Novation Blows Up Its Groove Box with Circuit Components Upgrades

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If you bought a Tesla Model S early in its production run — you are cool aren’t you? — it’s not the same car today that it first was. I don’t mean because of the wear and tear on the vehicle; it’s a different car due to the many over-the-air firmware and software updates the Tesla routinely sends out to add and improve on features such as Autopilot, Autopark, Summon and many others.

Electronic music gear is no stranger to such upgrades, but we may be entering a new era when free updates aren’t just minor tweaks to software and firmware, but an upgrade to the overall value of a product. The UK’s Novation doesn’t have quite the resources of a Tesla Motors, but it nonetheless has released Circuit Components, a package of updates to its Circuit ($329 street) synth/sequencer.

The attractions to Circuit Components begin with sample import and a librarian courtesy of a Web MIDI enabled browser app, and also include a power synth editor program, as well as other new firmware features. Having reviewed the Circuit for Electronic Musician a couple of months ago, I can attest that these new Circuit Components features add a lot of value to the already cool, compact machine.

Sample Import
The Circuit has two Nova synth engines for its synthesizer parts. But its four Drum parts call upon 64 internal samples. Now, once you update Circuit’s firmware and access the the Web MIDI app through the Google Chrome or Opera browsers, you can drop your own MP3 or WAV samples into the Circuits 64 slots, with the limitation of 60 total seconds of sample time. The browser app recognizes if you have a Circuit connected over USB, and then you’re off adding any sounds you want to use with Circuit’s sequencer and effects.

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Isotonik Circuit Editor
While the Circuit holds two Nova polyphonic synth engines inside, the hardware only lets you tweak the eight Macro controls for each patch. However, a new free Circuit Editor program for PC/Mac gives you full access to the entire Nova synth architecture for both Circuit synth parts. You can design your sounds from a computer and then have them at your disposal inside the battery-power Circuit. You can also customize which parameters are assigned to the eight Macro controls for every patch.

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Isotonik Studios orginally designed this Editor as a MaxforLive plugin within Ableton Live Suite, but now it’s available free for everyone. Circuit users can share their patches with others, for example, those in the Circuit Owners Facebook group.

Also a web browser app, the new Circuit Librarian lets you back-up the Circuits 32 internal sessions — which include sequencer, sound and song data — to cloud storage, so you can save and recall as many sessions as you want.

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More Firmware Features
You’ll need to update your Circuit’s firmware to use any of the above Circuit Components add-ons, but by updating, you’ll also get access to other features. For example, you’ll be able to use other connected MIDI controllers — even an iPad — to record notes into Circuit’s sequencer or to control Circuit’s Macros and record automation. You can also send MIDI program change messages from an external controller to Circuit to change its synth or drum sounds.

Here’s one I really would have loved while reviewing the Circuit. It will now automatically sync with Ableton Live and facilitate easy recording of Circuit sessions into Ableton Live or record MIDI tracks from Live into the Circuit.

A new Step Edit function lets you edit each step of a sequencer to, for example, change its effect settings, pitch, or to even use a different sound on every step!

These updates definitley make the Circuit even more appealing for its price, and better yet, Novation noted that this is just the first installment of Circuit Components. What would you like to see next? Give Novation your ideas. They’re listening.

I for one hope this sets a trend for other music gear as well. Digital updates — even if some of them end up costing money rather than given away — have the potential to extend the usefulness of hardware, so that people don’t need to feel the frequent need to update expensive hardware and add to the global e-waste and consumer debt problems.

As a concurrent trend, the growing adoption of Web MIDI functions is exciting, as well. I’m all for offloading software programs, as well as memory backups, from local hard drives to the cloud.