New Nina Analog Synthesizer Features Motorized Knobs For Robotic Patch Control

Tonelab shared this sneak preview of a new analog synth, Nina, debuting at the 2022 NAMM Show, that features motorized knobs for robotic patch control.

The motorized knobs promise to address a problem shared by classic analog synths, knockoffs and many reissues – lack of patch memory. Early analog synths used analog pots and physical switches to control patch parameters, which meant that patch memory was impractical. Modern synth designs generally use encoders, which means that the knob and switch settings can be saved and recalled.

This new synth, from Melbourne, Australia, uses motorized knobs – a new approach to handling patch memory with analog synths.

No details have been announced for the Nina, except that it is a 12-voice polyphonic analog synth design with motorized knobs.

Check out the sneak preview and share your thoughts in the comments!

24 thoughts on “New Nina Analog Synthesizer Features Motorized Knobs For Robotic Patch Control

  1. Plenty of modern poly synths use real potentiometers! Even an analog monosynth like the bass station 2 has regular pots and digital recall with a common sample and hold design. If anything encoders are the exception. I can see why flying faders are nice on a mixing console because you can see them clearly, but motorized pots really seems to be gilding the lily here. I admit the bitimbral morph feature is very nice, and the visual feedback there is very cool, though I don’t see any reason why that couldn’t be implemented as preset morphing without the motor feature.

    1. Most of those with patch memory have digital control though, for most of the parameters, not analog. (eg digital lfos, digital envelopes, etc..) The Voyager is one major exception. Basically cv converters in between the pots and the analog board, for digital recall of all analog parameters. It’s an expensive way to do it though.

      1. You seems to mixed up digital modulation and digital control. Most of digital controlled analog synths with pots (not endless) use “analog pots”. It is a very common way and not that expensive. All waldorf synths with pots included the pulse1 and even the 4-pole use alpha analog pots

        1. No, I wasn’t addressing the pot vs encoder issue. I just saying that for most analogs with patch memory, most of the functions are actually digital. If this analog is fully 100% analog: analog lfos, analog envelopes, etc, then it’s fairly rare to have patch storage anyway. So, motorized pots would be one way around that. The patch storage itself could literally just be the position of the knobs.

          1. When you say “functions” you mean modulations sources?
            Modulation source are usually digital because it’s much more feature rich, complex, precise and easier to implement. There is no much problem doing it analog (VCO control digitally is the same as LFO control) but not much to gain.
            It’s an interesting idea but i don’t think this motors will visualize modulations, they will die very quickly, but maybe i just don’t understand your terminologies…

            1. No, I mean modulation functions, and everything else. For example, the envelopes on a Moog Voyager are analog. The envelopes on a sub phatty are digital. The lfo on a Voyager is analog. The lfo on a sub phatty is digital.

              Usually, when a synth has full analog control, you don’t get presets. So, people complain that the Korg Arp Odyssey doesn’t have presets. But, in order to provide presets, they would have had to redevelop the whole circuit design to accommodate digital functions, like envelopes, lfo, sample and hold, etc…

              The way the Voyager was able to do it was a very expensive route. From what I understand, they essentially designed a cv converter for every analog function as an intermediary between the analog and the digital board. That brings the cost up considerably.

              I agree with you though. You don’t give up much by making the envelopes, lfos, and other functions completely digital. Which is why Moog went that route on their subsequent synths.

              If this synth is 100% analog, this motorized route would only capture the spot at which the pots are. Which might be good enough for most people. If the lfo is an analog lfo, you won’t be able to completely sync it. Like the Voyager’s. But, a lot of other analog functions would be able to be saved, like the shape of the envelopes.

    2. The lack of visual feedback is what makes for slightly disappointing experience on a pot-based one-knob-per-feature with presets, in my view. When I load a preset on a software synth, or one with encoders and those little leds (like the Nord Lead 3), I can immediately see how it’s going to sound.

      There’s the failure issue, and hopefully they’ll use parts that are easy to replace.

  2. honestly i had been wondering why someone has not done this for a very long time, considering the wide availability of motorized faders for things like mixers and so forth

  3. I’ve owned several mixers with flying faders. And servicing them was costly. Most of them motorized faders don’t work anymore. Again, expensive to replace or fix them; or parts not available. The mixers became useless thereafter. Imagine a large automated console.

    Now this synth will be a nightmare to service, and the motors will fail in due time. Yeah it’s cool and nice to see the pots rotate into position of parameter/value for easy visual reference. But no thanks! Will be costly to fix in the long run — let alone if the company will still be around to provide parts.

    Also, it’s really not that necessary. I’m used to programming synths the old fashioned way, because I know they’ll last longer.

    1. “Now this synth will be a nightmare to service”
      “Will be costly to fix in the long run — let alone if the company will still be around to provide parts”

      Well, we currently know nothing about it, what motors they use, life expectancy, maybe its a drop in replacement with no soldering needed and the parts are cheap. Maybe it will be better to wait to based our assumptions on facts maybe there is little resemblance or not at all to the way an old flying fader mixer works.

      “Also, it’s really not that necessary.”
      You can say that about almost anything 🙂 But where is the fun in that?
      There are new abilities that rise with new technologies and i think the video shows a little of that. This slides/morphs sounds organic!

  4. Finally somebody did it! i heard this idea countless times before and the added scene/morph looks like an interesting development. It is the ideal way but we will need to wait and see if it’s reliable and how they dealt with the induction of the high power motors so close to the sensitive audio circuits.

  5. LED light rings around endless encoders are a more elegant solution and not prone to inevitable mechanical failure. cool experiment but it’s a meh for me.

  6. What a dream this is! “Robotic patch control” that is what MIDI is for, but finally having the physical interface in sync with the loaded patch is a way overdue feature on synths considering the technical achievements of today.
    I expect it will be expensive at first but when a lot of synths will have them price will go down.

  7. I’ve always found it strange that many synths with presets still use pots or even rotary encoders that don’t even have an LED ring to show their position. Once you change the preset, the indicators on the knobs don’t mean anything.
    Motorized pots are expensive obviously and you won’t be running this thing off of a single USB 🙂
    I’d love to see a teardown of this synth.

    1. I can relate, especially when there is no pickup mode/relative mode. Most synths today have that so the indicators are important.
      For me, endless encoders with stepping are the best, you can turn them one step to see the value on the screen and naturally parameters will not jump, I’m also not into turning the knobs aggressively like a DJ so i don’t care much for pots, but this is even better! I hope it will be good.

      1. if you only see the value when you turn the encoder, isn’t the Non-Linear C15 interface just as good? I haven’t tried it, at first glance you think “where are all the knobs”, but actually maybe it’s as good as having all the knobs if you can’t see where they really are.

        1. Most of my synths are very complex so seeing all values will not give me much idea of the patch, could be nice but not necessity for me. I mainly dislike parameter jumps, mostly because you can’t tell what was the value before you turn the knob and you may change the sound for good. Even with pots with pickup mode/relative mode i still prefer encoders with steps. it’s just feel for me i’m connected in a more “precise” way to the instrument.

          The Non-Linear C15 is different, in some ways even better because you press the button and see the value before you turn the encoder but i hope it’s a very reliable encoder because you going to use it allot 🙂
          Ideally you will have a screen for each encoder that show the parameter (like with plugins) , a LED ring like the Nords or just motorized pots.

          1. “Most of my synths are very complex so seeing all values will not give me much idea of the patch”

            What madness is this – something I’ve not heard about ?

            1. I meant looking at it will not necessarily give me much of idea for how it will sound with complex synths.

              Let’s say you looking at ADSR of a VCA, you see the release is high so you expected it to have a long release sound, but…
              Let’s say the release is modulated by other modulator with negative amplitude, and the other modulator is triggered by a 16 step sequencer with only one value present, also negative, and the amplitude of the VCA is also modulated by say 2 other modulators, and the ADSR is inverted and looped. Will looking at this ADSR will give you any meaningful understanding how long the note will be heard? Or should i check all modulators and all sound sources/modifiers?
              Now let’s imagine this is only 5% of the patch, with say 4x more ADSR some of them also goes to the same VCAm Some of them output specific OSC’s and not others and one of them trigger the 16 step sequencer, but very slowly 🙂

              Do you get what I’m saying now?
              At some point I explore modifying the patch and I need to let go of understanding it completely if i want to make music.
              So it will be nice to see everything and maybe some time helpful shore, but in practicality I rather have encoders so parameter will not jump and ruin this thing I’m not fully understand but would like to keep/use/modify it. And VCA is actully the simplest example…
              You asked for explanation so there you have it 🙂

  8. I’m sure Vince Clarke, JMJ and Martin Gore will enjoy owning this. 12 voices with flying faders surely puts this into Moog One territory, price wise.

  9. This looks brilliant
    Like others have mentioned, I often wondered years ago why synth sliders and knobs couldn’t be made to move to their proper positions when changing patches.

    I would have chosen better knobs/dials to bring to life though !

  10. I always wanted this feature, but then I saw an endless knob with an LED ring around it, and said, oh that’ll work.

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