Release Date: 2003
Type: Virtual Analog / Subtractive Synthesis
The Novation KS4 / KS5 is a 16-voice polyphonic synth that is easy to use, sounds good and is available at decent prices on the second hand market. This is a great synth to learn the basics of subtractive synthesis on. Most of all, it’s fun to play and tweak as it has an easily accessible user interface and some additional parameters not found on other synths I’ve encountered.
Let’s start with the oscillators: you’ve got 3 to play with, each with standard waveforms (saw, square, pulse, triangle, sine)… but beyond this you also have access to “double” waveforms (ie double saw) and 17 additional sample waveforms! This opens up the sonic palette considerably when it comes to sound creation, giving you additional flexibility to craft interesting patches from scratch. Yes, the oscillators are digital and “virtual analog” emulation, but they still sound good overall.
The mixer section lets you bring in noise, ring modulation, even an external input, and you can adjust levels between the various oscillators accordingly. You also have 2 LFOs to work with, each with standard waveforms + additional waveshapes and patterns — again, these extra waveshapes can create some impressive motion effects when applied to the sound, that go beyond standard waveforms. Things can get wacky with the “one-shot” mode as well.
The ADSR envelopes for the most part do the job, they aren’t hardware so don’t expect super snappy response rates… but what’s there works well. You’ve also got some decent simultaneous effects to play with including reverb, delay, distortion, panning and more. While there is some menu diving required to setup effects levels etc, overall its pretty quick and easy to do.
Of course, everyone knows that a filter can heavily influence a synth’s sonic character (besides the various other components in a synth). One thing that can be said about the Novation KS4 / KS5 synthesizer’s filter is that it sounds extremely WET and LIQUID… it’s hard to describe but you can get some very “elastic” type of sounds depending on your filter, resonance and LFO modulation settings. Add some reverb and things can get very wacky indeed!
The KS4/KS5 has low-pass, bandpass and high-pass filter settings and can get quite resonant, but it is also prone to distortion if filter resonance and oscillator levels are cranked too high. This distortion issue seems to be inherent in Novation’s synth designs in general, as this problem is also present on the Novation Supernova II, the KS4/KS5’s older brother.
Another downside is the fixed modulation matrix on this synth; that is, LFO 1 will only modulate pitch, and LFO2 will only modulate filter. So if a configurable MOD matrix is important to you, be forewarned as you may find the fixed routings somewhat limiting when it comes to deeper soundsculpting. Also note that this is a 4-part multi-timbral synth, so if you have a need to play many sounds/patches simultaneously, you’ve only got 4 parts to work with.
Despite these shortcomings, the Novation KS4 / KS5 also has some cool features such as a 16-band vocoder, a drum map, and “Hypersync” setting that syncs up all tempo related parameters, enabling you to save these configurations for quick re-use later. Adjustable Hypersync parameters include LFO speed and delay, delay time, panning, chorus rate and EQ ‘sweep’ cycle. Let’s also not forget about the fun and easy to use arpeggiator — you’ve got 32 present patterns, 4 modes (up, down, random, chord), arp range and latch settings which can be adjusted, and up to 4 arpeggiators can be layered together at one time in multi-mode.
Overall while not as capable as its older brother Novation Supernova II, the Novation KS4 / KS5 still packs plenty of sonic power, has a number of cool features (multi-osc and LFO waveforms beyond standard types, vocoder, simultaneous effects per patch etc), and a near knob-per-function interface that makes it instantly accessible and most of all, FUN to play.
Some synths can be a chore to program, others a breeze, and yet others are just plain fun — for me, I find the Novation KS4 / KS5 fits in the latter category the most; it is a great synth for beginners/intermediate synthesists, offers a variety of features at a decent price, and is inviting to play.
If you’re looking for a fun hands-on synth to get your feet wet or just to play and not have to “think” about programming every step of the way, the Novation KS4 / KS5 is a great piece of kit that fits the bill nicely, at a decent price.
|Interface||29 knobs, 49 buttons, 54 LEDs|
|Oscillators||3 oscillators, each with Square / Saw / Variable Pulse / Tri / Sine / Double Saw / Double Tri / Double Sine waveforms + 17 additional sample waveforms.
Osc 1-2 sync, FM, Ring Mod, Noise and external audio in (mono).
|LFO||2 LFOs: sine, triangle, saw, square, sample-and-hold, panning + additional waveforms and patterns. Speed and delay parameters. Cyclic or 1-shot.|
|Filter||Low/High/Bandpass. 12/24 dB switchable.|
|VCA||2 ADSR envelope generators|
|ModMatrix||Fixed modulation paths; LFO1 modulates pitch, LFO2 modulates filter.|
|Arpeggiator||4 independent in multi mode; up, down, random, chord modes; 32 preset patterns; range and latch mode saved per program.|
|Effects||24 simultaneous FX per program: Reverb, Distortion plus tempo-locked Chorus, Phaser, Delay, Panner & Enveloped Filter with EQ|
|Keyboard||KS4: 49 keys, KS5: 61 keys
Velocity and aftertouch (keyboard models only)
|Memory||200 preset programs, 50 preset performances, 100 drum sounds; 200 user programs, 100 user drum programs, 50 user performances.|
|Control||4 multitimbral parts. MIDI IN/OUT/THRU. Aux & Master L+R outs, 1 audio input, 2 pedal inputs, headphone input.|