Review: Novation Circuit Rhythm

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Review: Novation Circuit Rhythm

circuit rhythm review
Words by Sam McNiece

Focusrite Australia | Enquire for pricing

An extension of their Circuit products, the Circuit Tracks takes away the inbuilt synths and MIDI channels from the Tracks in exchange for a fully fledged eight-track sampler. This new offering from Novation is similar to their Circuit Tracks device but goes deeper into sample manipulation with a focus on beat and sampling.

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Boasting the same form factor as their Circuit Tracks, the Rhythm features 32 velocity-sensitive performance pads, eight multi-use encoders plus two master knobs with heaps of buttons to ensure everything is at your fingertips. There’s an inbuilt battery on the Tracks that allows for four hours of portable beat making. Make beats on public transport to work, on the couch, or even at your favourite art gallery (with headphones of course).

Connectivity wise, the Circuit Rhythm has professional ins and outs with two TRS inputs, stereo TRS output jacks, MIDI DIN In, Out and Thru, 3.5mm Sync and headphone ports, a USB-C port plus a microSD card slot. For such a small unit, having all these connections is a blessing.

The microSD card slot allows you to expand Circuit Rhythm to create 32 packs worth of audio. Each pack can contain 64 projects with 64 samples (total up to 32 seconds per sample and 228 seconds per pack). You can think of each pack as a customisable sound palette from which you can create from. If you want to have more than one pack of sounds on your device, you’ll definitely want to grab a microSD card for this device, and with a 2GB one will be able to hold all 31 extra packs.

Circuit Rhythm has eight stereo channels which can be used to play and manipulate audio. Each one is monophonic but allows you to ‘Sample Flip’. This in essence means you can play multiple different samples on the same track, but they will choke each other when the next sample is triggered.

Each track can be sculpted using the eight encoders on the top of the device. These parameters are tune (pitch), start and end points, slope (a combo attack/decay), distortion, high and low pass filters and a resonance control for both of these. The distortion is great for adding to drum breaks for an old school feel but goes from gentle to hard quickly so pairing it with the built in low pass filter goes really well.

The two ¼” inputs on the Rhythm allow you to sample audio sources directly into the device and the way this happens is rather intuitive. Hitting Sample Record takes you to your samples grid and from here, hitting record and selecting an empty slot will allow you to record incoming audio to that slot. You can press the next slot to start a new sample recording instantly.

The recording threshold setting makes the device wait for incoming audio to start recording on a selected pad. I used this feature all the time while sampling into the device to make sure my drum breaks started on the 1, without editing later.

While having a jam, I found the resampling feature very useful too. I would use quite a few of the tracks to create a drum loop, then resample the whole thing, add distortion and chop it up using the slice function. This helped glue the drums together and means they only now take up one channel, freeing up the rest for adding melodic elements and hits.

There’s quite a few ways to play back samples on the Rhythm so let’s break them down. There’s one shot mode which will play out the whole sample every time it’s triggered, Gated which will stop playing once the pad is released, and Loop which functions like Gated mode except it will continue to loop until let go. You can pair these with Reverse which does exactly what it says and Choke, which allows different channels to choke each other.

In combination with these modes, you can pitch the sample in Keyboard mode and slice them up to four, eight, or 16 equal parts to be played back later. In addition to this, there’s a mode called Live Slice Point Recording which allows you to chop up your sample in real time. This is a real winner if you’re chopping up drum breaks or other samples that aren’t quantised and will save you a bunch of time instead of adjusting every start and end point on each chop.

Much like its partner machine the Circuit Tracks, the Circuit Rhythm allows you to alter the velocity, gate and ‘micro-step’ placement of your samples (which can be used to create hi hat trills) as well as the ability to trigger samples via probability.

When live recording your playing on Circuit Rhythm, you can choose to quantise it or leave it relatively un-quantised and use the Micro Steps as well as the standard steps to record all your sick finger drumming by leaving quantise off.

Grid FX on the Circuit Rhythm features a bunch of cool effects which you can use in real time to add variations to your creations. I found myself using the ‘Vinyl, Light’ effect as an instant Lo-fi filter on beats that sounded a bit digital. Each grid effect can be latched on or off simultaneously which allows you to use beat repeats in conjunction with gates, phasers reverse and the aforementioned vinyl effect. Very cool.

For live performance, the master filter comes in handy. It is applied over everything before the master volume and enables you to create drops much like you would while DJing. This also works while switching between projects allowing smooth transitions between songs.

Now, the Circuit Rhythm doesn’t have dedicated MIDI tracks like the Circuit Tracks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it for MIDI purposes. Each channel can send MIDI information to external sequencers, synths or drum machines which translates to eight independent MIDI sends for you to harness external gear. Note that when using a track to send MIDI information out, that channel will still play whatever is on it so it’s best to mute or turn the channel down when using Rhythm in this way.

In addition to this there’s sweet features like the ability to sidechain your tracks to other tracks and the interesting mutate which will randomise the positions of notes on a given track which can create great results or off-kilter ones depending on luck of the draw.

All in all, the Circuit Rhythm is a superb, small form factor, standalone sampler that allows you to chop up and make beats, with an easy to use interface that can be run on the fly courtesy of its onboard four hour battery life. Put it in your tote bag and take it to your mates place to show them all the cool music you’ve been working on or sample their crazy rare records without a power plug! It’s easy to get creative on the Circuit Rhythm.

Head to Novation for more information. For local enquiries, get in touch with Focusrite Australia