Novation Circuit Tracks Packs a Punch!

Looking for an all-in-one groovebox? Novation’s Circuit Tracks is the newst groovebox on the block but is it a beat making champ or a cheap and not-so-cheerful contender? In today’s article I’ll be exploring the Circuit Tracks and answering some common questions plus I’ll name drop three alternatives you might want to check out.

What is the Novation Circuit Tracks?

Circuit Tracks is a sequel to the original Novation Circuit groovebox. Circuit Tracks introduces new features (and a higher price tag) and drops the original Circuit’s internal speaker.

While the focus of the Circuit Rhythm is sampling, Circuit Tracks main focus is on sound synthesis and as such gives you 2 Polyphonic synth tracks and 4 drum tracks to play with plus 2 MIDI tracks for controlling external gear such as other drum machines and effects units. Circuit Tracks features 32 Velocity-sensitive pads, sample import and the 32-step patterns which can be chained to create sequences up to 256 steps in length.

Is Novation Circuit Standalone?

Circuit Tracks features a built-in rechargeable Lithium-ion battery and draws power using its USB input. Circuit Tracks lasts approximately four hours when r8unning on the battery.

Does the Circuit Tracks have an onboard speaker?

While the original Circuit featured an onboard speaker, this has been removed from the Circuit Tracks so you will need to use decent headphones or connect to your Circuit Tracks to speakers.

Can Circuit Tracks Record Samples?

Circuit Tracks does not have any ability to record samples. If you absolutely need sample recording then you should check out the Circuit Rhythm.

Can Circuit Tracks play back samples?

While the Circuit Tracks does not record samples it is designed to play back samples as ‘one shots’. Be aware that the Circuit Rhythm – geared as it towards sampling and sample mangling – offers more advanced sample manipulation and playback features. In Circuit Tracks you are limited to manipulating samples with Tune, Decay, Distortion, EQ controls as well as adding Delay, Reverb and Side Chain FX (via sends).

What is the maximum sample length in Circuit Tracks?

You can store up to 196.6 seconds of samples per pack, up to a maximum of 64 samples.

What is a Circuit Tracks Pack?

Full memory states for Tracks are stored in Packs. Each Pack stores your synth settings, sequences, projects and samples. You compile and edit Packs using Novation’s Components app.

How many patterns can the Circuit Tracks store?

You can create songs of up to 8×32 step patterns in length.

Circuit Tracks Synth Tracks Explained:

Novation made their name with classic hardware synths such as the and

It is unrealistic to expect anything approaching the complexity of something like the Circuit Peak in a groovebox of this price (and size!) of course. In effect what you get here are two indentical, virtual analogue VST type synths with a bunch of marco controls for crafting the included presets (of which you get 128) into sounds more to your liking. Novation do not actually go into much detail on their website about the synths.

Each of the two ‘Nova’ engines is a two Osc (oscillator) affair with selectable wavetables (plus noise and filter capabilities).

Both synth engines have their own filter that can operate in low/high and bandpass modes, all with adjustable slope options. There’s resonance control with a ‘Q’ parameter to adjust its peak. The filter has a multi-mode distortion effect which operates independently to the master distortion.

If you’re new to synthesis then Nova sound engine is likely to be perfectly acceptable however more experienced sound designers and producers might find the Nova isn’t as powerful as they might like and can not compete with dedicated (and much more expensive) hardware synths. Again, don’t go expecting a mini-Circuit Peak or Access Virus buried in this box.

I really don’t want to sound too down on the synths here though – the Novation team certainly know a thing or two about synthesis and the Nova engines are perfectly capable of producing a wide range of ‘bread and butter’ sounds.

One other thing to keep in mind is that because the Circuit range does not feature any kind of screen it can be hard to remember which of the pads play back which synth preset. I find this lack of a screen can be a real hindrance especially when I have not touched the Circuit Tracks for a few days or weeks.

This being a ‘virtual synth’, it’s quite possible Novation will be upgrading the synth engines in the future with more features.

Is Circuit Tracks suitable for beginners?

One of the more positive aspects of the Novation’s Circuits range is their ease of use – pick up a Circuit Track (or Circuit Rhythm) and you can start making music in seconds. You’ll want to watch a few of Novation’s tutorial videos, no doubt, but the core idea of these grooveboxes is that they inspire users to crack on making beats and music rather than reading manuals and diving through menus.

Helpfully, the Novation team have seen fit to label more of the controls on the Tracks than was the case on the original Circuit – a small touch but a welcome one.

What is Novation Components?

The Novation Components app is where you can access and edit your Novation Circuit packs, create templates and customize your device and install any firmware updates You can login to your Components account vi the internet from anywhere and you can also install the components on a computer which is handy for those times when you might want to edit packs without an internet connection.

3 Alternatives to Novation Circuit Tracks.

Grooveboxes have undergone something of a renaissance in recent years as manufacturers have sought to offer an alternative to the all conquering computer and DAW setups. Many producers and musicians like the idea of getting away from the computer and working with an inspiring and portable set up and if you’re such a person then a groovebox could be just what you need!

If you want an all in one unit capable of pattern based sequencing, drum sounds, sample playback and synth sounds creating then you have a number of choices from the likes of Roland, Akai and Native Instruments.

Check out these three alternatives to Circuit Tracks:

  1. Roland MC-101
  2. Akai MPC One
  3. Native Insturments Maschine+

Roland MC 101: In the same kind of small and affordable ball park as the Circuit Tracks is Roland’s MC-101 groovebox1. While the MC-101 is a cut down version of its more powerful big brother the MC-707, it still delivers plenty of bang for your bucks. The MC-101offers a four-track sequencer, 16 pads, built in effects and the ability to combine loops and one-shots with melodic phrases including your own MIDI sequences and imported audio recordings.

Akai MPC One: Stepping up a gear in terms of both price and functionality, the MPC One is a powerful all in one beat and music making machine. The MPC One is a fully Standalone MPC – no computer required here – with 16 Velocity Sensitive RGB Pads, effects, pattern sequencing and three built in synth instruments: TubeSynth – (classic polysynth) Bassline (grungy monosynth) and Electric (electric piano type sounds).

As well as the 3 included soft synths (which as a collective trump the Circuit Track’s Nova engines synths in terms of sound palette), latest versions of the MPC One features a new DrumSynth instrument as well dedicated to – as the name suggests – the creation of electronic drum machine type sounds.

Unlike the Circuit Tracks, the MPC One features a built in, full color screen. Be aware that the MPC One’s more advanced feature set comes at the cost of being harder to learn than the Circuit Tracks.

While there’s absolutely nothing to stop anyone from creating hip hop with the Circuit Tracks, the MPC One is simply more suited to – and established in – the hip hop beatmaking genre.

Native Instrument’s Maschine+: Established over a decade ago, Native Instrument’s Maschine has become the big rival to the MPC range.

The Maschine Mikro is half the price of the Circuit Tracks but requires a computer to operate so it is unfair to compare it to Circuit Tracks and I’ll focus on the Maschine+ instead.

The Maschine+ is Native Instrument’s flagship Maschine and operates standalone as a sampler, drum machine and synth. The Maschine+ is a truly powerful beast of a, er, machine that can form the heart of any studio set up. 16 velocity-sensitive pads, full color screen, a fantastic selection of software synths and effects and much, much more.

As with the Akai MPC One, Maschine represents a substantial step up from the Circuit Tracks in terms of price, features and complexity.

Other Grooveboxes you might be interested in: