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Novation Returns to Their Roots

By David Bryce

 

Right after Novation began in the early 1990s, the first sound-generating instrument they produced was the now-classic Bass Station keyboard. Sporting the filter from the EDP Wasp designed by Chris Huggett and channeling the popular Roland TB303, the Bass Station quickly became a favorite of the synth community, and has remained their only real analog(ue!) synthesizer…

…until now.

Their brand new Bass Station II claims to be a modernized version of their first baby. Did they manage to preserve and/or improve upon the original?

Novation Bass Station II main.jpg

 

What You Need To Know

  • Real Analog Synthesizer! Even the envelopes and modulation are handled in the analog domain.
  • Two-octave synth action velocity sensitive keybed…with aftertouch, thank you.
  • Pretty much every major feature has its own knob, switch or button.
  • There are a bunch of extra (On-Key) programming controls that are accessed by holding down a FUNCTION button and pressing keys, then using the Patch/Value buttons under the display to edit the current value. A legend is silkscreened over the keys to make these easy to use.
  • 128 program slots. The first 70 come filled with a tasteful and varied selection of programs - mostly basses, of course - but more than a few nice lead sounds.
  • Two oscillators deliver the usual waveform choices – Sine, Up Saw, Triangle and variable pulse waves. There’s no dedicated Square wave setting…but a square wave is a pulse wave with a 50\% duty cycle, so no problem there. Octave range, Coarse (+/- 1 octave) and Fine (+/- 1 semitone) tuning controls are provided.
  • Pulse width can be changed manually with a dedicated knob, which can also be switched to vary mod depth using the Mod Env and/or OSC 2. All three sources can be used simultaneously.
  • A third (Sub) OSC can be engaged one or two octaves below OSC 1. Unlike many other subtractive synths, multiple waveform choices are provided for the sub OSC (Sine, Square, Narrow Pulse).
  • OSC 1 can be hard synced to OSC 2 (On-Key function).
  • The Mixer section blends all three OSCS. A fourth knob can add in White noise, Ring Mod (inputs are OSCs 1 and 2) or external audio brought in from a jack on the rear panel.
  • Two filters are onboard – the CLASSIC Wasp filter, which can be switched between 2-pole (12dB) and 4-pole settings and offers HP/LP/BP settings,….and one marked ACID – a 4-pole diode ladder LP only filter.  Only one of these can be used at one time.  Note: the SHAPE and SLOPE switches have no effect if the ACID filter is engaged.
  • The filter’s frequency can be modulated by OSC2 using the OSC FILTER MOD knob in the Effects section.
  • A pre-filter OVERDIVE control can add a tasteful amount of fuzz…and is not to be confused with the post filter Distortion parameter in the Effects section, which can bring in quite a bit more lovely nastiness.
  • A single set of ADSR envelope controls can be toggled to handle AMP ENV, MOD ENV or AMP+MOD ENV duties. The MOD ENV can be assigned to the pitch or pulse width of the OSC section, or the frequency of the CLASSIC filter.
  • Portamento is activated by turning up the GLIDE TIME knob. Envelope triggering for different portamento settings and performance techniques can be switched between Single, Multi and Autoglide (legato).
  • The two onboard LFOs feature four waveform choices – Triangle, Saw, Square and S+H/Random. LFO is hard-wired to the pitch of OSCs 1+2. LFO 2 is meant to be primarily used to the Filter section, but can also be used to modulate the pulse width of either OSC. Note: negative values of LFO1 DEPTH in the OSC section or LFO2 DEPTH in the Filter section invert the LFO waveform.
  • Each LFO’s knob can be toggled to control SPEED (frequency) or DELAY. Note: Speed for either LFO can be changed to Sync to internal/external clock using On-Key functions.
  • LFOs can be set to freerun, or be retriggered by keystroke or external clock under the On-Key functions.
  • A very cool On-Key function selected parameter called LFO SLEW can be used to soften the edges of either of the LFOs (most useful on pulse waves).
  • 32 step arpeggiator can be set to play up to four octaves UP, DOWN, UP/DN1 (does not repeat lowest and highest notes before changing direction), UP/DN2 (does repeat lowest and highest notes before changing direction), RANDOM or PLAYED. Tempo can be varied from 40-240 BPM or synced to external clock. 32 patterns can be selected using the dedicated RHYTHM knob. Swing mode is available via On-Key functions.
  • PLAYED arpeggiator setting turns it into a one-row analog-style sequencer with up to 32 steps. ON and LATCH buttons can be used to insert ties and rests respectively into played sequences. Four user-defined sequences can be stored/selected using ARP OCTAVES knob.
  • -5/+4 Octave Shift and Transpose controls are provided.
  • Audio I/O consists of a single monophonic ¼” unbalanced line out, a single monophonic ¼” unbalanced line in and stereo ¼” headphone outs.

Novation Bass Station II rear.jpg

 

  • Sustain footswitch jack automatically senses polarity of connected pedal during power-up cycle.
  • MIDI in and out is present, and USB to host connectivity as well. The USB port can also function as a power input, which made it easy to work on the unit in my den using only my laptop and a pair of headphones.

 

Limitations

  • Tiny LED display is a bit cryptic at times, but mostly tells you what you need to know.
  • PB and Mod wheels are flimsy feeling…but they light up, which does look quite cool.
  • Momentary footswitch input only controls sustain.
  • No jack for continuous control pedal.



Conclusions

There doesn’t seem to be any question that the Novation folks have hit the nail squarely on the head with the Novation Bass Station II.  It sounds big and fat, its filters can run the whole gamut from warm to sizzly, it is a lot of fun to program, and is very easy to move around on….not just for experienced synthesists - none of whom should even have to crack the book to fly around on the unit – but also for beginners, who can learn how synthesizers in general work very effectively by working with the BSII. There’s even a simple (yet informative) four page synthesis tutorial in the manual!  

Despite its synth action and affordable price point, the keybed is solid and responsive. The knobs and switches feel much better than the original Bass Station, and should stand up to quite a bit of real-time twiddling.  At first blush the mod matrix appears a bit limited, but just about everything I wanted to do had a way to do it.

There are a plethora of affordable and fun bass synthesizers on the market currently, and the Bass Station II is clearly one of the premier choices. It definitely preserves (or enhances) the good things about the original Bass Station while bringing a bunch of new and useful features to the mix. I have no doubt that this will join its older sibling in the ranks of analog synth mainstays.


Resources

Musician's Friend Novation Bass Station II online catalog page ($624 MSRP, $499 "street")


 

Novation’s Bass Station II web page

 
Novation’s Bass Station II demo video:




dB bio image.pngDavid Bryce is a composer/producer living in Thousand Oaks CA.  Specializing in keyboards and synthesizers, Bryce is also comfortable with guitar, bass, drums…and can sort of play some horns.  He operates his own state of the art professional recording studio, where he does music and audio production, and is also an accomplished voice-over artist, with credits ranging from radio and TV spots in markets across the USA through industrial presentations and computer video games.  He currently plays keyboards for a few LA based bands, and spends a large portion of his days consulting with a variety of professional audio and musical instrument manufacturers.

 

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