Friday
NOVEMBER 17
2017

The Novation Xiosynth: Two Tricks, One Mod/Pitch “Boob”

Well, as luck would have it, our local Guitar Center had a parking lot swap meet, and while I was attempting to make some cash getting rid of things I didn’t use a.k.a. taking up space, I ended up trading a bunch of my in-the-way stuff for a Novation Xiosynth in need of some TLC. I give to you the short-and-skinny of what I did.

Before, though, I’ll give you a brief rundown of what the Xiosynth actually is. Prior to the Xio, there was the X-Station. Prior to that, there was the K-Station. Prior to that there was the A-Station. Many of these little Brit microsynths were referred to as the “K-synths,” or “K-series,” I’ve noticed. Though I think the A-Station runs on something a little different than the later three. I’m not really sure—-I’m not a Novation nut or anything. All I knew is I wanted to try one. Boasting smaller size (if that’s something one can boast about) and a more portable interface, the Xiosynth 25 has much in common with the X-Station 25 (they also have a 49-key version). The X-Station, having a few more sliders, MIDI interface, control and sure, a bigger overall footprint, I would have chosen either: I have a thing for powerful battery powered little synthesizers. I also am a fan of Virtual Analogs, for one, because everyone hates them and I don’t have to get into “…MY Jupiter 8 is a 14-bit DAC and YOURS is a PALTRY, WORTHLESS 12-BIT…” type conversations, and I like the way they sound. Any time I can avoid a how-big-is-my-synthgeek-penis contest the better.

So my new-to-me little Xiosynth 25 had a few problems. One, it was dirty. Two, the mod/pitch boob (I can’t for the life of me think of any other way to describe it… it’s a very round X/Y control with a big nipple in the center—-thus, a boob) was out of whack, especially regarding the pitch bending. It would trigger inappropriate pitches, and required a total detune in the patch parameters to even sort of get the thing to genuinely play in tune.. No, the calibration function in the Global Settings didn’t work either. Apart it came.

I have to give credit to the Novation folks for simplicity and robustness. One of the common gripes about this particular model was how flimsy/cheap/wonky it felt. To me, sure it gave that vibe, but the way they put it together was just right. Even if it did break, it’s a cinch to get into and fix.  The other major gripe about most things Novation was the interaction with the touch pad.  Yeah, if you’re used to Korg pads, this thing requires a real heavy hand to function.  Nothing I could do about that right now.  Maybe I’ll rig an old Atari joystick up to the thing later?

The mod/pitch boob in question wasn’t unseated, that was my first trick. Everything mechanically seemed just fine. This was a good news/bad news thing. Novation parts are notoriously hard to find, and then if you do, hard to acquire. Could be months, years and all that. Fortunately, I noticed the small potentiometers controlling the X and Y planes on the boob were exactly the same. Some kind of thin, Spanish-origin deal. My thought, modulation can be triggered if the pot is off, and probably wouldn’t be noticed, and why not try and swap them? Solder/desolder, reseat, a quick DeoxIt flush, and poof. Now, to recalibrate on the global menu, yep, it works. Something occurred to me, though.

I hate the snap-back modulation feature on the mod/pitch boob. I have an Alesis Ion, and I have not one but TWO mod wheels that when I turn them up to “11,” both stay put. They do not snap back on a spring. Perhaps I wanted a particular sound, but wanted to use both hands. Oh sure, it’s a 25 key, what’s the point? Well, I’ll tell you the point: I have 10 fingers, and there’s 25 keys, sometimes I use both hands with 25 keys. That’s the point. Easy enough, I deconstructed the guts of the mod/pitch boob (again), and popped off the clothespin-style spring on the mod side, but left the pitch bend spring. That’s much, much better.

Now when I’m destroying people’s ears with the aliasing in the upper regiments of the frequency range I can spike a little LFO or panning delay on the suckers… much to the chagrin of little silver-eared analog-only pedigree musicians. It’s another thing I don’t have to physically control on the little unit to get some solid sound.

While the Xiosynth isn’t the most control-heavy VA out there, it’s easy to program, apparently easy to fix, and with six AA batteries, you’re rockin’ off the grid. If you are having trouble with your mod/pitch boob, try removing the spring on the mod side, and if you’re not sure why it’s constantly detuning itself, there’s a quick, easy and possible fix built right inside. I imagine this approach can be used for any similar Novation setup, not just the Xiosynth.

Have fun, don’t lose your screws.

(image courtesy musicradar.com)

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One response to “The Novation Xiosynth: Two Tricks, One Mod/Pitch “Boob””

  1. Gian says:

    Hello! nice article! i was wondering if there´s a way to make the touchpad more sensitive / responsive? its a cool feature but a bit frustrating when you have to press so hard while playing. Regards from Chile!

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