Nonlinear Labs C15 Synthesizer At NAMM 2019

At the 2019 NAMM Show, Nonlinear Labs made the NAMM debut of their C15 synthesizer.

The C15 is unusual in that it’s a keyboard that’s designed to be closer to traditional instruments than most synthesizers. As a result, it doesn’t have internal sequencing, an arpeggiator, LFO’s or even MIDI support – it’s designed for you to play it expressively, not machines.

In the first section of the video, company founder Stephan Schmitt gives an introduction to the philosophy behind the C15. Starting around 8:30, Schmitt demonstrates the C15 and explains how the keyboard’s expressive capabilities dynamically control its synthesis engine.

For an example of the C15’s expressive capabilities with studio sound, see the live performance by composer Federico Solazzo below:

More C15 performances are available at the Nonlinear Labs site.

Pricing and Availability

The Nonlinear Labs C15 is available now for 4000 €.

27 thoughts on “Nonlinear Labs C15 Synthesizer At NAMM 2019

  1. The C15 seems like it’s so different that it may take a while for people to figure out – like the Haken Continuum.

    I’d love to give it a try, because it seems like it would be really satisfying to play.

  2. Interesting philosophy.
    Imagine if a small phone company decided to make an old fashioned dial phone, which sole purpose is to just make phone calls. Make it pretty much unaffordable for the masses and then wonder why it’s not selling. Two years later attend a large global telecom trade show and hire a booth to convince people to go back to using a dial-phone because it’s not a machine.
    I wish them them all the best of luck!!!!

    1. Imagine if a guy could build any synth he imagined, because he made a boatload of money as the head of a company that specializes in making synthesizers.

      He wouldn’t have to make compromises, because he can take the time to do whatever he likes. And he wouldn’t have to cut corners, because he wouldn’t be worried about making it affordable for the masses. And he wouldn’t need to dumb down the design in order to make people that want instant gratification happy.

      He’d be a pretty lucky guy – and he’d probably do create something completely idiosyncratic and original.

        1. Definitely.

          Check out the C15 or the Continuum sometime, and you’ll start to understand why MIDI and even MPE are really limiting. The Continuum & C15 have feedback loops in the microseconds, which makes them as expressive/responsive as traditional instruments.

            1. That’s what your DAW for. If you want to change sounds, play it again with the new patch.

              This is an instrument for people that know how to play and can commit, not for people that want to sequence a riff and then scroll through sounds until they find what they like. Not criticizing the latter, but electronic music needs more skilled performers.

              Look up what Roger Linn has to say about it – he makes the point that modern music all sounds the same because it’s produced instead of played. You don’t hear great chops in music like you used too, because a lot of people don’t know how to play.

              1. “That’s what your DAW for. If you want to change sounds, play it again with the new patch.”

                This is the concept of musique concrete. All samples, all changes means a new recording.

                Do you realize that a synthesizer is left in the dust by a wood box strung with sheep’s guts which are vibrated with horse hair? Or how about a long metal tube, to which a person buzzes their lips against one end? Or even a simple tube of wood with holes in it. The violin, the trumpet, the flute, all of them have more expression than the synthesizer, including the C15. A grand piano keyboard beats out the vast majority of synth keyboards for expression. You want to intermingle fast loud and soft on a typical velocity-sensitive synth keyboard? Good luck with that.

                The synthesizer must be more than an extension of the organ. While these are nice organs, they are still organs. Key on, key off. The SPST switch. The C15 really isn’t a leap forward for expression.

              2. Would you happen to remember the source of where Roger Linn said that? II’d like to cite that in a material I’m writing. Thx

                1. Synt5

                  Roger has expressed the same basic idea – that MIDI and simple controllers have ‘dumbed down’ music so that it all sounds the same – many times in his video discussions about the LinnStrument. His view is that the lack of expressive controllers has contributed to a lack of virtuosity in electronic music – the controllers just aren’t up to the task.

                  I don’t agree within him 100% on that – I think there are other factors, too. Corporate radio wants two and a half minute pop songs that they can put more ads into, not prog rock epics.

                  Here’s got an essay on his site about this:


                  He essentially argues that the first wave of synths has been limiting, because the controls were just on-off switches, and now generally limited to velocity-sensitivity.

    2. Way too expensive for what it is. They obviously love their product but this can be a negative factor when it comes to pricing. I (and most of the planet) will pass this by as an oddly priced synth.

      1. What are you comparing it to in your head?

        There’s really not much competition when it comes to expressive, deep synths. Synths like the Continuum and the Montage are probably comparable.

        But even high-end Dave Smith and Moog synths can’t really compete when it comes to being designed to be expressive instruments. It’s kind of sad -Smith essentially came up with MIDI and yet he doesn’t even do polyphonic aftertouch and then the Moog One doesn’t even do MPE, when the author of the MPE spec is a Moog employee.

        The Schmidt synth does polyphonic aftertouch, at least, but it’s $26k.

  3. This was my favorite instrument to play at NAMM. It feels very, very good to play and operate. The dual touch strips are awesome (and can be duplicated with two expression pedals), and the action is terrific. There is a pretty amazing amount of sound sculpting that can be done, considering there are no LFOs. The panel was intuitive, and live, if you don’t need to do any sound sculpting outside of the touch strips/pedals, the programming panel can be removed. (There are patch changing buttons on the keyboard and the panel.)

    I will likely never be able to justify the purchase at the price, but the brochure Herr Schmitt gave me said they do a very reasonable “rent-to-own” program. Unfortunately, still cannot justify that price given my current financial situation, but hopefully some day I can.

    Other synths I really liked at NAMM were the Waldorf Quantum and the Minilogue XD. I never made it to the Sequential booth unfortunately.

    1. I agree entirely. One of the most, if not the most, musically inspiring and musically PLAYABLE and expressive synths ever. The level of expression made possible by the design of the sound engine itself, coupled with the precision of the controls (NOT possible with MIDI) makes this a very expressive MUSICAL INSTRUMENT. Kudos to NonLinearLabs for not designing another Me-Too instrument. This is not going to appeal to everyone, and that is a good thing. So is the rent to own program. And what synth company EVER offered to buy back your instrument. This is stupendous!

  4. For those interested in this fine instrument, be sure to look at all of the purchasing details and options:

    “the C15 is 4000 €, including VAT (3361 € without VAT)”
    “buy-back price is calculated by subtracting 2 % of the purchase price per month.”
    “We also offer a flexible rent-to-buy plan, with a minimum monthly payment of 2 % of the purchase price”

    1. Thanks for sharing that info – those are some very reasonable options.

      I also liked what Schmitt says in the video about designing the C15 with sustainability/future-proofing in mind. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a manufacturer talk about that.

      The C15 and the Continuum are the most interesting high-end synths available right now.

      1. Agreed, being able to make payments to the manufacturer, a buy back option, and a rent to own option are pretty much unheard of these days! The rent to own and buy back options could be particularly attractive to commercial studio owners since they could potentially get the instrument for free by charging clients to use it which might meet or exceed the monthly rental rate, and if that isn’t working out they can return it and be out very little so the financial risk is very low!

  5. That programmer panel is somewhat reminiscent of the programmer for the Synclavier synth. Rows of buttons grouped in sections that you push to make active and then turn the dial to adjust that parameter. What I really love is, if you really want to get down and dirty with this synth, you have a full GUI running on your computer where the programming interface is fully exposed to you.

  6. C15 is The keyboard for dearly departed Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock Flood Secrets era, Mahavishnu Orchestra era Jan Hammer, Nemo studios Heaven and Hell era Vangelis.

    1. Whilst this synth does not appeal to me personally, to call it a “rompler, packed in a cheap box” only exposed your immense ignorance. We can debate the viability and even the technology, yet the build quality is of the highest order I have ever witnessed at this price point.

      I do not care for the design and colour scheme, yet the sheer engineering in making this synth is truly impressive.

    1. I was dissapointed by no MIDI at first, but when you see that resolution on this instrument is 1000 steps per parameter – MIDI, which is limited to 128 steps, wouldn’t make much sense.

      It’s also not “just Reaktor in a box”, but I’m sure you knew that…

      1. If it had polyphonic aftertouch maybe, without it it seems counter productive to his design philosophy. Also, an 88 key version would be preferable. I have a polyphonic aftertouch keyboard, and an 88 key midi keyboard. If the C15 can’t be both 88 keys and have polyphonic aftertouch then I will need midi for it. I heard him talk about maybe adding polyphonic aftertouch, I really hope he does.

        If he makes that version I may be in, simply because I really respect the fact that he charges no interest on the rent-to-own program. I find that very noble in todays world and makes me want to support him just for that alone.

  7. When I first glanced at the article title, for a second, my mind saw CS15, which then resulted in my mind thinking, cool, Yamaha is reissuing the CS15.

    The entire episode lasted all of 4-5 seconds before my balloon was popped. Darn it!

  8. This is absolutely a *keyboard player’s* synth, starting from a more pianistic angle where others trumpet their filter and user file import options. That lightning-fast processor is completely devoted to its expressiveness and it shows, to my ear. I don’t think its too expensive for what you get with the C15, Prophet X or Waldorf Quantum. It depends on whether or not you’re planning to spend 5-10 years with the thing so you get enough mileage from it. Its okay if you only want to play around for the fun of it, but its nice to see a few serious high-enders to drool over.

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