Novation teased us in February with the Circuit rhythm, but we had almost no information beyond the fact that these were samples and what we could extract from the labels on the front. Well, the beat is officially here and it offers a pretty compelling marriage of Circuit workflow and SP-404 style beatmaking for $ 400.
Basically, the Rhythm Circuit is built on the same platform as the Tracks circuits. It even has the same chassis (just in light gray instead of black) and the same rechargeable battery as the Tracks. The heart of all circuits is the eight-track, 32-step sequencer and 32-pad control surface. They also have several built-in effects, as well as mutation and probability functions to add variation and evolve your models.
You’ll even find the exact same selection of I / O ports on the back, including MIDI in, out and thru, analog sync, plus a USB-C port, microSD card slot, headphone jack, outputs stereo audio and two audio inputs
But where the audio inputs on the tracks are two mono audio streams for the mixer, on the beat these are stereo inputs for the sampler. And instead of having two dedicated polyphonic synth engines, two external MIDI tracks, and four drum tracks, the Rhythm has eight sampled tracks that can be whatever you want. You can load up the first track with a few kicks and snares, start a shaker loop on track two, play a bass sample chromatically on track three, then cut a few strings on track four. And you will still have four more tracks to add little pieces of ear candy.
In addition to the reverb, delay, and sidechain effects you’ll find in tracks, Rhythm also has what it calls Grid FX for live performance. These are punch-in effects that are definitely inspired by classic sampling workstations like the SP-404 and SP-303, preferred by J Dilla and MF Doom. There’s rhythm repeat, gate, vinyl simulation, phaser, auto filter, digitize, and reverse.
The key to capturing the vibe of these classic machines is the sampling features. On the one hand, you can resample a loop you’ve processed through these effects to cook into a vinyl squeeze and crackle, before slicing it up and rearranging your beat for even more stuttering and lo-fi quality. Importantly, it can also sample external audio through stereo inputs and outputs, then automatically slice it into equal chunks or manually by pressing the pads during sample playback to insert slices. This gives it a big head start over other budget grooveboxes like the Elektron: Samples model.
The big question is whether the Circuit workflow, which skips a screen for a series of function pages that you navigate with the RGB pads, will be as intuitive for manipulating samples as it is for playing synth bass. To answer this, you will have to wait for our review (which is already underway).
The Novation Circuit Rhythm is available for preorder now for $ 400 and will ship in mid-July.
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