Review: Novation Bass Station II
The resurgence of analog synthesizers continues with the release of Novation's Bass Station II, a workmanlike—albeit powerful—bass synth capable of producing thick, resonant low-end frequencies. It's the sequel to Novation's original Bass Station (which debuted a full 20 years ago), resembling its forbear in appearance but adding greatly to its sonic arsenal. It has 25 full-sized, velocity-sensitive keys with assignable aftertouch, and while certainly a bass synth first, it's plenty capable of sharp leads, fluid arpeggios, and noises of various other shapes and sizes.
How It Looks
While the Bass Station II may not be the most elaborately styled piece of kit in the world, it's clearly been designed with efficiency in mind. Knobs and switches are all intuitively arranged and given ample space to breathe, making it incredibly easy to jump in and start mucking about (filter cutoff gets an oversized knob). For controls without dedicated knobs or sliders, each of the keys can be used in conjunction with the unit's function button to further tweak your sound. All relevant connections are around back, including USB, MIDI in/out, headphones, line output, external in and sustain. One thing worth mentioning is the synthesizer's weight, or lack thereof— pick it up and it feels more like a MIDI controller than an analog synthesizer. This can be a good or a bad thing: While certainly much more pleasant to tote around on tour (or even around the studio), it perhaps lacks some degree of reassuring heft.
How It Sounds
In a word, beefy. This is version two of Novation's original bass synth, and it sounds very much the part. The Classic option sounds like an enhanced version of the original Bass Station—thick, nasty, and noisy. There are two main analog oscillators, enhanced by a sub oscillator, and editing is as simple as selecting one from a rocker switch and then adjusting waveform, coarse, and more. A mixer section lets you blend the volumes of the various oscillators, in addition to external sources, ring modulation and a noise generator. On top of the original low-pass filter, you'll also get high- and band-pass variants as well, available with 12dB or 24dB slopes. Oh, and an Acid filter option, which evokes the 303. The Bass Station II offers lots to play with and plenty of versatility.
Of special note are the built in arpeggiator and sequencer, which are loads of fun. The arp has a host of playback modes (up, down, random, etc.), along with tempo and rhythm dials to manipulate. Recording and playing back customized short patterns with the sequencer is extremely intuitive, as it records each note in sequence, using the latch button for rests. The MIDI data can even be output via USB.
The Bottom Line
Novation has developed an impressive synthesizer with the Bass Station II—one capable of churning out huge, growling bass sounds and plenty more, with an interface that provides a solid balance between approachability and complexity. Though there's only a small display (three-digit LED) and the case is made of plastic (it feels durable enough), it's a great way to get some proper analog warmth into the studio without breaking the bank or occupying too much desk space.