Novation Bass Station II Review
BASS STATION II
REVIEW BY SEAN COOPER
First off lets just get one thing clear. The Bass Station 2 could be classed as a blue synth. I like blue synths. Always have. There have been some pretty killer blue synths over the years, of course the PPG Wave series springs to mind right away, as does the Oberhiem stuff and dare i say "The Raven". So with that said there comes a whole heap of expectations about what a blue synth should be. It takes a special kind of synth to take on the blue colour...
Back in early 1990s a little known English manufacturer of cheap MIDI controllers entered the synth and drum module market with the original Bass Station and a TR808/909 soundalike drum module, the Drum Station. Novation were brave enough to take on blue as their colour. Expectations set - if you are going to keep company with the Blue boys, you better be good. The original BS and DS went on to become "classic" machines in their own right and were quite sought after. I was fortunate enough to have spent some "quality" time with the original BS - it was one of the very first "virtual analogue" synths back when virtual analogue was in its infancy, long before it became all the rage…
Fast forward 20 years or so. Age brings a number of things. Maturity. A longing to revisit your youth. Roundness…I am not talking about me, I am now talking about the new and very exciting BS2. Its still blue. But IMHO it deserves to be, it really is quite exceptional and I want one.
We have true to life oscillators, filters and modulators. Over recent years of course, there has been a little bit of an upsurge in analogue synths, ranging from the totally stupid Star Trek type modular monsters from the likes of synthesizers.com, right through all kinds of more attainable synths like the dsi Mopho, Moog little Phatty, Moog Minitaur and more recently the re-invented Korg MS20. Not to be outdone the boffins at Novation have not just emulated the BS of old, they really have completely redefined it - whereas the BS1 was a little bland, a bit average, sweet and likeable the BS2 simply oozes character- its sweet, its delicate, its raw, its spiky, its full of attitude, its mental, its abrasive, its warm, cosy and its kind of classy. Yeah, the baby has grown up to be a bit of a rebellious "millennial" from the inner suburbs.
Some of the best featured synths are some of the worst sounding and most difficult to operate ever. When it comes to synths it really all boils down to one thing - sound. Novation have stripped back the "fluff" and given us what a synth should be all about, raw sound power. I love the fact that there are no delays, verbs, phasers, flangers, eqs etc on it - hey I have a swag of plug-ins to do that stuff. I love the fact the panel layout is pretty simple and is instantly familiar. I like the fact that it only has a mono output. And I love the fact that it sounds so good.
The BS2 is a 2 oscillator, monophonic, analogue synthesizer with 64 pre-sets and room for storing up to 64 of your own. It also has a nifty, but slightly tricky to operate arpeggiator/sequencer which can be slaved to MIDI Clock. There are 32 different arpeggio rhythms and all the usual up/down/sideways variations. Additionally, you can store a sequence of your own making alongside your patch in each of the 64 RAM locations.
For control the BS2 is adorned with a plethora of knobs and switches and buttons, a 25-key velocity and after-touch sensitive keyboard with octave switching, blinking lights and tasty mod and pitch bend wheels that glow in a beautiful blue haze - the thing looks great in the dark! Overall construction is solid, all the knobs, buttons and switches feel positive and sturdy and the keyboard is surprisingly good… ok so you are never going to be able to play a concerto on it, but it feels pretty responsive to me!
Connection to the outside world is simple - a single MONO audio out is all that is required. Also on the back we find MIDI I/O, sustain pedal input and an external input so you can mangle your guitar, voice, or drums through the BS2's filters and modulators. The BS2 can be powered via the USB bus or with a supplied PSU. Connection into a DAW such as Logic or the supplied version of Ableton Live Lite is simple, you just plug in the USB cable and play away. All knobs, switches and buttons send data via MIDI/ USB which makes automation of your miesterwerk a total breeze.
Stoking the Fire
The 2 VCOs, each with selectable tuning, waveforms (sine, tri, saw & square with variable pulse), envelope mod and LFO amounts, are mixed together in a little Mixer panel, which is where things start to take an interesting turn.
Not only do we have 2 VCOs, we also have a Sub Oscillator that can be set to 1 or 2 octaves below VCO1. Pretty standard stuff but if you chuck in that the SubOsc can select between 3 different waveforms (sine, pulse and square) then we start to enter "serious bottom end" territory. It’s a really simple but very powerful feature that the SubOsc effectively turns our 2 Osc synth into a 3 Osc monster. Your trousers and skirts will be flapping!
Synthesizers are really defined by their filters. I have to say that the filters on the BS2, and the weird little take that has been applied to them, are what really defines this instrument. Essentially you get a switchable 24dB or 12dB per octave multimode resonant filter (low pass, band pass and high pass), switchable between 2 filter types "classic" (based on the Moog Ladder filter) for Moogy type sounds and "Acid" for TB303 type emulations.
Novation have also added a killer sounding "overdrive" to the filter - when you think things cant get any fatter just dial in some OD and not only will your trousers flap, you may lose control of bodily functions.
The Train Now Arriving
I think it is obvious. I like the BS2. So much so that I think I will have to buy one. And for the price of just $799.00 incl. GST it packs punch well above its weight. If you are in the market for a monster, analogue addition to your sonic armoury then you really can’t look past the BS2. I urge you to try it.
The only problem I have with it….? Where am I going to put it?