Tech Preview: Novation Peak

An 8-voice hybrid synth module with polyphonic aftertouch
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While Novation has been a leading innovator in the world of pad and keyboard controllers (not to mention beat-based products such as Circuit), behind the scenes it’s been secretly developing a new polysynth intended to unite analog sound quality with the stability and features of a modern instrument.

To the surprise of Superbooth17 attendees in Berlin last April, Novation unveiled Peak, an 8-voice synth module featuring 3 oscillators per voice and a hybrid architecture; in this case, an analog multi-mode resonant filter, pre-filter VCA, and distortion effects combined with digital sound generation, time-based effects, and parameter control. The result is a powerful, yet portable instrument that is affordably priced ($1,299).

Remarkably, Peak is simple to use. I received an early production unit before the manual was available, yet I got the synth up and running in just a few minutes. The signal path is logical and everything is clearly labeled. Lights indicate parameter selections or flash to show tempo, and the menu is easy to navigate, thanks to the dedicated page buttons above.

Most importantly, the majority of features are available from the front panel, making this a synth you can actually play. The built-in ar-peggiator and the Animate buttons (each of which instantly recalls a modulation-matrix configuration and is latchable) increase the potential for real-time control considerably.

Peak also responds to polyphonic aftertouch, and I had a blast playing it with the Novation Launchpad Pro, as well as Keith McMillan Instruments QuNexus and QuNeo controllers.

Yet one of the biggest surprises is how substantial this module feels: Measuring 18.25” wide by 9.25” deep, Peak is built into a metal case with wooden ends and a thick skid-proof rubber pad on the bottom. A metal desktop rack, which positions Peak vertically at two different angles, is available as an option.

In addition to stereo ¼” line outputs and a headphone jack, the module supports MIDI over USB and 5-pin In/Out/Thru ports, and includes two control-pedal inputs. The lone CV modulation input is on a 3.5mm jack that accept ±5V signals from Eurorack and other modular synths. Unfortunately, there is no other CV/gate I/O or an audio input for routing external sounds through the filter.

A Peek Under the Hood

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According to Novation, a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) is used for computing inside Peak, because it yields higher processing rates than the DSP typically used in commercial synths. As a result, Peak has DACs with 24MHz oversampling for greater clarity and to avoid aliasing, as well as 8-bit parameter control to mitigate stepping artifacts.

The FPGA’s potential also led to a new audio engine from legendary synth designer Chris Huggett. His New Oxford Oscillator generates waveforms in two ways: The Numerically Controlled Oscillator creates triangle, saw, and square/pulse waves, with the ability to produce triple-saw sounds, while the wavetable oscillator provides two versions of a sine wave plus 85 additional waveforms collected in groups of five. You can morph between waves in a selected wavetable using the Shape Amount knobs—one for each oscillator in a voice—or modulation (EG or LFO).

Additional controls for each oscillator include coarse and fine tuning, and pitch-modulation depth from Mod EG 2 and LFO 2. The mixer has level controls for each oscillator, as well as noise and ring modulation from the combination of oscillators 1 and 2. Sync is available (but doesn’t require you to use one of the voice oscillators as a slave), as is linear FM via cross-modulation routing. Novation also added a Drift control for pitch variations and a Divergence parameter, both of which can be used to imitate the subtle inconsistencies of a fully analog instrument.

Peak is also capable of creating modern sounds, thanks in large part to it 16-slot modulation matrix, which can send two sources to any of 37 destinations and supports bipolar signals. Moreover, the LFOs go up to 1.6 kHz and offer tempo sync and an onset parameter called Fade Time.

There is a lot more to examine in this synthesizer, so watch for a full review of the Novation Peak in an upcoming issue of EM.