gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Novation XioSynth Controller and Synthesizer Review

Joining our ranks of Novation products is the XioSynth Controller and Synthesizer which is a mixed bag that might appeal to some and turn off others with its incredibly compact and good looking silver/grey finished body with rounded edges for an appealing but not necessarily very robust aesthetic that seems more suited to the studio than the stage.

The synthesizer engine in the XioSynth does the trick, but is certainly not ground breaking. The Synth action is vastly overshadowed by its usefulness as a controller meaning any professional with a Reason or Cubase setup wouldn’t do much more than briefly tinker with the pre-programmed patches before turning back to their vast wealth of soft synths.

As a stand alone synth or to use with a less professional audio product such as Garageband the XioSynth certainly carries its weight and certainly isn’t unreasonably priced considering the cost of most decent stand alone synths never mind controllers.

There’s a fairly good base of synth sounds which will appeal to anyone who wants to get making simple music in a simple application right off the bat, but they ultimately put the XioSynth out of competition with professional products and are not worth considering if you’re well equipped with an existing synth or soft-synth.

I was unable to find a single sound that really “did it” for me in the XioSynth but your mileage may vary. It may or may not be important to note that I keep hold of a Juno D

Another blow to professionals and simultaneously a boon to amateurs and hobbyists is the lack of controls on the XioSynth compared to other Novation controllers. This has the effect of keeping the XioSynth simple and uncomplicated for beginners with there being more than enough controls even for Reason 4 but there’s a painful lack of sliders which are something I always like to have for Reason 4 but are not so necessary in Garageband.

The layout of the controller is surprisingly but perhaps quite accidentally intuitive. It’s quite possible to assign pots to mixer sliders in Reason and the buttons that appear directly below them make for fantastic mute buttons. This leads to very effective real-time control of track mixing/muting for larking about when playing back your mixes but the lack of sliders still bugs me.

Another win for the XioSynth is the presence of my all-time favourite control on Novation Synths, the X-Y pad. It’s basically a flat, touch sensitive pad, that you can place your finger on. The X-Y co-ordinates of your touch are then assigned to any parameter of your choosing; great for cross fading between sounds and doing filter sweeps without having to try and single-handedly rotate two pots.

The keyboard on the Xio-Synth is a little mushy but genuinely feels better than a completely un-weighted one and is faster and more forgiving than anything fully weighted. This is essential when using it as a controller for anything but piano where the weightedness adds expression, but the XioSynth is clearly targeted as synth sounds and not the average pianist.

The after touch action feels like the keys are broken; once pressed down the keys lever upwards at the back in a very strange matter. This isn’t as noticeable when you play and also serves to give a pretty good tactile feedback for aftertouch, helpful for beginners who aren’t necessarily aware of or used to it.

Interestingly enough, despite my belief that the XioSynth isn’t best suited for use with Reason it both does the trick effectively and Reason 4 will connect to and send a Reason template to the XioSynth. If you’re interested in a Reason controller it’s certainly not a bad choice but be aware that you’re still paying for the bundled in synth functionality which you’re likely to never use.

Overall the XioSynth is undeniably an excellent, lightweight, stylish and flexible little controller/synth that is perfectly suited for amateur musicians, hobbyists or anyone wanting to throw together some electronic music. Buy it to use with Garageband or to explore your musical potential, but professionals will be better served by the Novation Remote SL.

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008, Professional Audio.