I don’t want this site to be overly gear-centric, but as I have often found it difficult to find useful info on gear that interests me, I thought I would share some of my own gear experiences, from a playing (not marketing) standpoint.
Novation’s X-Station is a USB audio interface and MIDI controller with a monotimbral synth “thrown in,” which may seem like a bad sign from the get-go. I bought one because it was dirt cheap and could be battery-powered, which intrigued me. I figured it would be a fun toy, but I had no idea how much fun.
I haven’t actually used any of the USB functionality, but I can say that this is a great “virtual analog” synth. Of course this means it doesn’t sound like an analog synth, but it sounds really good doing those analog synth types of sounds. Nice swooshy pads, pretty strings, decent-sounding if limited FM implementation. The filter (with overdrive) sounds great and the overall tone can be very punchy, which yields excellent percussive bass sounds.
There is a full suite of onboard effects (actually two such suites, one for the synth and one to process external audio – sweet!), and while they aren’t Eventide-caliber, they sound quite good, especially the delay and even the reverb. Certainly way better than what I expected from a device in this price range.
Synth architecture is nice (3 oscillators plus ring mod and noise) if somewhat limited in terms of mod routing. You won’t get any avant-garde science projects out of this thing, but it is meant to emulate classic analogs, so there you go. It does have some nice tricks up its sleeve like LFO delay and a library of weird LFO shapes.
The best thing about the x-Station is its nearly 1-knob-per-function layout, which is great for learning and real-time tweaking. It’s loads of fun to tweak a latched arpeggio (see last week’s video) or a sustained drone (as in this one). There is even an X-Y pad which I love in theory, but it’s only configurable on a global basis and isn’t very responsive anyway. Nice idea but Novation blew it here.
Build quality is pure crap. Everything is cheap plastic, the knobs are a little wiggly. Having owned several Novation products, this is sadly par for the course. If anything, this actually feels more solid than their flagship Supernova. Boo, Novation. But the keys are surprisingly nice and have aftertouch!
For all it’s drawbacks, the X-Station is fun to play and sounds great. With its audio/MIDI functionality it might make an attractive alternative to soft synths for a beginner, and is a great learning synth and hey, really a good little machine overall. I only wish is had multitimbral functionality.