At Superbooth 17, being held April 20-22 in Berlin, Novation is introducing the Peak 8-voice Polyphonic Synthesizer.
The Novation Peak is an eight-voice desktop polyphonic synthesizer with a hybrid analog/digital architecture. It features three New Oxford Oscillators per voice, a resonant multi-mode analog filter for each voice, and three distortion points in its analog signal chain.
Peak is part of a legacy of synths designed by Chris Huggett, the man behind synths like the Bass Station, Supernova, and the OSCar. The Peak has its origin in the Bass Station II analog monosynth, but Peak uses a new Numerically-Controlled Oscillator (NCO) design that combines analog sound with the flexibility of digital wavetables.
“Peak is a desktop polysynth to rival even the finest polys on the market today – and of years past,” says Robert Jenkins, Novation Product Strategy Director. “Peak is the result of Novation’s obsessive mission over the past decade to create a synthesizer that sounds entirely analogue, yet gains the flexibility of the digital domain.”
Here’s the official video intro:
In the video, pianist/composer Hauschka (aka Volker Bertelmann) shares his take on the strengths of the Peak synthesizer.
Here’s what Novation has to say about the Peak’s hybrid synth architecture:
Fundamental to Peak’s success were two acknowledgements. Firstly that, while analogue synthesis has unique sonic advantages over digital counterparts, an all-analogue design can limit a synth’s overall flexibility and usability. Secondly, digital synthesiser technology still has room for improvement, so any digital elements employed should be better and more powerful than designs past.
For modern synthesiser instruments, using the combination of analogue and digital makes absolute sense. “In analogue circuits, the non-linear response is where a lot of the magic happens,” says Nick Bookman, long-serving Novation Hardware Engineer. “But digital gives us much more power and control when it comes to the oscillators, modulation and effects.” As such, analogue circuitry provides warmth and character for the filters, VCAs and distortion in Peak. Digital technology provides the control, audio precision and complex processing used for routing, modulation and effects.
That’s Peak in a nutshell – the best of old and new. A real hybrid. But while this blue-sky thinking is imperative to the design, Novation were focussed on making Peak more than just a convenient unity of analogue and digital technology. They had the goal of creating a completely new synthesiser; an instrument that’s greater than the sum of its (analogue and digital) parts. The next step was good old-fashioned innovation.
Novation Peak Patch Demos:
- Two ways to create waveforms – analog-sounding NCOs (Numerically-Controlled Oscillators) and 17 digital wavetables.
- A colossal amount of distortion – Three distortion points for each voice – pre-filter, post-filter and global – in an analog signal chain.
- Control expression -Peak is capable of receiving polyphonic aftertouch, which puts expression right at your fingertips.
- Cross-modulate oscillators – The three New Oxford Oscillators for each voice can become a linear FM source using either the analog-sounding NCOs (Numerically-Controlled Oscillators) or digital wavetables. They are also able to cross-modulate in a recursive loop.
- Huge modulation system – 16-slot modulation matrix and 16 direct assignments controlled from the front panel, cleverly arranged for intuitive patch design and sound editing. Three ADSR envelopes and two LFOs for each voice.
- Easily switch modulations – Two animate buttons give live performers instant one-touch transformation of patches.
- Onboard effects – Reverb, delay and chorus at your disposal, and there’s also an arpeggiator.
- Connect to hardware and software – Connect and sync to your music software and MIDI-compatible hardware. CV modulation input used to slot together modular systems.
- Store unlimited sounds – Keep as many patches as you like on your Mac or PC using the Components software. Learn more about Components here.
Novation Peak Technical Overview:
The Novation Peak makes use of several interesting technologies.
Field Programmable Gate Arrays
Central to Peak is the use of a high-powered processor component called a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). In contrast to traditional DSP chips, which often need to run in pairs or quads, the FPGA is a single processor on which many functions can run – from oscillators to the modulation matrix.
The key benefit to an FPGA is that it runs at a much higher rate than DSP-based technology, and this has a direct impact on the clarity of sound.
Each of Peak’s eight voices has an independent oversampling digital-to-analog converter (DAC). These DAC’s are oversampling at over 24MHz (24 million times per second), using a simple RC (resistor-capacitor) filter on their output in the analog domain. In itself this is not new technology, but their integration inside the FPGA has enabled their design to be extended to enable optimum waveform synthesis.
Because other virtual synths use discrete ‘off the shelf’ DAC chips, which are restricted to running at sample rates of either 48kHz or perhaps 96kHz, they often have aliasing issues, especially when synthesizing higher frequencies. Peak’s ability to generate waveforms at the oversampling frequency – up to 512 times the traditional rate – ensures that Peak’s waveforms are pure at all frequencies, and free from digital artifacts, no matter how aggressively the pitch is modulated.
The New Oxford Oscillator
The implementation of the FPGA opens the doors to a new type of oscillator design for Peak – The New Oxford Oscillator.
Peak’s raw waveforms are generated using an architecture designed and realized by Chris Huggett. It employs two waveform-generating techniques: Numerically Controlled Oscillators (NCOs) and wavetables.
The saw-tooth, square / pulse and triangle waveforms are generated using Numerically Controlled Oscillators (NCO’s). Of note is the sawtooth, which can be multiplied and detuned on the FPGA, generating a thick, harmonically rich ‘triple saw’. The oscillators can also output wavetable-based waveforms including two types of sine wave. On a conventional digital wavetable-based synthesizer, the waveforms are band-limited before being stored in the table. This is to avoid unwanted aliasing.
With the New Oxford Oscillator design there is no need for band limiting; the extreme oversampling means that the aliasing problem is pushed way out of the audible frequency spectrum enabling Peak to utilize mathematically pure waveforms. The first sine wave is exactly that – mathematically pure – while the second is a more colorful alternative, similar to the filtered triangle you would find on an analog synth.
The New Oxford Oscillator can also load 17 ‘designed’ wavetables, of five waveforms each. The ‘Shape Amount’ knob on each oscillator – which controls pulse width and saw shape with the analog waves – morphs between the five waveforms in the active wavetable row, and can be modulated by LFO1 and Env1 directly from the front panel. (Further modulation can be programmed using the mod matrix.)
Each oscillator can also be synced to an ‘invisible’ virtual oscillator for creating classic analog synced sounds without the need for slave oscillators, and set to a static frequency. This is ideal for drones or using the oscillators as modulation sources. Linear FM (Frequency Modulation) is also featured, with all three oscillators available as FM paths in both analog and wavetable modes, and thus capable of cross-modulating each other in a recursive loop.
Inherent to the NCO design is pitch stability. But rich tones are often side effect of slightly mis-tuned or fluctuating oscillators. By using specially designed algorithms – named Drift and Divergence – Peak mimics the response of analog oscillators by introducing slight random pitch variation and per-voice offset, respectively. This lets you introduce traditional analog instabilities, as you wish.
More technical details are available at the Novation site.
Pricing and Availability
The Novation Peak is priced at: US $1299.99 ex. tax; Germany = €1429.99 inc. 19% VAT; & UK = £1249.99 inc. 20% VAT. It will be available worldwide in May 2017.
A Peak Stand is will also be available in late 2017, priced at: US = $99.99 ex. tax; Germany = €114.99 inc. 19% VAT: & UK = £99.99 inc. 20% VAT.
See the Novation site for details.