The original Bass Station included the essentials for a
solid analog synth: Two oscillators, a resonant lowpass filter, dual
attack-decay-sustain-release envelopes, and an LFO. By today’s
standards, that’s still a solid offering. For the Bass Station II,
Novation didn’t want to simply regurgitate the original specs into an
increasingly crowded market of affordable desktop analog synths.
Instead, they piled on a ton of extras, like multimode filtering, dual
LFOs, ring modulation, a sub-oscillator, two different kinds of
distortion, and an array of other goodies, all while keeping the
original’s overall feel and compact two-octave footprint.
Unboxing the unit, I plugged it into my computer via USB
and reached for the wall-wart power adapter. Returning to the synth, I
was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s actually USB powered as well.
So with everything up and running in less than three minutes, I jacked
it into my mixer and began fiddling.
The Bass Station II’s architecture is extraordinarily
flexible for a $500 analog synth. Each of the dual oscillators includes
sine, triangle, saw, and variable pulse, as well as the ability to
hard-sync the oscillators. The pulse width can be adjusted manually, or
modulated by an envelope or LFO—and these settings are independent for
each oscillator, resulting in some super fat sounds when combined with a
touch of detuning.
The sub-oscillator is a bit more flexible than most, with
options for sine, square and pulse waves and either one- or two-octave
Over in the mixer section, there are separate knobs for
each oscillator, the sub-oscillator, and a switchable knob that does
triple duty for blending in a ring-mod signal, white noise, or—yes!—an
external input for processing audio through the Bass Station II’s filter
and amp modules.
The filter section is where the Bass Station II really
shines. For starters, it offers fully resonant lowpass, highpass, and
bandpass modes, but that’s just an appetizer. There’s also a slope
switch for two-pole or four-pole operation (12dB- or 24dB-per-octave)
and a very cool amenity that switches the filter between “Classic” and
“Acid” modes. Classic mode is smooth, warm and transparent. Acid mode is
where things get interesting, as it affects the character of the filter
resonance, giving it that trademark TB-303 squelch, especially when
combined with the filter’s super-meaty overdrive. A pair of modulation
knobs let you modulate the cutoff via the second envelope or LFO, so all
of the standard animation tricks are present and accounted for. As an
added bonus, the cutoff frequency knob is quite large—about four times
the size of the rest of the knobs on the unit—which a big plus for
realtime performance, especially in a darkened venue.
The dual LFOs and ADSRs are fairly standard, with sync
options for both LFOs and a nifty “slew” parameter that softens the
edges of the sample-and-hold and square waves quite nicely.
Rounding out the voice architecture is a pair of effect
knobs at the end of the chain: Distortion and filter FM (called “Osc
Filter Mod” here). The distortion is also analog and really ratchets up
the acid-style aspects of the Bass Station II’s filter. Finally, a
full-featured arpeggiator delivers all of the standard percolating
effects and includes a few nifty sequencer-like functions for
So, even with a truckload of synthesis tools on board,
there’s the issue of overall sonic character. After all, today’s analog
synth market is brimming with options around the $500 price point. On
one hand, you’ve got synths that ooze character, like Arturia’s
MiniBrute and Korg’s new MS-20 Mini. At the other end of the spectrum
are instruments with a smoother feel, like Dave Smith’s Mopho series. So
where does the Bass Station II fit in?
The first thing I noticed when comparing the Bass Station
II to the other analog synths in my arsenal is that it reminded me of a
vintage Roland keyboard. When the filter is set to lowpass and Classic
modes, the overall vibe was reminiscent of the original Junos and
Jupiters. It was definitely on the smooth and creamy side, which would
sit nicely in a mix without sounding awkward or dominating. Even with
the overdrive knob turned up, there was a transparent quality to the
Things get a whole lot different upon switching the filter
to Acid mode and cranking up the analog distortion effect at the end of
the chain. This beast cuts beautifully through a mix, commanding center
stage while still leaving room for other parts in your track. For
musicians looking to dive into analog while remaining in familiar sonic
territory, the Bass Station II is a fantastic choice.
What’s more, the “Bass Station” moniker is a total
misnomer—in a good way. Sure, you can use it for chunky bass and 303
emulations. This is bolstered all the more by its sub-oscillator, which
adds a lot of girth, especially in sine wave mode. But this synth is so
much more than a bass instrument. It’s fantastic at soaring festival
leads and quirky techno riffs. In fact, it’s just as good at those as it
is at bass.
The only caveat to all of this sonic goodness is that
there are so many parameters that Novation had to forego the standard
one-knob-per-function approach to analog, relying on switches to toggle
between multiple oscillators, envelopes and LFOs. In addition, a
smattering of more esoteric parameters are accessed using a function
switch combined with keys on the keyboard itself. Granted, this isn’t a
huge issue, and numerous other synths—notably Dave Smith’s Mopho
line—take a similar approach. But when you’re caught up in a programming
frenzy, it feels like a tiny speed bump on a stretch of clear highway.
The Novation Bass Station II is a stellar analog synth
that packs a ton of sound into a small footprint at a truly affordable
price. I highly recommend it if you’re looking to go true analog for the
first time—or if you’d like to add another color to a growing
collection of desktop analog goodness. Plus, the fact that its external
input allows you to process any kind of audio is a huge plus for DAW
users who want to fatten up recorded tracks with analog lushness, making
it a perfect companion for bedroom producers looking to expand their
laptop-based studios. Overall, its value for the money makes it a Key