- When the original Bass Station was released in 1993, it opened up the sound of staple dance synths like the 303 and the Minimoog to a generation of producers who weren't able to afford such gear. Consequently, it has a significant place in the annals of dance music history. Many acts from the mid-'90s—Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack, to name just a few—used it extensively. Synths with a fully analogue signal path are now in demand again, and with a profusion of such devices being released at the moment, it was the right time for Novation to revamp their product.
The Bass Station 2 has been upgraded extensively. There's now an actual filter setting called Acid, which uses the same topology as the 303's diode ladder design. There's an additional sub-oscillator, which beefs up the lower range with a sine, pulse or square wave at either one or two octaves below Oscillator 1. Something that will come as a relief to original Bass Station owners is the inclusion not only of many more controls, but also a more adept preset management system, with 128 spaces for patches rather than the previous eight. All this extra functionality is enabled by a greater number of physical controls, as well as by the digital control circuitry, which enables multiple functions to be handled by any particular physical entity.
Put simply, the instrument is a true workhorse. It has every function you'd want from a one-channel monosynth—no more, no less—and whether we're talking about programming it or integrating it into your wider setup, everything is both tightly organised and immediate. In addition to the sub-oscillator, there are two main oscillators, which can be sine, triangle, sawtooth or pulse. The pulse width is adjustable, and pulse width modulation can come from an LFO, envelope or both. The same can also modulate the pitch of both oscillators. Oscillator sync is available. Ring modulation, noise and an external signal can be mixed in with these three oscillators before the signal is sent to the filter.
Low, high or bandpass options, at either 12- or 24-dB slope, are available. A satisfyingly large knob dials in the cutoff frequency, and the resonance can be pushed to the point where the filter self-oscillates. The cutoff can be modulated by an envelope and LFO. The LFOs themselves have triangle, saw, square and sample-and-hold, and they also have pre-delay, which makes them fade in at a rate of your choosing. They can tempo-sync and even change their waveform by a slew function, which softens their edges. There's an arpeggiator and sequencer section, which allows you to either set your own arp behaviour and rhythmic pattern or record a sequence of up to 32 notes and rests.
Many functions are shared over one rotary, with a switch to flick between them, but I feel there has been a good balance made between unit size and number of controls. The way the synth was designed makes working with it feel more or less unencumbered after a bit of practice. (The switches were the only real gripe I had. They feel decidedly breakable.) A number of settings are also handled as secondary functions of the keys. Generally speaking, these are the kinds of things you don't need to change readily. The effect of velocity, aftertouch and of the modulation wheel is handled here, as well as global settings such as MIDI channel, and even a basic limiter.
Preset management and working with your DAW are, again, very accessible. Little arrows to the right of the LCD display let you know where the original preset setting is when tweaking a control. (With motorized pots being too expensive, and endless rotaries with LEDs just not feeling right, this is a good solution.) All of the controls and keys send out MIDI messages to be recorded as automation, and the messages are all received and played back as your session scrolls.
Where the Moog filter might sound obese, and nothing else sounds quite like an actual 303, the Bass Station 2 doesn't have as much of a characteristic sound. It's a beast, for sure, but a tamed one. It delivers an archetype of whatever sound you're looking for. The preset library is, correspondingly, filled with a range of useful, utilitarian patches, rather than ones that show off the synth's capabilities. It can do a range of bass sounds with plenty of weight and presence. But it isn't just about bass. The leads can be soft and flute-like or searing and brutal. The pre-filter overdrive, post-filter distortion and oscillator filter modulation all help in this area. The latter can result in sharp overtones, crackling distortion or, in combination with oscillator sync, hard formant vocal sounds. And when you want it to, the modulation wheel and aftertouch enable you to channel your inner Keith Emerson, ably recreating some of the key solo lead patches of the early '70s.
In fact, this synth is almost too much fun. You'll want to crank it up to 11 and jam out until it gets silly. If you can resist that temptation, though, you'll find this synth capable of pretty much anything you could put a monosynth up to, whether you're going for wild dubstep sounds, rich percussive Chicago basses or individualistic arp leads. Perhaps it'd be silly to recommend that if you only own one outboard synth, you should make it this one. But when a tool is this well designed for its purpose, it's difficult not to.
Ease of use: 5/5