The Novation Bass Station II has been around for a couple of years (announced in 2013) but it’s lineage dates back to the original Bass Station which was produced in 1993. The Bass Station from back in the 90’s was used on countless hip-hop and R&B joints with notable usage by the RZA and Mobb Deep (If I’m not mistaken I recall a video where members of Mobb Deep briefly mentioned the Bass Station rack mounted model). All in all, the Novation Bass Station II’s 2013 release marked the return of a rather legendary analog synth.But not only did it return, it came back and remained analog, small and beastly.
Novation Bass Station II 25-key Monophonic Analog Synthesizer Features:
- Monophonic analog synthesizer keyboard primed for huge bass sounds
- Two discrete filter designs give you two distinct flavors to create your sounds
- Dual oscillators can be hard-synced for tighter, punchier bass
- Sub-oscillator with square, sine, and narrow pulse-width waveforms adds rich, full low-end
- Dedicated knobs and faders, and aftertouch allow for very expressive performances
- 64 factory presets, 64 user slots
- Built-in arpeggiator and step sequencer with 32 different rhythmic patterns
- “LFO Slew” feature lets you distort the LFO waveforms for more modulation possibilities
- External input for processing line-level audio signals
- Powered by AC or USB bus power
Where as the Bass Station was described by vintagesynth.com as having used “digitally synchronized analog oscillators (DCO’s) to reproduce the sounds of a monophonic dual-osc analog synthesizer with simple and intuitive controls via 17 knobs, 10 switches and 2 Moog-style pitch/mod wheels.” The all new Bass Station II finds itself updated yet remaining pretty true to form with its “Two pure analogue, sync-able and tunable oscillators with four selectable waveforms, plus a third sub-oscillator (with square, sine, and narrow pulse-width waveforms), noise and ring modulation.”
In addition to the pure analog grime, dirt and madness of the sub-oscillator, noise and ring modulation dials the BS2 has a gang of new and improved I/O. I’ve used it with USB, which powers it and sends midi data. It was a delight to connect one USB cable and one audio cable to get down to business. That made it really easy to have it immediately recognized by the computer, Ableton Live and the MPC software. Configuring the virtual midi inputs and such in Ableton and MPC was as simple as plugging it in with USB and clicking a couple of drop down menus and BOOM!!! It also has a switch for power off / DC powered / bus powered. I’ve rocked it either way, USB or power cord.
Inputs and Outputs
- USB MIDI (for connecting & powering Bass Station II via host computer)
- Mono output on 1/4″ TRS jack
- Headphone output on 1/4″ TRS jack
- External input on 1/4″ TRS jack
- Sustain pedal input on 1/4″ TS jack
- MIDI IN / MIDI OUT ports on 5 pin din
- DC power input
- Switch between power off / DC powered / bus powered
So, I have to tell you that the build quality is a concern. It’s a plastic build and casing as are many synths now a days but for an analog beast of this stature I’d expect something a bit more substantial. In comparison the Arturia brutes are plastic cases with a metal bottom plate but the plastic on the Brutes seem to be a bit more thick and durable. In contrast, and likely purposefully done, the BS2 is considerably lighter in weight with 25 full size keys. There is something to be said for such a great sounding synth that is so travel friendly and portable. At 457mm (18”) width x 273mm (10.75”) depth x 76mm (3”) height, this joint can easily accompany you on any trip and it will not by any means break your back or the strap of your backpack weighing in at about 1lb or so. Feature wise the Bass Station 2 is nearly untouchable in its price range. For the girth of its offering I’m surprised it doesn’t cost more than its typical sub $600 tag.
We know about the voice architecture from above with it’s “Dual oscillators can be hard-synced for tighter, punchier bass” and sub osc, ring mod and noise but there is also the selectable envelope (Amp, Mod & Amp plus Mod) switch with ADSR sliders.
The envelopes are described in more detail by Novation as having “The first envelope is an ADSR amp envelope, and the second is a mod envelope that can be used to modulate filter frequency, oscillator pitch and osc pulse width. LFO One is dedicated to pitch modulation whereas LFO is used to modulate osc pulse width and filter frequency. Although it looks like there are four LFO waveforms, the LFO Slew function can be used freely to sculpt LFOs into smoother wave-shapes, creating many more LFO possibilities.”
The mixer section allows you to blend as much or as little of the sound sources into the overall sound and even includes an external control shared with the ring mod and accessible with the flip of a switch. The filter is pretty well equipped to allow your preference of shaping sound with it’s “multi-mode Classic Filter between low, hi and band pass with 12 and 24dB slopes” which was derived from the O.G. ‘ 90s Bass Station and with the flip of a switch you have the 303 inspired 24dB Acid Filter. I myself prefer the classic filter but both are super useful when in need of various sounds from this one beastly little monster synth.
To further the versatility it comes with this little grimy section for the distortion knob and Osc Filter Mod knob. Novation describes it as a way to “Create crunchy, aggressive sounds with fully analogue distortion, filter-modulation effects and a separate filter overdrive.” I’d have to agree that this is where stuff gets ugly in a really beautiful way. With my affinity for delay effects I ran the BS2 thru my BOSS RE-20 analog tape delay effect and began toying around with the distortion and Osc Filter Mod knobs and my goodness the room was filled with crazy space vamps and deep growling drones with mythical trails of grime. I know… colorful words but I guess you’d have to be there to see what I mean.
Adding in the flexibility of the modulation area “Triangle, sawtooth and square LFO waveforms, as well as sample and hold, and two ADSR envelopes for filter, pitch and pulse width modulation.”
A bit deeper into it’s full featured set there is the Arpeggiator. I don’t know if there is anything I miss more on a synth when it’s not there than a dope Arp. In which case, the Bass Station 2 rocks a pretty solid pattern-based arpeggiator and step sequencer. There are 32 rhythms, tempo knob with tempos from 40bpm to 240bpm, legato, latch, and various patterns (up, down, random etc). It’s also worth noting here that you can “Record notes, ties, rests and rhythms in real-time using the step sequencer and arpeggiator, then easily store them, recall them and use them with any patch you like.”
I dug into this joint for hours latching and unlatching and playing runs with the arp on. It’s a really inspiring section of the synth especially when added to all of the actual sound sculpting features.
Additionally, and perhaps most convenient, you have preset memory where you can store 64 factory presets and there are 64 slots for user patches (and patch dump facility for storing more).
The sound of this little synth is anything but little. I can honestly say as a Moog synth owner and having owned several analog synths that I can get some pretty impressive bass sounds from this Bass Station II. I am not by any means comparing it to any Moog that I’ve owned but I know what my tastes are and sometimes you just need a nice meaty sub bass to put that bounce and hump in your sub woofer. The Bass Station 2 is one of my go to mono synths for that lately and truthfully serves me well with a variety of bass sounds and leads and odd drones that I’d usually go to the Moog to get. There is something that is so immediate and girthy and dirty and just as warm or just as dirty as you can imagine.
The best uses are bass and leads of almost any style but its also a great synth with which to sharpen your drum design skills.
Below we have the pads from some soft synth (can’t recall which), Bass and Lead craziness is courtesy of the Novation Bass Station 2 in use with the Elektron RYTM analog drum machine sequenced by the MPC Ren.
A video posted by BboyTechReport (@bboytechreport) on
Certainly, in contrast, no soft synths can come close to the real girth and dirt and sheer behemoth of the sound of the Bass Station 2. You can literally retire a good number of your soft synths and satisfy your graving for more expensive hardware synths with this one little monster. It’s a definite winner. Besides the plastic build I would say there isn’t much I’d change about it besides the odd little “not so hidden features” function section where you go into functions mode to select and configure various aspects of play etc. But even that is understandable and not off-putting when you consider the amount of functionality that it adds for the cost and portability.
The long and short of it is that this monosynth is a winner for the newbie and the seasoned mono synth heads. Though it is not as solid of a build as I’d like in terms of sturdiness and indestructibility, and that in itself is an initial turn off, the sound more than makes up for it. To that point, I have to believe that the build is part of what makes it such an affordable piece. Let this not be misinterpreted though. I think the full sized are great and they have keys have really nice synth action. The knobs feel good and are spaced appropriately as well. Its just that the body is surprisingly light weight. But I kid you not, it sits on top of my Rhodes next to my Voyager and they all get good use in my lab. That’s speaks volumes about the Bass Station 2, not really as a comparison but as a testament to its dopeness and ability to hold its own amongst the giants.
Honestly, if you are on a budget and having to choose between some super featured and hyper marketed mono synth priced at more than $1000 I’d have to point you in the direction of the Bass Station 2 for approximately half the price at $499.
For more info head over to Novation’s Bass Station 2 product page – http://global.novationmusic.com/synths/bass-station-ii#