Novation Bass Station II Review

It’s a sign of the times that simply bringing an electric and upright bass to a gig just isn’t enough for some musical situations, with the jobbing bassist expected to provide the complete range of contemporary low-frequencies. Thus there’s a third aspect to today’s bass arsenal in the form of a dedicated bass synth – or certainly a synth that specialises in generating the full gamut of sounds and textures associated with fat synth bass frequencies. Novation’s original Bass Station first emerged in 1994 and was a runaway success for packing in full analogue synth functionality into a small, highly portable package, and, while the updated incarnation is certainly bigger, it’s sturdily built yet light in weight. Yet don’t be fooled, this little monster is packed with features giving plenty of bang for its £350-£399 price point, which is less than half of its slightly more glamorous rival, Moog’s Little Phatty II.

Thanks to the digital nature of the interface you’d also be forgiven for thinking the unit itself is digital, but it’s a fully analogue synth with digital control. This doesn’t mean it can’t interact seamlessly with a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as Logic or Ableton, via its MIDI in and out sockets, but this is also a standalone mono-synth that’s ready to plug and play straight out of the box. Other features on the rear panel include headphone jack input, audio extension for running sounds into the unit for some cool effects processing, sustain pedal input, USB input and the power supply socket. The BS2’s simple layout hides real sonic depths – with Oscillators, Mixer, Filters, Arpeggiator, LFOs, Envelopes and Effects – all neatly grouped and sensibly arranged. The simple three-character display is about as sophisticated as the digital side of thing gets here, as the Bass Station II is all about hands on experimentation, and while the 64 factory presets give you a good starting point, the joy of tweaking and modifying your own sounds is all too easy.

Offering a huge range of possibilities by switching between sine, square or pulse waveforms and mashing them with distortion and overdrive, and sweetening them via the resonance control, one can generate no end of smooth and downright nasty bass, and sub bass, sounds. Add to this the four-octave arpeggiator and 32-step sequencer – that can be programmed with up to four of your own note sequences – as well as the discretely displayed additional ‘functions’, such as Mod Width, Aftertouch, LFO, Oscillator, Velocity, and VCA, plus the backlit Mod and Pitch Bend wheels, and the BS2 shakes an enormous amount of bass booty. Channeling audio in and out of the unit from the headphone socket of an external sound source (one of the aforementioned DAWs that can be seamlessly connected and controlled via the BS II’s MIDI in-and-out socket) and a whole world of sound-processing fun opens up. The Bass Station II is the perfect entry point into a wider, and deeper, universe of bass frequencies and importantly brings analogue warmth and hands-on control in a compact, practical and fun form.

Mike Flynn

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