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Roland legends for Novation Mininova and Ultranova

50 timbres inspired to five of the most famous vintage analog synthesizers from Roland deeply programmed for the Novation Mininova and Ultranova.

Published in Programmer

Hi guys and welcome to the last episode of the mini-serie dedicated to “making sounds” using the synthesis engine of the Novation Mininova. In the first episode we talked about making a synth lead similar to the ones used by the famous greek composer Vangelis, while in the second episode we tried to program a punchy synth bass.

Now, it’s time to “close the circle” trying to program a pad timbre that leverages on the vocoder of the Mininova, one of the features of this small synth, in my opinion, that is worth its price.

 Fig. 1


First of all, let’s make a small review on what a vocoder is... I think it’s necessary to fully analize and understand how the patch is built.

A vocoder is an electronic circuit (or a software) that combines two signals, a carrier and a modulator in such a way that the signal produced has got the harmonic content of the modulator and the tuning and the timbral characteristics of the carrier.

In other words and from a more detailed point of view, the modulator signal is filtered from n band pass filters and the result of each filter is sent in input to an envelope follower, a circuit that is able to produce a control signal from and audio one. This phase is named the analisys phase of the vocoder.

The control signals produced by the n envelope followers are used to control the output volume of n band pass filters that filter the carrier signal. Take a look at the following scheme.

Fig. 2


The modulator and the carrier could be whatever signals we like, even if usually the modulator is the voice of the musician captured using a microphone and the carrier is a synthesized timbre (for example a synth lead or a synth bass or a lush pad… Sorridente).

The higher is n, the more accurate is the vocoder in reconstructing the modulator signal, but a musician may not be interested in reconstructing his voice, but in producing musical timbres in a more creative way.

The vocoder on the Mininova offers 12 bands for the analysis phase and 12 bands for the synthesis phase. For further details about how the Mininova vocoder works please refer to the manual of the instrument. 

If you would like to hear something, take a look at this video, in which Teddy Riley (Michael Jackson) shows what using a Vocoder means.

Let’s talk about our patch: the Mininova offers two kind of modulators to control the vocoding process: a signal that comes from the microphone (for example the gooseneck microphone bundled with the instrument) and a signal that comes from the EXT INPUT on the rear panel of the synth.

What we want to do is to create a lush pad using the waveforms, the filters, the modulations and the effects on the Mininova and to modulate it using an audio signal coming from the EXT INPUT, in order to try to produce a complex and evolving timbre.

Let’s start describing how the carrier patch is built, taking a look at the AU Mininova editor.



What we wanted was a warm and lush pad evolving over the time, so we chose rich waveforms for all the oscillators. In detail:

  1. Oscillator 1 is set to produce a SAW wave;
  2. Oscillator 2 is set to produce a WAVETABLE waveform (we chose the wavetable 4... it’s a matter of taste);
  3. Oscillator 3 is set to a PWM waveform.

As you can imagine, we chose these waveforms in order to modulate some of their features, but let’s proceed step by step.

Regarding the amplitude envelope, we adopted the settings that are typically used when creating a pad sound: slow attack, slow release and maximum sustain.

No portamento, no velocity for now (for simplicity), poly mode.



Fig. 4 

Again it’s a matter of taste and it also depends of what kind of timbre you want to reach. Generally, when programming a pad a good choice is 12db/oct filters in order to process the signal more gently. In this case we chose two filters in serie, a LP 12db and a HP 12 db, this last one to smooth the lower frequencies a bit.

I also chose to modulate the LP filter frequency a little bit with the filter envelope in order to create a small sweep effect: slow attack, medium decay, medium sustain and slow release.



Fig. 5

A classic configuration, nothing more to say: the EQ to add more loudness, the chorus to enrich the sound and the Reverb 1 and Delay 1 (a little bit) to add more spatiality.



The most interesting part and… where the magic happens!

We have to choose a modulator signal remember? Well, for this timbre we chose not to use the microphone and the musician’s voice but a sample loop sent to the EXT IN input of the Mininova. That’s because what we want to do is to have a continuous timbre that leverages on the vocoder to assume a unique and evolving character.

The sample loop used is a one from the Logic pro X library, precisely an african percussion loop named “African Ghana Kit 08”, take a listen to it.


Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yes but how can we send it to the external input of the Mininova?

Elementary, my dear Watson... using the iPad and a software that can play in loop and that can variate the tempo of the loop without altering the pitch. What about Amazing Slow Downer?

Fig. 6


What we did is:

Bounce the audio loop from Logic pro X, in order to create a mp3 file (or a wav one as you prefer);

Connect the iPad to the MAC;

Transfer the loop to Amazing Slow Downer via iTunes;

Connect the iPad to the Mininova using a simple audio cable, from the iPad phones to the Mininova EXT IN.

Obviously you may use whatever signal, whatever tool, whatever mechanism you prefer to send your audio signal to the Mininova.

Let’s take a look to the vocoder section of the AU editor, now.

Fig. 7

For the pad we’re programming we chose to use this approach:

  1. to hear the carrier signal also when the modulator is not present;
  2. to not hear the modulator signal;
  3. to introduce a little bit of resonance for the band bass filters of the synthesis section;
  4. to increase the decay of the closing phase of the filters;

 Again... it’s a matter of taste.

 Oops... I was just forgettin’.....remember to turn the Vocoder ON!!




Fig. 8 

Last but not least the modulation matrix. We chose to use three LFOs to modulate respectively the pitch of the saw wave a little bit, the index of the wave table of the second oscillator and the pulse width of the third oscillator.

We also chose to modulate the Vocoder shift using the LFO1 and to control the modulation amount with the modulation wheel, and to use the "Animate 1" and "Animate 2" buttons to increase and decrease the spread of the vocoder. "Shift" and "Spread" are clarified in the following schemas:

Fig. 9a

Fig. 9b

Can’t wait to hear the result? 

Here is a small demo of the timbre: 


As you can see the vocoder is a very powerful "toy"... it’s up to you to not curb your imagination and to explore continuously.

 And, of course, have fun with your music.


Published in Programmer
Saturday, 28 February 2015 20:45

Novation Mininova programming - A synth bass

After our first discussion about programming a synth lead on the Novation’s baby, the Mininova, in this brand new appointment we’ll try to program a punchy synth bass taking advantage of the powerful and efficient synthesis engine of this machine.

Figura 1


Programming a synth bass is generally a quite straightforward process because the rules to follow are not too many, but I think one good rule to follow is “simple but with a lot of possibilities under the hood”. What does it mean? Well, it means that, in our opinion, the timbre should be built using a few sound sources but many modulation sources in order to let the musician vary the timbre “on the run” and give his execution much more character and fun.

In other words, a synth bass is quite different from an acoustic bass or electric bass so don’t try to hide the fact that it’s produced by a synthesis engine but use the latter to produce something that would not be possible to produce using a bass with strings. Obviously, don’t forget the kind of timbre you need for the music you’re playing/composing/recording so... always search for the right compromise. 

So let’s start with our programming... DAW opened, Mininova AU editor loaded and we’re ready to go!



Figura 2

For a synth bass it is often enough to use only one oscillator, but you can choose to mix a second one to add more “character” to the timbre in case of need. Furthermore a sine wave or a triangle one is enough to obtain a simple bass timbre. In this example we chose to use two oscillators: the main one with a sawtooth waveform (in order to properly filter it according to the needs of the moment) and the second one at a lower volume with a PWM wave. Again, the sawtooth is a rich waveform and it may be enough to realize our goal all alone... but we’ve choosen to program a “punchy” and “rich” synth bass so that’s why the choice. 

Another “rule” to consider when programming a synth bass: a sawtooth waveform gives the timbre a “fat” character while a square wave gives the timbre a “rubbery” character. Choosing to add a second oscillator with a sine or a triangle wave one octave below enforces the timbre and adds more presence to it...but it’s not the only way.

Ah… I was forgetting to say that the oscillators need to be tuned two octaves below the “middle C”, because of the size of the keyboard of the Mininova. 

The configuration of the oscillators alone however does not produce a synth bass. What gives the musician the “illusion” to play a bass is the amp envelope. Without doubts: it has got to be SHORT!!

Fastest attack, fast decay, no sustain and fast release, generally equal to the decay but it’s not a rule of thumb (you could need a timbre that behaves differently when playing “legato” and when playing “staccato”, who knows?).

In our example we chose to not use the velocity to control the amplifier, but you could choose to use it in case you need it of course.


Figura 3

Generally a low pass filter is all we need to build up a synth bass. In our example we choosed a stronger LP24 filter type. The initial timbre is quite open so we needed to give a significative “cut” to the frequencies we let pass. We chose not to add resonance….for now.

Also the filter envelope plays a strong role in our synth bass timbre, because if set to the same curve of the amp envelope (more or less) it can significantly improve the “punch” of the timbre. Obviously don’t forget to increase the “Env amount” knob to the right value.

Our basic timbre is quite ready….but now comes the fun!


Figura 4

Now it’s time to make our decision: what of the timbre do we want to control and variate during our executions while playing?

In our case we chose to control:

1)    The filter frequency

2)    The filter resonance

3)    The filter decay

4)    The envelope amount for the filter

For the first three parameters we can use the default knobs on the interface of the instrument, for the last one we choose to assign the Tweak 1 slot to the parameter F1Env2 as shown in the above picture.

In this manner we could decide “at run time” how much the envelope controls the filter frequency and play with the decay of this envelope to make a fatter sound or a thinner and more percussive one.

We don’t use any other “manual” modulation source for our timbre, but there’s still something to say regarding the modulation matrix.

Figura 5

Having adopted a PWM wave for the second oscillator we choosed to introduced a small amount of pulse witdh modulation using the LFO1 in order to make the sound more coloured and fat.

We also chose to modulate a bit the pitch of the oscillators using the amp envelope in order to add more punch to the timbre… it’s a common trick.


Figura 6

Last but not least, the effects. We inserted an EQ in order to lower the high frequencies a bit and to boost the lower ones. We added the Compressor1 in order - again - to add punch and presence to our timbre ad at least a little bit of ROOM reverb.


Et voilà... shake and serve cold!


Check our audio demo and tell us if you like it.




And, of course... stay tuned for the next appointment!







Published in Tutorials

Mininova is a powerful mini synth-vocoder made by Novation whose popularity has rapidly grown between musicians, due to its extremely versatile character, to its very good sound quality, to the goodness of the materials used to build it and, last, but not least, to its very affordable price.

Furthermore one of the most exciting features of this “small monster” is the very efficient vocoding system it offers... let’s say it is definitely an icing on the cake for the "Novation baby".

Having chosen one of these toys as a part of my own setup and having appreciated it’s power in addition to the ease of programming it, I would like to show you how to build sounds using its synthesis engine. 

And to do this, instead of using the buttons and the encoders embedded on the synth, I would like to use the Mininova VST/AU editor that lets the programmer use the mouse and his computer providing him a software interface that shows the whole set of parameters in a more comfortable way. 


You can grab the software for free from the Novation web site and, precisely at this link: choose the right version for your operating system, download it, double click, next, next, next, finish. You’re ready to fly!

Load your favourite daw, create an instrument track and put the Mininova editor as a virtual instrument inside it. Obviously don’t forget to connect the Mininova to your computer using the USB cable and to turn it on, choosing USB bus power.

The editor will connect to your instrument and show the first patch present on the slot A000 (not the one you used the last time before turning off the instrument, sigh). Choose the first empty slot in which to put your brand new sound and….LET’S START.

For this first episode, what about creating a synth lead that Vangelis would love? Remember Blade Runner? I mean a synth lead like this one.

The music is the “Opening titles soundtrack” from “Blade Runner”, a film that you HAVE to watch, if you haven’t yet.


Awesome, isn’t it? Also, it seems a bit complicated to program...but not too much, believe me.

The first thing you have to worry about when programming a timbre is to take a look to the scheme that briefly describes your synthesis engine, in order to fully control it without doubts. 

So let’s start from the sound sources...aka the oscillators. Vangelis used to program this kind of leads on the Yamaha CS-80, that had two oscillators able to produce a square wave and a pulse wave with an addiction of a sine wave as an additional wave form. It’s a good starting point, isn’t it?


Go to the oscillators section of the editor and enable the oscillator 1 and oscillator 2 on the mixer, choosing for both them a sawtooth wave. In order to start giving the sound more character, let’s perform a small detune of the two waveforms… let’s say +6 for the first oscillator and -6 for the second one, using the “Detune cents” knob. Again, point to 127 the knob “Hard” in order to have a full sawtooth wave. 

If you prefer, you could choose to use also a third oscillator to give the sound more strength, as shown in the above picture.

It’s the time to take care of the amplitude envelope: the only two things we have to adjust are the attack and the release phases, augmenting both them a little bit as shown. It’s all for this section, let’s take a look to the filters.

Regarding them, we have to remember that the original Yamaha CS-80 had got two filters: a resonant 12 db low pass filter and a resonant 12 db high pass one. So I guess we have to choose the same modules on the Mininova, that offers a lot of filter types to the programmer.

Choose a HP12 for the first filter and a LP12 for the second. Pick up the “Series algorithm” for the combination of two, rotate the “Balance” knob to the right and you’ve recreated the situation you have on the CS-80. Now, the most interesting part: we have to emulate the filter sweep of this timbre, that is the most important feature of it. Furthermore it’s not a static filter sweep ‘cause Vangelis used to vary it during the execution using the polyphonic aftertouch of the CS-80.


“Houston we’ve a problem”: the keyboard of the Mininova doesn’t implement aftertouch, only velocity, so what? Now it’s up to you, ‘cause you have several alternatives:


1)    Use the velocity to control the filter sweep

2)    Use the modulation wheel to control the filter sweep

3)    Use an expression pedal


For our timbre we chose this approach: to use the modulation wheel to control the filter sweep manually and to use one of the tweak parameters of the synth to adjust the ENV amount on the LP12 filter in order to let the sweep become static. Furthermore we have chosen to let the aftertouch control the sweep, in case you would like to use an external midi controller that implements aftertouch.




Now we have to choose the effects: Vangelis used a lot of reverb with a long decay for his timbres so let’s choose a similar approach considering the Mininova effects section, made by 5 slots you can arrange in different manners.

For the first slot we chose to use an EQ in order to add more loudness to the sound. The second slot is occupied by the “Reverb 2” with maximum decay. For the third slot a small amount of “Chorus 1” to give the sound more richness and for the third slot a little bit of Delay1.


Voilà, here it is our patch reproducing the opening titles of the film in a small audio clip.



Marvellous isn’t it? It’s all for now. By the way, remember to give it a name and to press “Save”. You have to do it directly on the Mininova or export the patch to the “Mininova Librarian” from the editor. 

Have fun and… stay tuned for the next article.



Published in Tutorials