No stranger to quality guitar effects, Danish company TC Electronic has produced an array of both individual stompboxes and larger multi-effects floor processors for several years. The flagship their new range is the Nova System, a seemingly bombproof multi-effects processor with eight footswitches and seven categories of switchable effect.
The Nova System looks like it's designed to take plenty of stage abuse without flinching. It's mains-powered via an IEC cable, so there are no messy wall warts and the socketry offers plenty of potential for different usages.
Besides the guitar input, there's a line input to allow use in an amp's effects loop, while the output can be stereo or mono. S/PDIF digital I/O is provided, as are MIDI in, out and thru sockets, while a 'pedal in' socket allows the connection of an expression pedal or TC's G-Switch.
The easy-action footswitches are arranged in two sets of four, one set higher than the other for uncluttered operation. When any one is active it's surrounded by a red glow, so you know exactly what your status is.
The Tap Tempo switch flashes constantly in time. The large backlit LCD clearly displays patch names and parameters - flanked by four soft knobs for quick editing. Calling up effects and parameters is facilitated by several soft rubber switches.
The Nova System offers a series of effects modules in a chain. Seven of the modules (Modulation, Delay, Boost, Pitch, Reverb, Compression and Drive) are assigned to individual footswitches. You also get Noise Gate and EQ modules plus volume, which can be controlled by an expression pedal.
There are three possible routings for the effects - all can be connected serially if desired, but the two alternatives are to have the Reverb and Delay modules connected in parallel so no reverb is added to the delay repeats or to have Modulation, Pitch, Delay and Reverb modules all in parallel so they don't affect each other.
You can assign a particular effect to each module. The Drive module, for instance, can either supply overdrive or distortion, while the Modulation module is host to chorus, flanger, vibrato, phaser, tremolo or panner - and there are many editable parameters.
Once you've edited the system to get your preferred overall sound or set of sounds, your set-up can be saved to one of 60 user preset slots, alongside the 30 fixed factory presets.
The Nova System has two distinct operating modes, Pedal or Preset, but this is cleverly implemented so that elements of the other mode are still available in either. Preset mode allows you to instantly call up stored presets using three footswitches - the Reverb, Comp and Drive switches (numbered 1, 2 and 3) access the three presets in every bank. To increment the bank up or down you need to press and hold the Mod and Pitch switches respectively.
Normal short presses on these two will actually activate/deactivate the modulation and pitch effects in the preset, while delay and boost are also switchable. This mode will therefore enable you to dial in a particular sound for a song or part of a song, but still have individual control over all but the compression, reverb and drive.
For more flexibility, a G-Switch added to the system will facilitate program changes so all of the effects bypass footswitches can be used. In Pedal mode all of the footswitches turn their relevant modules on and off, just like a bunch of individual pedals - albeit with the settings that are stored within the active preset.
However, pressing and holding the Reverb, Comp or Drive switches for about half a second enables you to select that active preset from a choice of three. This effectively provides you three different pedalboard set-ups onstage.
The first thing you notice when playing through the Nova System is the excellent sound quality. The digital effects are pristine, with a great range of available variations.
In the modulation section there's everything from vintage amp style tremolo and vibrato to a slew of phasing, chorus and flanging effects, while the pitch effect offers subtle detuning and octave effects through to a full-on whammy effect if you connect an expression pedal.
All manner of harmonies are also available via the intelligent pitch shifter, while the separate reverb and delay effects allow plenty of scope for setting up all shades of ambience. Whether you wish to emulate old-school tape echo and spring reverb or set up U2-style synchronised rhythmic repeats - it's here.
Now, while TC is renowned for its digital effects, it's aware that analogue is the way to go for the best in dirty sounds, so it has added analogue overdrive and distortion, but with digital control for accurate tweaking and storing of settings.
Both sound really good, with the overdrive smoothly mimicking valve amp tone from clean through crunch to cranked, contrasting with the somewhat edgier distortion - suitable for fat chords and screaming leads. The independent Boost switch conveniently gives you extra welly when you need it.
With its solid build, high visibility and the way that it can be set up for effects switching and calling up patches, the Nova System is an ideal stage workhorse. And with its switchable speaker simulation for the outputs, it could also double as a practical direct recording tool.
TC sees the Nova System as a viable compact alternative to carrying a massive pedalboard rig around, making much of the idea that you can slip it into a bag and carry it with you, even taking it onboard a plane.
Certainly that's one advantage of this unit - if you're travelling light to gigs and relying on hired/borrowed amps then it's a marvellous 'front end' to ensure that you can consistently get the sounds you need, plus it has automatic power switching if you happen to be playing abroad.
Regardless of that though, it sounds great, offers about as comprehensive a range of usable effects as you get in a multi-FX that's not equipped with its own pedal treadle - it's pretty damn bullet-proof too.
Add your own wah and an expression pedal and there won't be many sounds that you can't conjure up. The Nova System seems like a steal: we like this a whole lot.
Hear what the Nova System can do with our audio demo:
Simon Bradley tests the Nova System