So, you are in the market for a new keyboard. Perhaps you are unsure if you should buy a digital piano or you’re ready to make the jump to synthesizers.  Whatever your reason for considering buying a new synth, hopefully today’s review of the MiniNova will help you become more informed (and perhaps interested) in this unique synth offering by Novation.

Before we begin breaking down the MiniNova, we encourage you to take a look at the interactive guide below, where we directly compare the MiniNova to a variety of other noteworthy synthesizers currently available on the market.

PhotoModelKeysPriceFeatures
novation-mininova
Novation MiniNova37$256 Onboard Sounds
novation-ultranova
Novation UltraNova37$$Full-sized Keys & a Vocoder
Korg MinilogueKorg Minilogue37$$16-Step Polyphonic Step & Motion Sequencer
korg-microkorgKorg MicroKorg37$4-Voice Analog Modeling Synth Engine
roland-jd-xiRoland JD-XI37$Gooseneck mic w/built-in Vocoder & AutoPitch
roland-jd-xaRoland JD-XA49$$Discrete Analog Synth Engine
Roland System-1Roland System-1 25-Key25$Advanced Arpeggiator w/SCATTER
arturia-microbruteArturia MicroBrute25$Step Sequencer w/8 Memory Locations
roland-gaia-sh-01Roland GAIA SH-0137$$64-Voice Polyphony

Not A Cheapskate Synth

The Novation MiniNova sits at around $400, which to some may come off a bit too cheap. However, I was impressed with what this synth has to offer at such a cheap price.

Cosmetically, it has a beautiful blue coat with wood finished panels. It has blue and red LED lights, and the pitch wheels’ glow blue. The knobs are also a good size and make it easier for one to get around.

The MiniNova was designed to be a road synth with its portability and small size. This why it has only 37-keys and they are smaller than your normal piano key. I am personally not a fan of small keys like this, but as I was playing scales up and down, I felt it was something that almost anyone could get used to.

Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling synthesizers on Amazon (and then see how well they stack up to the Novation MiniNova).

  1. Novation MiniNova
  2. Arturia MicroBrute
  3. Novation Bass Station II
  4. Korg VOLCAFM
  5. Korg MicroKorg

Design Matters vs Competition

The design of the MiniNova was constructed to of course be a younger sibling to the Novation Ultranova, which has a blue finish as well but doesn’t look quite as cosmetically appealing.

The Korg microKORG, by contrast, is a less attractive, off green-grey color that doesn’t look as aesthetically appealing.

The Korg Minilogue is silver and is larger in size. The only real competitor in the aesthetics department is the Roland JD-XI, which is on par with the Novation MiniNova. While certainly not a deal breaker, we are all visual creatures, and looks and design matter (especially when you’re paying hundreds of dollars for an instrument—you want it to look and sound good.).

Overall, I felt that at first glance, this was a good-looking synth.  I also felt that it will probably surprise many people by being an affordable “bang for your buck” keyboard.

Noteworthy Features

The MiniNova comes with 256 onboard presets that you can tweak and warp through playing or using the vocoder. It uses the same synth engine as its big brother, the Novation Ultranova. It has voice tune and traditional vocoder effects. You can layer up to five voices, and tweak these sounds in real-time.

This is better than the microKorg and the Minilogue, which have fewer presets, though the Minilogue allows for 100 user presets, and only allow polyphony up to 4 voices. Again, the only real competition here is the Roland JD-XI, which comes with a large amount of presets and up to 128-voice total polyphony. 

What makes this keyboard great is that it can also function as a controller with MIDI I/O. It also has the USB option. On top of that, you can run other instruments through the effects on the keyboard, which adds to its versatility. Most of the competitor synths we discussed earlier have these options. The only one that does not have this option is the Korg microKORG.

The synth engine comes with 14 different waveforms. These include:

  • Square
  • Sine
  • Sawtooth
  • Pulse
  • Triangle
  • Plus variations

It also has 36 wavetables and 20 digital waveforms. You got to hand it to Novation, for they jammed packed this synth with a lot of options. For $400, you get a lot features out of this instrument.

The Lay of the Land

As I like to typically do in these reviews, we will glance across the keyboard and stop at each button and switch it has to offer.

On the far left of the synth you have two pitch wheels that light up with blue LEDS. The other competitor synths we have mentioned already don’t have LED pitch wheels. Above this, you have two buttons to control what octave you are in, another section to control arpeggiation, a master volume knob, and a XLR slot your vocoder mic. The microKORG and Roland JD-XI have a near identical set up. The Ultranova is slightly different, as it does not have the arpeggiation controls, as well as the Minilogue.

One defining feature of the MiniNova that I think sets itself apart from all of the competition, even its big brother the Ultranova, is its nicely sized 16-character LCD screen. I prefer the big box LCD screens compared to the Ultranova’s 144-character slit LCD screen.

The Minilogue, by contrast, does not have an LCD screen. The microKorg has a 3 character, 1 line, 8 segment LED, and the Roland JD-XI has a 16 character, 2-line LCD screen. I think the obvious winner for some is the Ultranova, but other than that, I think the MiniNova beats out the other competition with its screen.

Next to this, you have a fat knob to control your type of sound or genre. You have five options on either side, as well as a classic synth and an “all” option that is the default position. Beneath that, to the right, you have your 8 bank controllers. Some of the competitors have more banks than this, but 8 is a good amount for someone just entering into the synth world. Any more and I think a person would get lost.

Can You Dig the Sound?

This is really the defining point of any synth selection. The MiniNova has a robust and fat sound, and this is due to how each of its 3 oscillators has density/detune to fatten up the sounds. I think the microKORG is not as fat and deep in its sound. The Minilogue is on par with the MiniNova, however, as well as the Roland JD-XI—especially since the latter has greater polyphony capabilities.

I think one point that can help you determine which one is the best to go with is the price. The Ultranova is a bit pricier than the MiniNova, but has a full set of keys and the same synth engine. The Korg Minilogue is a bit more expensive, and comes with a lot of user options, but is different in its shape, which I think makes it a bit less portable.

The Roland JD-XI is a really good alternative. It has all of the classic synth sounds and the instrument’s layout is intuitive. It too is a bit more expensive the MiniNova, but not by much.

The one that I am pegging as the worst option is the microKORG. It is a bit cheaper, if not at the same price point, as the MiniNova. Overall, I was just not a big fan of the way it looked, though its sound capability was not all that bad.

Now for the Toss Up

If you are looking for something that is more compact and portable, I think your two best options would be the MiniNova or the Roland JD-XI. Both are pretty much on point with capability and price.

In some areas, I think the Roland beats out the MiniNova, but that is why you are paying a little more for it.

However, if you are not that concerned with portability, then I would take a look at the UltraNova and the Korg Minilogue. Both have great quality sound and offer the player a fair amount of options. The UltraNova is a little more expensive, but I am in love with its sound. I think it is well worth throwing down some more cash for sound because at the end of the day, that is what is really the most important.

The MiniNova is above many other options available on the market at its price range, but it does not have all of the bells and whistles that I think Roland put into their keyboard.  Still, at roughly $400, you really can’t go too wrong with this keyboard.

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