Novation Peak / Summit ► 250 custom sounds
Presets compatible with both Peak & Summit.
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What’s in the bundle?:
You will receive all the sounds from all my demos plus extra (250 original presets + their variations = 254 presets in total). The patches have the mod wheel assigned, but the animate buttons are left unassigned so that you can assign them according to your needs.
What format / import method?:
My patches come under the name “WCOG” in a soundbank saved as a sysex file exported directly from my Peak & Summit. They will work on both synths! Also, you don’t need any custom / external wavetables. All you need is a standard factory unit of Peak or Summit. In the demo I’m sometimes using the bi-timbral setting of the Summit (multimode active). If you have a Peak, you will receive the soundpack as a collection of single layer patches. If you have a Summit, you will also get single layer patches plus the multimode setup from the demo. My pack will be imported to your bank A and bank B, but you can also use the Novation Components if you wish.
What genre / style?:
There is no one style, because YOU decide what style these patches will be played in. It’s a wide variety of sounds that are meant to inspire, make you look at the synth in a different light and give you a great choice of directions. Some patches are bread & butter, some offbeat; they’re the result of me trying to find the limits of the instrument. The sounds are ready-to-use in music or can serve as starting points; just pick the textures or dynamics that you like and easily fine-tune them to suit your exact taste or purpose.
Any external stuff?:
I did not use any external FX in the demo; all the delays, reverbs, noises and other effects are part of the Peak / Summit engine & mod matrix. I recorded my demo straight through an audio card.
Notes on grades lower than 3/3:
[modern]: sound can be very modern, but the specs are in most part “classic”
[organic]: great, but needs a click or two, and not as dirty as e.g. Prologue
[engine]: relatively limited filter & fx section, no wave modifiers (like in Argon8)
[flex]: broad but hi-fi most of the time, no vocal / formant filters, no phaser
[ui]: hard-wired connections, cumbersome position of display (Summit)
[soft / mgmt]: librarian only as a webpage / cloud service, no editor
THE GOOD: NOVATION REBORN
Deciding to buy this synth (Summit) was the hardest mental exercise. The synth was kind of low-profile, not stirring very much excitement in the synth world. Also, I still remembered the Novation Nova II and the A-Station which I owned around 2008. Those synths had deep engines and impresive, full-spectrum sound, but there was an element in the inherent Novation timbre that I just couldn’t fully accept. I didn’t “gel with it” and I’m quite sure I had not used those synths in any of my productions, which is always a shame and a red light / alarm bell. That’s why I was very reluctant to buy the Summit. I was afraid of going through the same story – powerful synth creating a less than powerful user.
But something changed in those 12 years and when I finally unboxed and powered my brand-new Summit up, I was surprised. It sounded great from the very beginning, and it’s not often that deep synths sound great right out of the box. I’m even tempted to say it sounded like a totally different synth, because even though it still retained the “Novation sound” (which I’ll describe later on), it surely sounded noticeably different. There was a kind of breathing space, smoothness and “luminosity” in the tone – a great overall balance of various ingredients. I quickly learned that the unison, the 12db filter and the “dense” (supersaw-esque) sawtooth waves, plus the extraordinary reverb are pure magic. It happens for the first time that I’m playing a wavetable synth and I never get tired of hearing its sound, no matter how many hours or weeks I’ve been playing it. I remember when Novation announced the Peak / Summit it was hard not to notice the “FPGA NCO OXFORD oscillators” theme, but to me it sounded like yet another marketing WTF gibberbabble and I simply turned a deaf ear to it. Now I think this might be the reason behind this new & improved Novation timbre.
THE GOOD: THE “NOVATION SOUND”
So what is the “Novation sound”? At the beginning it seems like a mix of two things: being “pro” and “neutral” at the same time. Some people will call the neutral part “meh” / “characterless” just like in the case of Modal Argon8. And since both brands come from the UK, it’s tempting to say there exists a “British school” of making synths. Imagine (or recall) the stereotypical behavior of the well-mannered British aristocrats. Stylish, decent, respectful, competent and not transgressing one another’s space by more than an arm-length (at least out in the open when everybody’s looking). Or think about the proverbial “stiff upper lip” of the Brits, their composure, self-control, not showing their true feelings, not making a scene, etc. Now try to transfer these social attributes onto sound.
To my ears this sound is very smooth, clean, civilized, refined and solid like an aged, oak-barrel Scotch whisky. There is no “West Coast” (Sequential, Oberheim) type of unstable texture in it. There is no “East Coast” (Ensoniq, Alesis) type of unanticipated irregularity or “creative chaos” in it. I think I would place this new Novation sound close to Japan on my globe of timbres, but to be honest I think the place that it comes from – the UK being right in the middle between Japan and the US – very well reflects and symbolizes the nature of this sound. I just can’t point my finger and describe any specific ingredient of that timbre in isolation. There’s no trace of any kind of Eastern or Western “twang” in this fomal BBC accent;)
In one way of looking at it, the new Novation Peak / Summit synths sound like the best era of Roland – Jupiters, Junos, even the dusty JX-3P. This is the element that I’ve been looking for in the last 15 years and the flavor I found missing in all of the “modern vintage” synths. Sequential synths sound great & cool, but it’s the “Prophet” sound, whereas I needed the bouncy-ness and the softness of the “Roland” sound. Peak and Summit have this! (Summit also has more: a kind of “Oberheim-y” sound thanks to its dual filter which the Peak lacks.)
On the other hand I was surprised when I managed to create something that resembled a peculiar patch from my US-born Alesis A6 Andromeda. Then I heard something that could come out of the Moog Sub-37 / Grandmother / Matriarch and that’s when I realized it makes no sense to try to put a label on the new Novation sound – whether it be Roland or Oberheim or Andromeda – if you go into the “vintage” direction, your Peak / Summit will acceptably mimick the late 70’s / early 80’s VCOs / VCFs (in a “clean” way). Should you go the other way, you won’t get disappointed either. The smooth / cinematic sound plus the various oscillator features will usher you into the “modern / digital” realm, and you’ll be able to dial in more varied textures & wavetable soundscapes reminiscent of Waldorfs or Synclavier. Back in the day I felt the same kind of appreciation when I had my German-made Virus TI. The Peak / Summit, just like the Virus, have the ability to sway in various directions while still sounding like themselves, which is a very peculiar state, because I would say there is no “self”.
Anyways, to put a long story short – the Peak / Summit timbre is like a blend of the classic, raw (Moog-ish / Oberheim-y) synthy sound and the more clay-ish, grainy sound of other competitors like the aforementioned Virus TI (but leaning more to the hi-fi side). It’s tempting to say the Novation sound is like a jack-of-all-trades while being a master of none, but this would have to be understood in a positive sense as an extremely good state where the synth is very responsive to your input / tolerant to any modulations you might inflict on it and each hour spent with it produces a ton of new patches (and they all “make sonic sense”, so to speak). It’s kind of like in a modular setup where there is no “one sound”, because all the modules add up to create a more generic sound rather than one with defined personality, but the potential for patch creation seems endless once you accept the fact that you have to know your way around all the cables. Here, instead of uncovering cables, you have to uncover and adjust some things hidden in menus. There’s not a lot of them, but many times they are essential to transform the synth into something more than just a factory-preset playback-machine. Once you learn how the distortion, noise, FM & FX routing influence the sound, you’ll work wonders.
INTRO TO THE BAD…
(written January 2022, pre Firmware Update v2.0)
SHOW ME THE GUYS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS DESIGN I WANT TO PUNISH THEM. They compromised what could have been a perfect synth for me. This might be a needlessly exagerrated rant, but I have to warn you, because Summit’s architecture & engine limitations might prove disappointing, especially when you buy it after a Hydrasynth or a REV-2 (or in other words, when you’ve been pampered & spoilt by the Hydrasynth / REV-2).
1. Summit has the worst display location of all synths I’ve come across. Why did the designers of the Hydrasynth, Alesis Ion, Prophet REV-2 or Korg Opsix put the screen in the middle? Because it makes sense! After a couple of days I got a really troubling neck pain from the weird body position I had to employ to edit my Summit, which resulted in a feeling of deep frustration. I felt excited by the synth and I wanted to play it, but on the other hand I did not like the prospect of straining my body again. I thought “eh, I’d better go and watch a movie instead”. (Peak doesn’t have this problem.)
2. There’s no way to peek (peak?) the value of a parameter. You will only see it after you move a knob and destroy the original value. We should have a solution for this (something like the “show button” in Sequential synths or the “edit page” button in Alesis Ion).
3. When I tweak a parameter on the fly, the display does not stay in this “edit mode”, it always goes back to the “preset library” screen. I don’t care about the preset view! All my presets are named “Jexus”! Darn!!!
1. The Summit has a lot of knobs on the panel, but a lot of them are hard-wired assignments. For example the FM section contains three knobs: [3->1] & [1->2] & [2->3]. It means you cannot modulate [2->1] = [OSC-1] by [OSC-2]. Or [1->3]. It’s a pre-defined circuit of modulation. Number one goes into number two, two goes into three, three goes into one.
Next: the [Oscillator Pitch] modulation knob is hard-wired to [LFO 2]. [Filter Cutoff] modulation knob is hard-wired to [LFO 1]. And so on. Fuck. Did you happen to use the hard-wired [Mod Env 1->Osc Shape] assignment and are you now finding yourself in need to change the [Filter Envelope] settings? Too bad. This is the same [Mod Env 1] envelope! You won’t change the first (shape) without changing the other (filter).
This way we are sacrificing some amount of freedom of operation for the sake of quickness of editing. The UI would get a huge boost in the positive direction if there were more “multimode” knobs – I mean knobs with a button that selects its destination. Right now we only have two such multimode knobs on the Peak: [Oscillator Shape] (3 selectable modulations) and [Filter Envelope Amount] (2 selectable modulations).
2. [LFO 3] and [LFO 4] are global and cannot be modulated, so if you wish to make a patch with a modulated-LFO-parameter, sometimes you have to rearrange the whole patch structure, especially if you had succumbed to the temptation of using the “easy”, ready-made connections from the panel. “Swapping” [LFO 1] and [LFO 4] (for example) could solve this, but this is not technically possible. Also, those global LFOs have no “fade” option, no “slew” option, and they are the only ones availbale in the [FX Mod Matrix] (a separate matrix just for the effects section).
3. It is not possible to route a [Mod Envelope] to effects in the [FX Mod Matrix]. I’m confused here, because Novation website says the Peak firmware version 1.2 allows you to “automate delay time changes using an envelope”. Well, my Summit does not, even though the website widget says my firmware is “up to date”.
4. There’s no way to modulate [VCA envelope level] or [VCA sustain] to create a tremolo effect. You can only modulate each oscillator volume separately (modulating the [VCA level] parameter is not the same thing). This applies to other things too: you cannot modulate all the waveshapes at once: you have to route your [LFO] to [OSC WAVE 1], then to [OSC WAVE 2], then to [OSC WAVE 3]. This is possibly fixable via a firmware update too, but the REV-2 has it available from the get-go.
5. The quality and the price of the synth would suggest a “no compromise” approach, but there’s no flanger, no phaser, no tremolo – just chorus, delay & reverb. The chorus is specific – some might like it, some might hate it. The delay has only one type. More effects could deeper transform the timbre and enhance the synth’s plasticity (= the ability to be a chameleon in the timbreland;)
6. The synth has no panning options or “pan spread” feature in the vein of REV-2 or Nord Leads. You cannot pan the oscillators or modulate the panning (apart from using the “spread” feature, but it only randomizes the panning of the voices in a weird way – when you play legato as opposed to staccato). This often leads to a situation when your patches have not enough stereo panorama / movement and this results in a feeling of inertia. It is obvious that not every synth has this feature by default, but the lack of it in the case of Novation Peak / Summit is the most evident / painful. While I might turn a blind eye to the aforementioned cons, this one is the biggest letdown. That’s why I decided to make a demo with both synths playing simultaneously (left channel: Peak / right channel: Summit) and now the patches sound amazing;)
SO DO I LIKE IT OR NOT
Someone once told me to buy the Novation Summit and make a demo of it because “it is the best synth of the last 10 years”. And this is yet another example, after Alesis A6 Andromeda, Access Virus TI, Roland Jupiter 6 and countless other “best” synths that there is no such thing as the best synth (understood as “perfect”). The creators will always fuck something up, or cut corners, or we the users will always find a quirk or a limitation that will make what seemed “the best synth” only a great synth. Synths can be best in some aspect, but not as an independent whole standing against all the competition.
And that’s my opinion about the Peak (Summit). It’s a wonderful, almost-perfect synth that delivers one of the best timbres in the contemporary synth market (number one being, maybe, the UDO Super-6, but it’s not that neutral). I’ve grown to admire the “more than meets the eye” aspect of the so-called “neutrality” of the sound and the freedom that it gives. Sometimes you do need a synth, or your track / song needs a sound that is neutral and middle-of-the-road, just like you need a level-headed manager to bind a team together and avoid fights.
The core sound of oscillators and filters plus the onboard reverb, which I think is the best-sounding reverb of all the synths I’ve played, made me hit the “save” button like crazy during my sound-design sessions. I was making a few knob tweaks, many times having just one oscillator active in the mixer section, but it was enough to come up with something worth saving. Each patch, be it bass, fm or pad, sounds good, and the amount of patches one can create with this relatively limited engine is astounding. Some “vintage” ones prove to be as good as, or in some respect even better than modern-day Moogs or OB-6 – synths which I thought had no competition in their department. Some of the digital ones became the nicest I’ve heard in a decade. Ironically, maybe because they were so neutral and candid. What’s more, this synth delivers the best execution of “metallic” timbres. Bells, cymbals and other ring-modded goodies really sound like metal.
This instrument is a great blend of effective sound and depth of the features. I praised the Hydrasynth and the REV-2, but the Peak / Summit have a place of their own (and in some areas they are even better). Also, the build quality is top-notch. The materials stand out. Solid chassis, wooden cheeks, beautiful & precise knobs, nice keybed. It’s a Range Rover or a Jaguar among synths. Synths like Roland JD-XA or Korg Opsix cannot compare. But… all the above praise and all the superlatives I’ve generously showered on the Peak / Summit are valid if (and only if) we accept the sad fact that it’s a “mono-output” synth. I know that a lot of people call the Peak / Summit “the best sounding contemporary synth”, and I will happily agree – under any of the following two provisos. One: if by “sound” we mean “timbre”. Two: if we pretend that we live in a world where all synths have mono output. Technically speaking the Peak / Summit do have a stereo audio output, but that’s only because of the chorus / panned delay. Other than that it’s a “mono-output” synth, which means that everything is fine as long as we use external audio monitors. Alas, the moment we put our headphones on, some of the magic disappears. It is especially evident after you’ve played a synth like the Hydrasynth in which there is so much going on in the stereo field. The Peak / Summit timbre may be judged to be better than Hydrasynth’s if we need “warmth” or more “classy” synthy tone, but if we define synth sound as “aural experience” – then Hydra blows the Novations out of the water.
One more word about the UI – whatever we get, man always wants more. I am also guilty of that sin. Most of the patches I mentioned above (and will list below) are ready in no time once you start tweaking the “init patch” from scratch, so maybe the UI isn’t that bad in reality. Maybe it was just me with my silly desire to have the perfect synth. I find the Summit a bit cumbersome during deep patch tweaking, but it has to be said that as long as you don’t cross the line, the synth is very accessible, and if you do not mind the hard-wired mod assignments, you’ll find this layout and your music-making process effortless, especially if you decide to use the mod matrix instead of the hard-wired shortcuts. And we have to remember there are two sides to every coin. I’ve praised the Hydra or the REV-2 for their interface, but I know people who are put off by the “limitless” / “total freedom” interfaces – it’s quite impossible to come across “happy accidents” with such an interface. Peak / Summit, on the other hand, make it possible, because some connections are already right there on the front panel. Had Novation decided to make more “multimode” knobs (I described them above), the synth would give us both total freedom & happy accidents. Also, if we look at other synths like the Korg Prologue, their interface is quite a distance behind the Peak / Summit. There’s a number of things that are hidden, irritating, or just missing from the Prologue’s UI, which makes the Novation interface look really good in comparison.
I just hope that the company realizes the huge potential of this synth and they don’t abandon it. This is the “investment” type of synth that could last for years if it received ongoing support. It would be great to see some firmware upgrades that do away with the aforementioned engine limitations. My number one request would be to enhance (introduce?) voice panning adjustments, because many times the spatial depth of the sound falls short of one’s expectations. It’s too centric (read: boring). Also, some additional modification of the waveshapes would be nice (something in the vein of Modal’s wave modifiers), or the ability to mod a mod (modulate a mod matrix slot with a different slot). But even if they don’t improve it, it’s still wonderful as it is.
YOUR FIRST / YOUR ONLY SYNTH?
The Novation synths will rarely sound like an Arturia or Korg, but if you’re not a synth nerd / connoisseur and you do not split hairs when it comes to nuances of sound, the Peak / Summit are very versatile and can serve as a X-in-1 combo:
If you like your straightforward Moogs: Grandmother, Matriarch, or Sub-37 but you miss the patch memory or you sometimes find them too stiff-sounding (Sub-37) – the Peak / Summit will give you some of those vintage flavors without sounding too thick or blunt, plus the patch storage.
If you like your Andromeda or DX-7 but find them too convoluted to make a nice patch in a timely manner – the Peak / Summit will give you the analog flavor / basic FM structures without keeping you at the knobs for 2 hours.
If you like your complex Hydrasynth pads drowned in reverb but you find the overall sound too dry or plastic and you spend too much time in the mod matrix trying to maneuver around it – the Peak / Summit will give you the ambiance and add some extra warmth / smoothness quick.
If you like your Waldorf Blofeld’s glossy waves but you find the four knobs too sparse – the Peak / Summit will give you a lot of wavetable patches plus ten times as many knobs.
If you liked the “British” sound of the Modal Argon / Cobalt series but you found it too tame or static – in my ears the Peak / Summit retains the British sound but at the same time makes it more streamlined and graceful.
Just bear in mind that all those sounds, even though so diverse and wonderfully listenable, may sound “samey” or underwhelming when compared with the “real” (above) synths or when auditioned by somebody with experience. It’s all about the question whether you want a synth with an established personality / character (Moog, Prophet, etc), or a synth that can be compared to an apolitical / nonpartisan person; a blank slate that gives you elbow room to apply the methods of your own art school. A “character” may be a good thing, but sometimes it stands in the way. Novation, on the other hand, is like a slender snake that will crawl into any nitch.
And I want you to know this: maybe the Peak / Summit is not “the best synth” in the world, but if I were to make a chart of all the synths I’ve played, Novation would win by the count of mentions in this chart. It’s good for modern sounds, it’s good for vintage sounds, it has “good” audio range, it has “good” engine, it has good interface, etc. Somehow everything is good / fine in this synth, and by that measure it’s a winner. Other synths are great at something yet bad at something else. But there is no territory where the Peak / Summit are “bad”, and that’s quite a feat of engineering.
PEAK vs SUMMIT
I thought the only engine difference between Peak and Summit was the additional dual filter of the latter. I thought I was ready to make that sacrifice and get what seemed to me a flawless UI in return (Peak). The Peak seemed to have everything right in the middle, right in front of my eyes and within my arms’ reach – and for a lower price! However, after playing both synths I discovered many more differences, and the choice is not that easy anymore;) Here’s all of them:
1. Summit has 16 voices – Peak has 8;
2. Summit has the dual-filter – Peak does not;
3. Summit has bi-timbrality (layering / splits) – Peak does not;
4. Summit can filter the noise generator in LPF and HPF – Peak only has LPF;
5. Summit has the FM routings & levels on the panel (3 knobs and 3 buttons) – Peak can only do this in the mod matrix;
6. Summit has the “delay” option for envelopes – Peak does not;
7. Summit has a 7-octave range of the arpeggiator – Peak has 6.
8. Summit has various additional controls on the panel; Envelope Looping, LFO 3 and LFO 4 controls, ARP controls, Voice Poly / Mono controls – Peak can only access these controls via a menu;
TIPS & TRICKS / LFO SPEED
When Peak and Summit come to you from the factory, they do not come with the same settings, so to speak. When you compare the speeds of their LFO 3 and LFO 4, you will notice that Peak LFOs have a broader range. The LFO 3 and 4 of the Summit have a narrower scope in comparison. To broaden the Summit’s speed range and make it behave exactly like Peak, you need to go to Summit’s LFO menu. Go to Page 7. Find the setting for “L3RateSync” and set it to 64 beats. Do the same thing on Page 8 for LFO 4. Now the Summit’s LFOs will go to audio range when pushed to max speed, and drop almost to zero when pushed to minimum speed.
If you don’t do this, your Peak patches will not sound exactly the same when you export them to a Summit, because even though both synths will have the LFO 3 / 4 speed set to the same value, this value will produce different results.
Firmware v2.0 was announced on March 31st. Some of the issues I mentioned above have been addressed. Now the synth has become even better;)
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