuits feature Probability and Mutate, Sync Rates and Play Order, aforementioned Unquantized Record plus Micro Steps, all stuff you’d normally expect on much pricier, more complex gear.
You just really are faced with a tough choice between Rhythm and Tracks. Sure, you could get both – and have two grids in a compact area – but at that point, you really should consider comparison shopping Roland, Arturia, Elektron, and others. (I guess it’s not a thing anymore, but there’s also the gorgeous Novation Circuit Mono Station paraphonic synth, too, for variety. Or see our in-depth exploration of the Synthstrom Deluge.)
If you can make the choice, though, you get a heck of a lot of instrument either way for 399 EUR.
And for fast workflows, there’s nothing quite like the Circuit – the full range are the opposite of the menu diving and complexity of most other gear.
Oh yeah, and I should probably go ahead and finish my review of the Circuit Tracks. With Rhythm out, it all starts to make more sense. Rhythm does mono sampling and has a lot more options for mangling samples – even those you pre-load. Tracks is the one for anyone wanting to sequence other gear or add some melodic synth parts on the same device.
And the rest of us can wait for a future… Circuit Trhythacks. You can even use the name, Novation; I’m sure it’ll be a big hit.
- Eight sample tracks
- Slice samples or play them chromatically
- Loop, Reverse, One Shot, Gated & Choke
- RGB grid with 32 velocity-sensitive pads
- Eight customisable macro encoders
- Eight chainable 32-step patterns, non-quantised record, step probability, pattern mutate, sync rates, and more
- Sample recording via stereo input or resample internal audio
- Instant performance control with Grid FX
- Drum Pad performance mode with beat repeat functionality
- Reverb, delay and side chain FX
- DJ-style master filter (Low pass/High pass)
- microSD support – save thousands of synth patches, samples and projects across 32 packs.
- Built-in rechargeable battery with 4 hours of battery life
- Novation Components integration – send samples, edit Grid FX and backup projects
- Full size 5-pin MIDI In, Out and Thru
- Analog sync out
- Stereo audio output (L/R pair)
- Headphone output
And note – 220 seconds sample time per pack, so that’s the maximum you can load at once (up from 60 seconds on original Circuit, 196.6 seconds on Circuit Tracks).
Despite the mono sampling limitation (as across the product line), Circuit Rhythm does have a stereo architecture – including stereo input to the stereo effects, which means that those Grid FX can double as a stereo effects unit.
and previously: https://novationmusic.com/en/circuit/circuit-tracks