August 2, 2014

Analog Mono-Synth: Novation Bass Station 2 [REVIEW]

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Novation’s original Bass Station was available as a 2-octave keyboard and also a simple 1U module. Released in 1993, it was an inexpensive mono synth used on many records, even getting a mention in lyrics by the Rza.

The small-format analog synth is in style again and Novation has brought back its little hitmaker. The latest incarnation (Bass Station II) adds a few modern conveniences, like USB and more patch storage, in addition to some tone-shaping effects. The Bass Station II is certainly a competitor in an already crowded market.

Due to its compact size, the oscillator controls work for both Osc 1 and 2, which are selectable by a switch. The digitally controlled analog oscillators can be chosen from the classic list of sine, triangle, saw, and pulse (square). Each oscillator can be tuned with both coarse (semitone) and fine (cents) controls and each can exist in one of four octave ranges, measured in feet.
There are two modulation depths in the oscillator section: a mod envelope that responds to Env 2 and also LFO 1. If using the pulse waveform, both Env 2 and LFO 2 can modulate pulse width. A sync button with corresponding LED syncs the two oscillators. The sub oscillator is pretty versatile, boasting three waveform choices and the ability to be either one or two octaves below the main oscillators. Despite all of the sub oscillator options, I found the Bass Station II to excel more as a lead than a bass, although many quality sounds in all ranges are possible.

The filter section has some unique features, starting with the Type button that selects between the Classic subtractive-style filter and Acid, which emulates the filter found on the Roland TB-303. Classic is selectable between lowpass, bandpass, and highpass. When in Classic mode, a Slope button toggles between 12dB and 24dB per octave. An overdrive knob adds some subtle, but very effective pre-filter distortion. There are LFO 2 depth and Mod Envelope depth controls in the filter section for modulation, both in positive and negative directions.
It’s a good-sounding analog filter with a nice, big cutoff knob and the extras make it very useful. For added sound design capabilities, a small effects section includes Distortion and Osc Filter Mod controls. An external input jack on the rear panel sends a mono signal to the mix.

Both LFOs have a button for selecting waveform (triangle, saw, square and sample & hold) and a knob that does double duty as speed and LFO delay, which postpones the time when modulation occurs. Each LFO can independently be synced to incoming MIDI beat clock.

Extended features LFO Slew and Keysync further enhance the modulation possibilities. Slew changes the shape by rounding off the waveforms, making their cycles sound smoother, while Keysync determines if the LFO runs freely in the background or restarts with each key press. These features (and several others) are activated by On-Key functions, which require a button press and then the user playing a key as notated on the front panel.

It’s great to see that, even though the panel is small and space needs to be considered, there are some extra features available with a little diving in. LFO 1 can modulate the pitches of both oscillators using the LFO 1 depth control, the modwheel, or aftertouch as assigned with an On-Key function. LFO 2 is assignable to pulse width and filter frequency, either via the LFO 2 depth control or the assignable modwheel. The LFOs have three selectable waveforms: triangle, falling sawtooth, or sample & hold (random).

Although the front panel is rather small, Novation still found space to include a pretty thorough arpeggiator and basic sequencer, both of which are syncable to MIDI clock or internal tempo. Thirty-two preset rhythm sequences combined with six different arpeggiator modes—up, down, random, etc.—create a lot of possibilities. If this isn’t enough to satisfy, a 32-note sequencer allows for four different patterns to be stored and recalled.

Notes and rests are easily programmed in record mode and then, when switched to play mode, they play with whatever note is held as the root, making transposing easy. Fortunately, the arp/sequencer also has a swing control, something that is often overlooked, which makes it more versatile. Pressing down the Latch button will hold onto whatever arp/sequencer notes were pressed last and free up both hands for tweaking parameters.

The Bass Station II is a powerful little synth. I saw it onstage at a P-Funk show and noticed that their keyboard player, Danny Bedrosian, also leaned towards using it as a lead, soloing some very heavy riffs that tore through the sound system. Novation did a great job at fitting enough necessary features into a small unit, and it is also rather easy to navigate.

Novation even snuck a decent arpeggiator/sequencer, some tone-shaping effects, and a limiter into the feature list. There are a lot of mono analog synths hitting the market lately, and the modernized Bass Station II ($499 MAP) should definitely be a consideration if you are shopping for one.

 

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