Point 1: this is not a toy. Yes, it has small keys, but like many of the best new music-making gadgets, the Novation Mininova is designed to fit into small spaces, like under the bed, on your lap or in a rucksack. It takes its lead from Korg's enduringly popular MicroKORG series, packing all the power of a full-sized synth into a portable package.
Novation Mininova review – vocoder and VocalTune
The Mininova's headline feature is its vocoder and "VocalTune" effects. A vocoder works by combining the frequencies in your voice when sung or spoken into the microphone with the synth sounds you're playing on the keyboard. This allows you to sing chords, turn your voice into a robot or give it a lush, electronic sound. Previously the MicroKORG XL was the best budget vocoder on the market but the Mininova's is even better. Check out the video demo.
The "VocalTune" effect is Novation's version of the (too) popular AutoTune effect that seems to be used in almost every pop song right now. If you can't sing, this won't help very much, but if you do have a half decent voice it can pull your pitch into line as you play along on the keys.
Novation Mininova review – sounds
How does it sound? In a nutshell, in your face. The Mininova is brimming with quick-fix thrills. Thanks to the arpeggiator (a kind of simple loop sequencer) just a single stab of the keyboard can unleash a bombardment of bass, buzz and squeal. If you want realistic flutes and trumpets you're in the wrong place, but if raw, grimy electro sounds tickle your tastebuds you'll love the Mininova.
But it's not all wobbly basslines. There's a lovely spread of string pads for your chords, some bread-and-butter bass sounds and some rich, mellow sounds for those blissed-out moments.
Novation Mininova vs MicroKORG
The similarities between the Mininova and original MicroKORG are plain to see, from the chunky knobs to the wood-effect end panels.
The Mininova's big filter knob is begging to be twisted, turning a brooding rumble into a soaring cacophony. That row of numbered buttons can also be used to add variations on sounds as you play. The MicroKORG's editing matrix (who could live without one?) is mimicked on the right of the Mininova's panel.
It's simpler than the Korg's, so while it does allow faster access to tweakable effects, it won't let you dig as deep into the sounds. For that you'll need to switch to the buttons beneath the LCD or use the software editor. As a live performance instrument the Minonova wins thanks to its superior keyboard and immediate sound-morphing controls, but studio geeks might still prefer the depth of the MicroKORG.
Novation Mininova review – portable
This is almost the perfect synth for a portable, laptop-based set-up. It doesn't take batteries but it can be powered direct from the USB connection to your laptop and send its MIDI data along the same cable. If only it could push audio to your computer in the same way. As it is, you'll need an external recorder or an audio interface for quality recording.
Novation Mininova review – summary
It's hard not to love the Mininova. Yes, it takes a lot of inspiration from Korg's MicroKORG family, and perhaps its presets are a little too fashionable for the long term, but when a synth sits up and demands to be played like this you'd have to be a pretty curmudgeonly old thing to ignore it.
Review by Tony Horgan.