Novation UltraNova vs M-Audio Venom vs Roland Gaia

 

Ultranova_venom_gaia 
 
 

I recently purchased a Novation UltraNova. As I was researching I compiled specs form manufacturer web sites and placed them into a spreadsheet from other synths at this price point so I could compare the instruments side-by-side. I thought I’d pass this info on to save you time if you were in the market.

Now while I chose UltraNova, you may read this information and come to a different conclusion based on your particular priorities. For example if you have an absolute need a multi-timbral synth Venom would be of interest. If near one-for-one knob for parameter control was a high-priority Gaia becomes more interesting.

As a  synthesist and controllerist, the UltraNova was a clear winner for me because of it’s analog modeling, wavetable synthesis, strong modulation matrix, aftertouch, strong effects, VST/AU editor and touch encoders.

I compiled this manually so if you find a mistake let me know. After you checkout this table, swing by my UltraNova 411 post.

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Spec UltraNova Venom Gaia
Price $699.00 $499 $699
Aftertouch Yes No No
Analog Modeled Yes No Yes
Waveforms Square, sine, tri, sawtooth, pulse, 9x saw:pulse combinations. 20x digital waveforms, 36 Wavetalbes (w/ 9 waveforms each) 41 oscillator waves and 53 drum sounds sampled from vintage synths. SAW, SQUARE, PULSE/PWM, TRIANGLE, SINE, NOISE, SUPER SAW
Wavetable Synthesis Yes No No
Modulation Matrix 20 Slots 16 Slots No matrix, but you can select routing of modulators within signal path. Such as d-beam to pitch, volume, effects; LFO to pitch, filter amp depth
Modulation Sources 17 31 None
Modulation Destinations 66 (Includes FX Params!) 17 None
Filter Drive Yes Yes No
Filter Types 14 6 4
FM Synthesis No (There are however some FM waveforms in wavetable) Yes No
Envelopes Per OSC 6 3 3
Audio Input Can Be Processed by Synth Engine Yes No No
Vocoder Yes No No
Computer Editor Yes Yes Yes but costs an extra $99
Editor Runs as VST/AU Stand-Alone Stand-Alone
Control 8 Touch Encoders, Filter/Last Param Knob, Mod & Pitch Wheel Matrix, Mod & Pitch Wheel Nearly 1-for-1 knob sliders, D Beam, Mod & Pitch Lever
Front Panel Editing Experience LDC + Page linked knobs with  touch encoder focus. More dedicated back lit buttons for selecting sub menus than Venom Matrix + LCD Clear signal flow on front panel with nearly 1-for-1
User Preset Slots 508 (4 banks of 127 Slots) 512 single, 256 Multi 64
Effects Distortion (up to 2 instances),
Compressor (up to 2 instances)
, Chorus/Phase (up to 4 instances),  Delay (up to 2 instances), Reverb (up to 2 instances)
, Gator,  EQ, 12 band vocoder
Global: Reverb, Delay, Chorus, Flanger, Phaser. Insert: Compression, EQ, Distortion, Bit Reduction, Decimation,  DIST, FLANGER, DELAY, REVERB, LOW BOOST
Audio Interface 2 in 4 out 2 in 2 out USB Audio Streaming in from Gaia
Multittimbral No 4 No
Polyphony 20 12 64
MIDI IN/OUT/THRU IN/OUT IN/OUT
Power Options Bus Power/AC AC AC/Batteries
Ableton Integration Automap/Stream Audio via USB Stream Audio via USB Stream Audio via USB
Keys 37 49 37

Mark Mosher
Electronic Music Artist, Boulder, CO
Synthesist | Composer | Keyboardist | Performer

www.ModualteThis.com
Official Web Site: www.MarkMosherMusic.com
Listen/Download Albums: www.MarkMosherMusic.com/music.html

Synth: Gaia Synth: UltraNova Synth: Venom

Mark Mosher: Multimedia Artist & Technologist View All →

Artist site: http://www.markmoshermusic.com
Host of Sonic Encounters Podcast: http://markmoshermusic.com/podcast/
Boulder Synthesizer Meetup founder and host: http://www.bouldersynth.com

37 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Yeah Ronnie,after you take the time to compare at this level of detail, it’s clear that even thought Gaia is at some price point as UltraNova, it’s really apples and oranges and the Gaia doesn’t stack up well. I think based on marketing a lot of people are drawn to Venom – yet when you look at the features UltraNova rocks in comparison. For me the show stoppers on Venom are no modelling, no wavetables, no aftertouch.

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  2. I would have gone for the Ultranova as well! The only thing it lacks imho is FM, for the rest it just totally rocks compared to the venom. Which also has the downside of being from m-audio, which does not speak for its reliability and sturdiness. I mean, I’ve tried it and it didn’t seem that bad, but who knows how long it can survive being dragged from one to the other…

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  3. Yeah I wish it had FM as well. There are some FM wavetables. Another cool thing is you can add density and detune per oscillator as well as sync without cutting polyphony. The effects processor kills. Checkout this post http://ultranova.modulatethis.com/2011/06/novation-ultranova-synthesizer-effects.html.
    With only 300ish factory sounds it doesnt’ represent what is possible, especially when you get into controllerism with it.
    I have a Blofeld which has FM and comb filter and sample ROM, I feel like it’s a nice compliment.

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  4. I view the Roland GAIA much as I do my VW GTI automobile–on paper, the specs don’t match to the competition, but as a whole it is just way more fun to drive!

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  5. Great synths. If I could add to the list, I would add the Alesis Ion, the big, bad, and discontinued cousin of the Micron. It’s got all the knobs, filters, options and usability to compete. It also has FM synthesis. As I’ve seen them go on Ebay for between $200-$600, it’s a great option.
    I run mine wet and dry, with the wet mix going through a line 6 pod xt with a volume pedal. Both channels run through a Peavey Tube Sweetener (also awesome for the price), through a compressor, into a little line mixer, and into my amp.

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  6. Hey Capt Fumo,
    I looked at specs, manual and even downloaded Vizex and don’t see any option for routing audio-in to an osciallator. I might have missed it though. Can you explain how it works?
    On UltraNova there is an Audio page. You can route audio to an osciallator. On the OSC on the waveform page I can just select Audio In 1 or two.
    Mark

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  7. Excellent work. One point though: It makes it look like the GAIA provide no modulation capabilities at all, which is not true. It does modulation and it has plenty of modulation sources and destinations, but it doesn’t map sources to destination using a matrix.

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  8. I was planning to get a Venom and reading this I was about to change my mind to the Ultranova…but the lack of multitimbral killed it for me. Though venom has low poly..mt is more important to me. Question… what does analog modeled mean? I know the venom has “sampled waveforms” but I thought that WAS what VA synths essentially were? What is the difference between sampled waveforms and analog modeled? And I am not very familiar with wavetable synthesis…anyone want to give a brief description? I think I might end up buying the Venom and the UN :p

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  9. Hi Sean,
    I like the wikipedia definition for Virtual Analog “An Analog Modeling Synthesizer is a synthesizer that generates the sounds of traditional analog synthesizers using DSP components and software algorithms to simulate the behaviour of the original electric and electronic circuitry, in order to obtain the sound in a more precise manner from the simulated inner working of the circuitry, instead of attempting to recreate the sound directly.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_analog.
    By this definition, the oscillators on the Venom are NOT VA. They are samples (simply recordings of analog synths). UltraNova, Blofeld, and Access Virus for example are true VA in that the oscillator circuits are modeled. There are also parameters that can radically change the output of the oscillator’s tone which can’t be achieved if you are simply playing back a recording of a synth. So the advantage of modeling is the sonic range and character of the oscillator is much larger than that of a set of samples and you can shape the sound more radically with parameters and performance.
    Re: Wavetalbes, again wikipedia has a nice summary http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wavetable_synthesis – “The distinction to other synthesis methods employing single-cycle waveforms is twofold: 1) multiple single-cycle waveforms are used while 2) one or several wave modulators control the change between those multiple waveforms or mixtures thereof.” So with wavetables, you can add even more motion and character and sound by playing single cycles of waves but using envelopes, mod wheel etc… to move through a wavetable. This means your performance can change the output of the synth making the sound unique to your performance. This can’t be achieved by simply playing a sample back. UltraNova has wavetables, blofeld has more.
    To use a guitar analogy, would you rather play back static samples of guitar strings being plucked in a lab by someone else, or would you rather have the ability to shape the sound of those strings with your intonation.
    For many producers, the Venom is just fine. If you like it’s sound and love the samples they put in it and don’t care about the details I mention then it’s a good value.
    If you are or want to be a synthesist then having true VA and wavetables is simply fantastic. If you are a keyboard player your going to want aftertouch. Venom does not have aftertouch. UltraNova and Blofeld do. If mutli-timbral is a show stopper, then I’d save up for a Blofeld (16 multi) or Virus (mufis depend on the model. Snow has 4). For me the UN’s touch encoders are just brilliant as well. Or as you say you could get a Venom and an UltraNova :^)
    This help?
    Mark

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  10. Mark, I know this is an older post, but I want to thank you for taking the time to research this. These are exactly the three synths I was looking at as well and had knocked it down to just the Novation and Venom. I agree. The Novation has better specs and that the quality of the Venom is simply not there. It feels like an old Casio.
    What I did like about the Venom is the sounds are simply insane. If you like Industrial sounds à la Skinny Puppy/Gary Numan/NIN/Coil, then the Venom is likely your weapon of choice. I had a hard time creating sounds as wicked as the Venom’s on the Novation. To be fair, I had more time in the store with the Venom (there was always a queue for the Novation at the local Guitar Center!)
    To end this already long response, thank you Mark, for helping me make up my mind. The Novation is my next purchase.

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  11. Great read Mark,
    One question, is this lack of FM big deal? Can be added with software update?
    Anyway you convinced me to buy ultranowaalthough I was interested initially in gettingakai miniak
    But it.s heavy, no USB etc. Sounds good though.

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  12. It has FM wavetables (not in synthesis). So you can approximate some FM sounds. This plus filter drive, OSC Sync, and distortion can result in some pretty nasty (in a good way) sounds. I’m sure it’s possible to add FM in an update.

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  13. Hi mark,
    Nope, yr absolutely right. I was unsure (hence “i think”) as to whether the RCA inputs on the venom would give access to the synth but it can’t be routed through the oscillator, as you suggest. Thanks for such a helpful comparison chart.

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  14. After great deliberation, the deciding point for me was the fact that the UltraNova had aftertouch.
    On its own, that feature should have driven the price of this board twofold.
    I have owned a GAIA in the past and it’s extremely fun and it’s exceptional for teaching the basics of analogue synthesis, but as far as flexibility, the Nova has it down.
    USB power was also a plus but not really a deal maker.
    Also would like to extend my thanks into 2012. I read this post once in a while because it’s great.

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  15. That is not really a fair comparison with the Venom (based solely on specs), because it has a unique architecture that uses a modeling matrix and a patch collider – you can do some amazing sound design (very quickly) with it that does not exist anywhere else and now that the price is dropping you should rethink it!

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  16. I agree, specs are just specs. But, they help people match priorities to product. If priority #1 was aftertouch then there is one choice out of these three synths – UltraNova. If priority #1 was FM then then Venom wins. If priority #1 was near one knob per function UI than Gaia wins. They are all great synths in their own way (Davezilla owns Venom and UltraNova and loves them both). Posts like this just surface the facts about what is under the hood so people can make educated decisions. No doubt you can shred with Venom :^)

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  17. Great comparison, I was just about to buy Venom, but doing my homework found this and I better keep saving some money until I can afford Ultranova! I’m an eyecandy or good desing lover so I totally love the physical design on Venom so it’s a shame Ultranova is much more superior! I might buy Ultranova by now and then save some money to buy Venom just because it’s pretty and futuristic design! :yaoming:😄 lol
    Thanks a lot again! This have helped me a lot! You just saved me from a bad buy! =)
    God Bless Ya’!

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  18. There is one glaringly important thing nobody has mentioned: the Venom is the only one with 49 keys!!! I currently own a Novation X-station 49 and I may have to replace it. These seem to be the only hardware synth options under $1000. If I want to model crazy sounds I can do it in Ableton. I need a hardware synth that I can play in conjunction with my MIDI sounds, as well as bring to a jam. Dial up a sound & play without dragging my laptop/MIDI rig around. I can’t imagine being confined to 37 keys for that. Any thoughts on this aspect?

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  19. I don’t know. I bought the Ultranova first. Was extremely excited due to specs but was very disappointed with the sounds (not just preset but sonic depth/quality). I then got the Venom because it was being discontinued and was dirt cheap…sounds were killer…different, but killer. In the end, I ended up getting the Gaia as well. I like the sounds much better than the Ultranova and the ease of use can’t be beat between the 3. You really can’t judge a synth by the specs.

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  20. Hi Daniel,
    I went back and looked at the GAIA manual. You are correct that GAIA can do USB audio streaming so I added that to the chart. I can find no sign of a modulation matrix – but I did update the chart to indicate modulation possibilities within the signal path.

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