Novation Circuit Rhythm Overview

Launched in the Summer of 2021, Novation’s Circuit Rhythm is the newest model in the Novation Circuit family but what exactly is it and how does it differ from the Novation Circuit Tracks? Read my comprehensive overview and answers to some common questions about the Circuit Rhythm.

Novation Circuit Rhythm Explained
Novation Circuit Rhythm 8 Track Sampler

What is the Circuit Rhythm?

Novation’s Circuit Rhythm is the follow up to the Circuit Tracks. Circuit Rhythm is a groovebox with a focus on sampling. The core idea is you record sounds into the Circuit Rhythm and then sequence your samples via 32 velocity sensitive pads to create your beats and tracks.

The main part of the Circuit Rhythm consists of 4 rows of 8 velocity pads giving you 32 pads in total each of which can be used to play back one sample. Above the grid of pads are Macro controls for sample shaping and adding effects.

Core to the Circuit family ‘philosophy’ is ease of use, creativity and fun – unlike some rival samplers, the Circuit Rhythm is easy to pick up and learn and it is pretty cheap too.

Is the Circuit Rhythm standalone?

Yes, the Circuit Rhythm is fully portable and can be used without a computer. You can opt to use the Circuit Rhythm as part of a computer and DAW set up any anytime. When connected to a Mac or PC you can load and backup samples and projects via the included Novation Components app. A Micro SD card is essential.

Is the Circuit Rhythm battery powered?

The Circuit Rhythm has a built-in, rechargeable Lithium-ion battery with up to 4 hours of battery life and it can also be powered via your computer’s USB port.

Does the Circuit Rhythm have a built-in display?

Unlike the Maschine range, AKAI MPCs or the Elektron Models: Samples and Electron Digitakt (all of which are more expensive, by the way), the Circuit Rhythm does not have a built-in screen or display, this means it lacks any visual representation of your sample waveforms to work with so you are relying on your ears. Of course you can always edit samples in your DAW or sample editing software of choice and then import them into the Rhythm when you think it necessary.

How to record samples into Circuit Rhythm?

Circuit Rhythm lets you record samples directly into the machine via the exeternal inputs located on the back. You can also directly resampling the Circuit Rhythm sound engine itself.

Once your gear is set up correctly, recording into the Circuit Rhythm is a fast and easy, three step process:
1. At top left of the control buttons section is the “Sample Rec.” button – just press that to jump to go to the sampling page (or “mode”).
2. Once in this mode, any of the 64 pads that are lit red are empty sample slots and can be selected as a location for your next sound.
3. When you have selected a red pad of your choice, press the “Record” button and then hit play on your sound source (drum machine, synth, turntable etc).

What is the maximum sample time on a Circuit Rhythm?

You can sample up to 32 seconds of audio into a single sample slot of which you get 128 in total (spread across 8 banks – or ‘pages’ – of 16 slots). These collections of samples are stored in your “Packs” (which can also contain your projects, patterns and other settings) and each pack can store up to 3 minutes and 40 seconds in total. You have access to up to 32 unique packs in the Circuit Rhythm at anyone time giving you just shy of 2 hours of sound in total (stored on Micro SD card). Note that all samples are converted into mono.

What sample playback options are there in the Circuit Rhythm?

By default samples are played back in “One Shot” mode. Pressing the “Sample” button twice takes you to the Sample Mode page where individual sample slots can be set to play back in “Gated” or “Looping mode” and you can also choose to reverse samples or add them to a choke group. In loop mode you can set start and end points to create interesting synth sounds from longer samples and then play it back chromatically across the pads. You can also slice a loop into 16 segments all of which can be triggered and sequenced independently.

Tweaking samples with the Circuit Rhythm Macro controls.

At the top of the Circuit Rhythm are 8 Macro control encoders. With these 8 knobs you can adjust the pitch, start, end, slope of any sample as well as apply distortion and filters. You will also use these knobs to apply the send effects (one of 16 delay and 8 reverb effects) and side chain effect. Usefully, any tweaking of the Macron knobs can be recorded as automation into your patterns.

How many samples can the Circuit Rhythm play back at once?

The Circuit Rhythm is able to play 8 tracks at once. Each track has its own 16 or 32-step pattern which (chainable for up to 256 steps per track.)

What are Circuit Rhythm Grid FX?

Circuit Rhythm’s Grid FX are a useful live performance master FX feature. Punch in beat repeats, rhythmic gating, phasing and vinyl emulation effects at the touch of button (or trigger them via MIDI). You can quickly sample the resulting sound back into empty slots.

What is Novation Components?

Connect your Circuit Rhythm to your computer via USB and then fire up the free Novation Components app. The Novation Components application is the easiest way to see your library of samples and assign them to individual slots across all your pages. You’ll want to use Novation Components app to put together new packs, rename and delete projects etc. Everything you do is here is automatically backed up in the cloud for recall from anywhere.

8 things to love about the Circuit Rhythm:

  1. The Circuit Rhythm is easy to use and a fast and fairly painless way to take your first steps into sampling.
  2. Affordable.
  3. Truly portable and standalone beat making machine.
  4. Excellent connectivity.
  5. Fun and inspiring once you have your samples in place.
  6. The Components app is useful.
  7. Plenty of sample memory.
  8. No screen means less menu diving compared to rivals such as the MPC X.

4 negatives to consider about the Circuit Rhythm:

  1. The lack of a display can hamper workflow and forces some compromises (such as when editing samples).
  2. Lacks the more advanced features of more expensive rivals such as the MPC X.
  3. Samples are summed to Mono.
  4. Can take several seconds to load bigger projects.

Main differences between Circuit Tracks & Circuit Rhythm:

Circuit Tracks features two polyphonic digital synth tracks, two MIDI tracks, and four drum tracks while the Circuit Rhythm features 8x flexible Sample Tracks.

The focus of the Circuit Rhythm is on sampling and sample mangling so you get Stereo L/R pair audio inputs, choke groups and filters plus the ability to tweak Start, Length, Slope of your sounds.

The Circuit Rhythm has Grid FX feature.

The synth focused Circuit Tracks has Scale Mode while the Circuit Rhythm has note repeat.

3 Alternatives to the Circuit Rhythm:

There is a lot to like about the Circuit Rhythm but if you’re prepared to spend a bit more then it is possible to take a step up in terms in features. (The 3 alternatives below are listed in ascending order of price.)

1. Elektron Digitakt
The Elektron Digitakt is a powerful 8 voice drum machine and sampler. It scores over the Circuit Rhythm thanks to its OLED screen and deeper sound mangling and sequencing options. You get 64MB of sample memory and an internal 1GB drive for storing sounds and projects. The Digitakt functions as a 2 in/2 out sound card allowing you to stream the eight tracks and the master output to separate DAW tracks and you can even control the Digitakt as a VST plugin your DAW.

2. Akai MPC One
As recently featured in my best Akai MPC for beginners post, the Akai MPC One should be high on your list of possible options if you’re looking to get into sampling and beat making or take your existing set up to the next level. The Akai MPC One has everything you need to capture your own sounds and make beats and tracks.

The MPC One is a serious piece of kit with 16 velocity sensitive pads (larger than the Circuit Rythm), touch sensitive controls, sampling capabilities plus sequencing, editing, mixing FX and large, full color screen plus comprehensive integration with your computer and DAW.

3. Roland MC-707
Clearly targeting the MPC crowd, Roland’s MC-707 groovebox attempts to deliver an all in one solution for making complete tracks and a viable, standalone alternative to a computer and DAW setup.

With 16 pads, faders, step sequencing, groove production, sampling and effects plus a comprehensive selection of emulated Roland drum machine sounds and a nifty screen, there is pretty much everything in this box of tricks budding producers and musicians could wish for to produce beats and complete tracks. Unlike the Circuit Rhythm the MC-707 does have the ability to play back stereo samples (up to 6 minutes in total). You can capture samples and loops via audio input and record high-quality audio up to 32-bit/96kHz.

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