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Novation Bass Station II

Novation Bass Station II
« on: November 13, 2015, 04:29:23 AM »
Just got myself one of these. The idea was to get a small and compact analog synth which could also be used as a controller for the iPad and a few other modules (Ambika and Anushri) while not home.

I have to say: this little synth surprised me with its sound. It has a beautiful tone and a brilliant multimode filter. I'm loving it! It doesn't do CV stuff, but you get full MIDI implementation, good DAW integration and a very small footprint.

It is definately a good purchase. The build quality is way better than the Mini/Microbrute, the sound is very good and you get a lot of good features, such as aftertouch, which not only is rare in this kind of instrument (cheap analog synth), but works good.

Does anyone else share this excitement with the instrument?

Cheers!
Moog Minimoog Voyager, Little Phatty and Sub Phatty| MI Ambika | Elektron Analog Four and Analog Rytm

dslsynth

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Re: Novation Bass Station II
« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2015, 04:05:46 PM »
I look forward to the detailed review of your new babe. And in particular if it deserves the Novation Bada** Station pet name. :)
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Re: Novation Bass Station II
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2015, 01:58:03 PM »
When I chose to buy a Microbrute, I was driven by the need of something small, and also analog. Unfortunately - or even fortunately - the Microbrute didn't live to the expectation (hated it BTW), and I decided to invest a little bit more for a Bass Station II.

I'll try my best to keep it short, but this synth is deep and has a lot of features.


Build quality
The instrument is plastic-made, nice black and blue color and a bunch of red lights. It's noticeable small, and although portable, seems sturdy enough. Knobs, switches and buttons have a good feel, and way better quality than most of the stuff at this price point. The sliders are also good, with very little lateral movement. Buttons are soft touch rubber, with an excellent quality.

The key bed is way better than I imagined, full-sized, with aftertouch (which is rare in this category), with a better feel than the A-800 Pro and UMX-610. The blue backlit on pitchbend and modwheel makes a nice visual effect - both are also covered with a soft feel rubber.


Functionality
Turn it on and it is ready to go. It is already in tune and pitch is very stable. It can run on USB power or DC adaptor, both included. The included USB cable is also blue, matching with the BS look. Connections include MIDI in and out, mono audio out, mono audio in, headphone out, USB out (for power and USB-MIDI), DC in.

Everything is pretty straightforward, and the things not immediately available underneath your hands, is only a switch away. These switches are available in every part of the synth, changing controls and useful parameters, allowing you to jump from oscillator 1 editing to oscillator 2 for example. It seems a little bit limiting, but you get used to it very fast.


Oscillators
The sound created by the DCOs is pleasant, but you don't get the same power as with a Moog VCO on bass, but it's almost there. It is on par with DSI in my opinion. They're powerful enough, with a punchy sound.

Waveforms include saw, square with variable PW, triangle and sine. They're all well defined and have a nice tone, bright and harmonically rich. The sub-oscillator has 3 waveform choices and can be used one or two octaves below osc 1.

Each oscillator can be modulated with independent amounts by an LFO (1) and envelope (mod) in pitch. They can also have PWM with different amounts, by an envelope (mod) and LFO (2). There's portamento, but unfortunately can't be individually set for each oscillator. You also get hard sync between oscillators.


Mixer
Here you can control the level for each sound source. The Bass Station II uses six sources: oscillator 1, oscillator 2, sub-oscillator, white noise, ring modulation and external audio.

The ring modulation was really unexpected, but welcome. It allows the creation of some nice FX and metallic sounds. The big difference here is that this circuit is always active, and you can add the sound to the mix while having both oscillators sounding with it, with no need to activate ring modulation whatsoever.


Filter
The multi-mode Classic filter is brutally awesome! A big highlight in this synth. It has a Rolandy feel, with little loss in the bass department with high resonances, and has a big tonal range. You get LP, HP and BP with 12dB/oct or 24dB/oct, all with resonance. The second filter option (Acid) is a nice LPF with a 24dB/oct slope, but way less special than the other, and it's not capable of self-oscillation. One thing that I really miss is being able to use both filters at the same time, in series - it would be awesome!

All audio signal coming from the mixer can be overdriven pre-filter with a dedicated knob. It allows a more aggressive feel, being more prominent than the Sub Phatty, and also more controllable. It doesn't sound as good though (the pre-filter overdrive).


Envelope
There are two, one for volume (amp), other for modulation of other parameters (mod). The time goes from clicky and percussive to long evolving pads, with a very good feedback from the controls (up to 50% of slider dedicated to the super fast envelope times). There's a small switch at the side that selects how the envelope works (re trigger for each note, legato, legato glide) - this is amazing, cause makes it easy to adjust something that usually requires the use of menus. There's another switch to make the sliders work editing the amp or mod envelope, and also both at the same time.


LFO
There are also 2. One dedicated to pitch modulation (1), other for filter and PW (2). Their range go from almost 0 Hz to almost 300 Hz according to the specs - you can get some audio range modulation only with the LFOs. These LFOs also have delay, which is very welcome and uncommon nowadays. Maybe inspired on those old Roland analog synths?

Besides that, you can sync it to time and also re trigger with key press. Out of curiosity, you can edit LFO slew, which makes it able to create an almost sine waveform LFO - or, even better, a soft sample&hold waveform.


Effects
No analog delay here, unfortunately. Here you get two effects that adds a little more to the sound. The first is a distortion circuit, allowing some modern sounds and fits nicely into the "Transformers making sex" music - aka Dubstep. It can also be used to enrich some 303-like sounds. It's not the best distortion in the world, but it's good and usable. A fuzz circuit would be way way way better (yes, that better), cause you wouldn't loose much bass. The second effect is constantly observed and kind of a trend nowadays: using oscillator 2 to modulate the filter's cutoff. What you get, is a different sound that allows the creation of the famous Tom Sawyer bass and a few vocal sounds.


Arpeggiator and sequencer
The arpeggiator is very good. 32 rhythmic variation of each of the standard patterns (up, down, up and down, random) with a variable octave control (1 to 4 octaves). Do the math if you want, I can only say that there's a lot of variation. The preset saves the selected arpeggio for each sound.

The sequencer is simple and clearly inspired in the SH-101. "Hit" record, play your notes, and voilÓ! There's your sequence!! You can also add rests and ties, but no accent or glide. It would be amazing if it did! Unfortunately, there's only enough memory for 4 sequences.


Functions
There are several "hidden" functions in the BS2, which are accessible by pressing the function and a key in combination. The good thing here is that every function is written in the interface, so there's no constant searching for the manual, it's all very accessible. I'm already used to it.


Final thoughts
For the first time, I'm having difficulties to create the positive and negative about an instrument. It seems that every negative aspect of the synth are necessary for it to be small and portable, which is why I got it in the first place. Being made of plastic, switches, hidden functions and a few other qualities are needed if you want it to be light and small for example. A more complex sequencer would require a deeper digital menu, which isn't wanted.

If I had to criticize, I can think a few things. The aftertouch scaling and sensitivity isn't as good as the Prophet 08, which is the best I've used - the BS have a Roland-like aftertouch, a little bit more soft. The red colored leds and display don't actually go with the blue look, they could've used a blue and white approach (but it would cost a bit more). A few of the performance options for aftertouch and mod wheel are fix - I'd like to use what I wanted for example. There's a few good presets, but most aren't actually a good use of this instrument. The distortion steals some of the bass - as said before, a fuzz would be perfect. Even with all this, in practice, I don't miss anything.

Sincerely, the Bass Station II surprised me a lot. It has a very good sound, built to last and a lot of great features for such a small synth. I'm completely amazed with it. I could replace a Sub Phatty with it - not that it sounds better than the Moog, but it gives you an idea.

Some say that it is too precise, not analog sounding. What I can say is: they either lie or are wrong. It's the same to say that the P08 is not analog enough. Maybe people are becoming too much anal about the whole VCO vs DCO, analog vs digital thing.

Would I recommend the Bass Station II? Yes I would! Great little synth!!

Sound demo
Ok, this is a big demonstration. Custom made sounds with only a few days of use. Almost 20 minutes of small musical use of the sounds. Recorded with an iPad, some are compressed by the application used (Focusrite tape something). I used a Focusrite Scarlett as audio interface.
https://soundcloud.com/silvgt/novation-demo/s-BzCbg
Moog Minimoog Voyager, Little Phatty and Sub Phatty| MI Ambika | Elektron Analog Four and Analog Rytm

dslsynth

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Re: Novation Bass Station II
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2015, 12:08:11 PM »
Thanks a lot for the review of Bass Station II, cr73645! It sounds interesting and surprisingly advanced. Not sure if I will get one but its certainly an advantage with full MIDI support.
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Re: Novation Bass Station II
« Reply #4 on: November 23, 2015, 01:39:42 AM »
Thanks a lot for the review of Bass Station II, cr73645! It sounds interesting and surprisingly advanced. Not sure if I will get one but its certainly an advantage with full MIDI support.
You're welcome. It really does sound interesting and has an overall really nice tone.

I'm using as my mobile synthesizer, for really small gigs with friends, composing when outside/travelling and a few other stuff. What surprised me is that it isn't just usable for that - amazing sound for such a cheap synthesizer.
Moog Minimoog Voyager, Little Phatty and Sub Phatty| MI Ambika | Elektron Analog Four and Analog Rytm

Re: Novation Bass Station II
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2018, 02:10:46 AM »
There's a new firmware update for the Bass Station 2 that allows adjustable filter key tracking, paraphonic mode, microtonal tuning, envelope looping...
This really makes me appreciate this synthesizer again.
I was directly inspired to play the ringmodulation in paraphonic mode, here's the first result:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFSwM0CsiNY