Thoughts on the TC Electronic Nova System…

Posted: April 2, 2013 in FX
Tags: , , , , ,

After a few years of pondering, saving up, and general to-ing and fro-ing over the plus and minuses based on the information available on the web I decided to finally take the plunge and buy a TC Electronic Nova System.  I managed to pick up a limited edition red one, used and delivered for £180 which seemed like an OK deal. The unit arrived and my first thought was ‘tank’, although one of the handles was loose as were some of the jacks and it had a fair few dinks and scratches. Before even turning it on I had it in pieces and gave everything a bit of a clean and tighten, and to be honest I’m very happy with the build quality in general. It is nice that should you ever need to you can replace the footswitches and jacks easily, or get a tech to do it for you.
The main things that have been putting me off getting a Nova System before now have been:

-No 4 cable method, so as has been detailed 1000 times before, you can’t have drives and the compressor up front, and modulations, delays and reverbs in the loop as most people would want to do. It’s either in the loop or its upfront, not both.

-Footswitches work on release not press down

-Delay when changing presets

-Confusing UI

-Some of the modulation effects aren’t quite up to scratch, most commonly the chorus is mentioned here

-Tone suck when using the boost feature

Now, I have only used the unit for about 3 hours, and a half hour gig the day after I received it, and within the first 5 minutes all my questions were resolved one way or another.

I like the interface of the system, I think it actually is very logical and makes sense once you understand how things are laid out. To start with I did find it confusing but within 5 minutes I had the MIDI set up and changing channels on my amp, preset mode enabled, line input setup to unity gain and some very useable FX dialed in and saved in the preset blocks.

Firstly, a quick note on the engage on release nature of the footswitches. I actually like this and for the most part don’t even notice it. I have no idea what people were talking about in all the reviews that say that this switching method renders the unit unusable. It really doesn’t make that much difference, at least not to me anyway. As I previously stated I use the unit in line input mode, in the FX loop of my Hughes and Kettner Tubemeister 36, the Nova Setup to preset mode. This means the drive section is bypassed, which is a shame as I managed to dial in quite a nice overdrive with the Nova in no time at all and wouldn’t hesitate to use it as my boost in a second if the unit could do 4 cable method, which, again, sadly it can’t. The distortion… not to my personal tastes, and certainly not brutal, but it would do if I needed it. So, the unit is running in the loop with an input gain of 7. When I toggle the Nova in and out of the Tubemeisters loop I notice no adverse effect on the tone of the amp, and certainly nothing that would be noticeable in a live context. I have the boost set to 2dB which is actually attenuating the signal by 2dB until it is engaged. This is a great idea and it works well. I think the tone suck people are hearing is a combination of not having the levels set up correctly and having too much of a boost (or cut), and failing to understand the nature of how this works. Perhaps a small amount of treble is rolled off when the boost is disengaged, perhaps it is just because the volume is lower, but I think that what most people are perceiving as tone suck is actually their imagination.

The major concern I had was this delay when changing presets that everyone seems to harp on about. I have noticed it when in pedal mode, not the whopping 2 seconds I read somewhere, but maybe 250-500ms, no big deal, especially not in between songs. One thing to bear in mind is that if you are using the unit as I am, in the loop, and using MIDI to switch your amps channels it appears that the MIDI program change message is sent first, so the channels change instantaneously with absolutely no delay. The rest of the unit may still take however long to catch up while it is toggling the various delays reverbs and modulation effects, but I can’t tell, so for me this is a non-issue.

On to the FX. I think generally these are really good. The reverb is gorgeous, the delays pretty nice, I love the tremolo so much as to say it is the best I have used, which isn’t many outside of other multi FX units, but still. The detune is awesome, in fact, the whole pitch block is pretty special. The only let down to me is the chorus, which is just really uninspiring. The detune FX in the pitch block more than makes up for this though as you can coax a chorus-y type sound out of it, and is something I will be using in place of the chorus beyond doubt.  Some of the FX have great depth for tweaking and modding, the reverb being the most notable. I like the phaser, although it doesn’t nail that Small Stone which I love. I think for a multi FX the FX on this are exceptional, but I wouldn’t say that, the analogue delay, for example, can get anywhere as near as lush as some standalone delays I have owned. For bedroom use I do notice this, but for live the convenience of having the Nova System far outweighs the sonic increase in using standalone pedals, and in all honesty I personally wouldn’t notice the difference once you get beyond bedroom levels with a whole band going.

Sadly, nothing is perfect and the Nova does have a few quirks that have left me puzzled to say the least. Some of these may be just me being ignorant, but I can’t find a solution so at the moment I believe these are all valid points. Hooking up an expression pedal as a global volume calibrates well and works fine, but I can’t get it to work set up as an expression pedal. Why this should be is beyond me as the Nova System can obviously read the expression well due to the fact it works as a global volume. I have had one firmware crash, which was while messing about with the expression pedals settings, so hopefully this is isolated and won’t be a problem while playing live. In ‘pedal’ mode you can access presets by pressing and holding either the reverb, compressor or drive buttons for a few seconds, but in ‘preset’ mode holding these buttons doesn’t toggle the relative effect on or off (obviously drive wouldn’t anyway while in line input mode, but it would be nice to be able to toggle the reverb and compressor on and off using the footswitches in preset mode). There also seems to be no way of toggling preset and pedal mode without entering the Novas menu. The tuner seems to track well and reasonably fast while using the drive input, but seems to struggle in the loop once I get above a certain volume, which really does suck. I also don’t quite like the compressor in the loop enough to use it. It works, and it has some good features, but for me I want my compressor up in front of the amp and having it in the loop doesn’t cut it.

But for me, like many others, the aforementioned lack of four cable method is the one factor that really does limit the Nova System. If you could run the unit like this, as well as the existing methods…

Guitar > Nova System drive input > tuner > compressor > drive > Nova System right output > amp input > amp send > Nova System line input > gate > eq > boost > pitch > mod > delay > reverb > Nova System left output > amp return

…everything would be good, but as it is the Nova System is crippled when using in a amps loop, as a lot of TC’s mid to high end market will be. I honestly don’t see why they couldn’t address this in a firmware update unless the drive is hard wired that way, other than the fact that it could impact G-System sales. I think that as an FX unit and amp controller with a midi enabled amp it is pretty hard to beat, and it is something I plan on using for a long time, but it could have been almost perfect had a few things been made just a little better. So for now I have the Nova System on a board with a tuner and a Boss CS3 for live use, and at home I add in a Way Huge green Rhino and Source Audio programmable EQ to get my amp to where I like it. If TC brought out a Nova System 2 with the issues that so many have picked up on addressed I would buy it in an instant.

  1. Mark says:

    Hi There, Great review mate, I couldn’t agree with you more on all the comments you’ve posted.
    I did read somewhere the 4 cable method was left out to protect the G system sales as you suspected.
    (If it had the 4 cable method it would essentially be a g system at a fraction of the cost)
    One other thing, if you really liked all the nova system effects drives and delays etc. you could buy 2.
    Put one in the FX loop and one in front of the amp and still have paid roughly half the price of the g system. (Not a bad idea eh! if you have the money of course.)


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