Novation Bass Station 2 Review (Analog Synth)

Novation Basstation Review

 

 

The Novation Bass Station 2, a sequel to the Bass Station, is a 25-key analog synthesizer with elaborate capabilities and sound. It consists of two main oscillators, one sub-oscillator, and a Ring Noise Oscillator, along with 2 LFOs, an envelope, low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass filters, distortion effects, an arpeggiator, a mod wheel, a pitch wheel, and a preset browser with a display screen. 

In this article, I will explore this analog synth to the core and will break it down so you can decide whether to purchase it or not.

Build Quality 

I really like the overall build of the Bass Station 2, a departure from its flimsier predecessor. Crafted from sturdy plastic, this synth exudes durability with no discernible flex. The front panel presents a myriad of connections, including headphone output, mono line output, external input, sustain pedal, foot switch, MIDI ports, and a USB connection for computer integration.

As I explored the front panel, I encountered tactile and dependable knobs. The large filter knob, in particular, demanded attention. The backlit mod and pitch wheels and a two-octave keyboard featuring aftertouch contributed to an intuitive and visually accessible interface.

The black plastic facade and rounded edges retain a touch of fragility, but the toy-like row of knobs has given way to a panel layout featuring well-organized knobs, switches, and sliders. The aesthetic refinement, especially evident in the sizable knob dedicated to sweeping the filter’s cutoff frequency, adds a touch of class to the new iteration.

Workflow Overview and Improvements

This time, unlike in Bass Station 1, battery power isn’t an option; the Bass Station 2 can be powered via USB or the included adapter. Connecting a standard quarter-inch guitar lead to the output beckons you to explore the sonic possibilities of patch 1.

However, it has a weird bug of defaulting to patch one upon power-up. The rear panel includes essential features like a headphone socket, mono line output, external input, sustain pedal inputs, MIDI I/O, USB port, power switch, and an input for the external power supply.

Novation Basstation Review

Presets

The memory banks, with the first 64 presets pre-populated at the factory and also 64 user presets, provide ample room for exploration and customization, a departure from the restrictions of the original Bass Station rack.

Dispensing with the conventional menu system, the three-character display serves adequately for patch selection and displaying numeric values resulting from panel adjustments. The absence of a screen doesn’t hinder the synth’s functionality; rather, it enhances the immediacy of tweaking parameters.

A dedicated Save button encourages the creation of original sounds, and the process is streamlined with the ability to audition destination memory slots before finalizing the save. While no conventional menu system exists, the ‘On-Key Functions’ offer access to deeper settings, including MIDI channel assignment, patch export, synth tuning, and wheel routing. These functions provide flexibility without cluttering the front panel.

Controls

Oscillators

The Bass Station 2 features two analog oscillators, digitally controlled for precision. From classic sawtooth to diverse waveforms like sine, triangle, sawtooth, and square pulse width, the oscillators offer a broad sonic palette. Pulse width modulation is accessible via mod envelope or LFO2, showcasing flexibility in shaping tones.

Additionally, there is a sub-oscillator with a two-octave range and sine, pulse width, and square waveforms. You also get a ring noise oscillator

Finally, the mixer section lets you combine oscillators, sub-oscillators, and an external input for additional processing and balance their levels. The noise generator adds texture, while the multi-function knob introduces external input and a ring modulator for more sonic versatility.

Filters

The synthesizer hosts two filter types:  the classic 4-pole 12 dB and 24 dB, with switchable low-pass diode ladder, and 2/4-pole low-pass, band-pass, and high-pass modes. The acid filter, reminiscent of the iconic 303, delivers distinctive resonance and self-oscillation. The Bass Station 2’s filter stands out with its drive and distortion features, offering a dynamic range from clean to harmonically rich.

Modulators

The Novation Bass Station comes packed with two LFOs (Low-Frequency Oscillators) and one envelope with ADSR sliders. Picture this: the smooth, flowing nature of the Triangle waveform for those dreamy and gradual shifts, the classic and rich modulation character of the Sawtooth waveform, or the pulse-pounding, rhythmic effects of the Square waveform. Then, the S&H (Sample & Hold) brings unpredictability and complexity to your sonic palette.

The Speed parameter lets you shape the tempo or frequency of the LFO’s magic, allowing you to go from slow, evolving changes to vibrant, vibrato-like effects. The Delay parameter lets you play with time, introducing a delay before the LFO kicks in. 

These modulators are quite hands-on and work for me really well, especially during live performances and while recording more modulations in my sessions. You can use it to create a soothing pad, interesting basslines with rhythmic pulses, unconventional modulations with S&H, and more. 

Next, you also get ADSR sliders that you can set to work as the amplitude envelope, modulator envelope, or both. You can also set the Enevlope to auto glide, single, or multiple triggering modes. 

Novation Basstation Review

Effects

You get two effects: Distortion and Oscillator FM. I loved the distortion effect on this synth for adding grit, warmth, and character to sounds. Positioned as a post-filter overdrive, the Distortion knob allows you to dial in the intensity of the distortion effect.

The synth also introduces oscillator modulation, enabling frequency modulation-style effects for added creativity. Including two LFOs with a decay setting further expands the modulation capabilities.

Sequencer and Arpeggiator

The 32-step step sequencer, reminiscent of the SH101, stands out in the modern synth scene. What’s impressive is not just one but four separate sequences that stick around even after a power cycle. And here’s the kicker – it captures note velocity and seamlessly transmits patterns over MIDI/USB.

Novation Basstation Review

Now, let’s talk arpeggiator. With modes like ‘Random’ and ‘As Played,’ it’s a rhythmic powerhouse that perfectly complements the sequencer. The Latch button is a lifesaver for hands-free playing and sustaining those bass drones. Clock sync functionality is also a decent feature, automatically locking to the MIDI clock received via USB or MIDI input.

Oh, and the tempo control? It’s just what you need for some impromptu mad acceleration. Next, Bass Station’s four arpeggio octaves give you a wide sonic range to play with. The arp modes, including ‘up,’ ‘down,’ ‘up-down 1,’ ‘up-down 2,’ ‘played,’ ‘random,’ ‘play,’ and ‘record,’ offer satisfactory versatility for creative exploration.

Additional Features

The Bass Station 2 surprises with hidden functions accessible through the function button, providing additional modulation options like slew for LFOs. Oscillator sync, a sequencer, and an arpeggiator add depth to the synth’s capabilities.

Overall, I appreciate the thoughtful design choices in the Novation Bass Station. I find the backlit blue wheels and the compact two-octave keyboard not limiting but a unique feature.

Novation Basstation Review

The full-sized keys, equipped with velocity sensitivity and aftertouch, provide a thoroughly satisfying playing experience. While there isn’t a conventional screen, the clear three-character display steps up to the plate, making patch selection and value adjustments a breeze.

Now, there’s a small quibble – the filter’s absence of variable keyboard tracking. However, let me tell you, the solid control layout and functionality quickly overshadow this minor hiccup.

Lastly, for backup and transfer, you also get the Novation Components software that is compatible with Windows 8 and newer and MacOS X 10.9 or later operating systems

Sonic Canvas

Delving into the heart of Bass Station 2, its analog signal path, comprising two oscillators, two LFOs, two envelopes, and two filters, delivers a rich sonic palette. The DCO oscillators offer warmth and flexibility with their higher-resolution tuning controls. 

The presence of a sub-oscillator, tied to the frequency of oscillator 1, enhances the synth’s lower frequencies, and the small mixer section simplifies level controls for oscillators, sub, white noise, ring modulation, and external sources.

The classic ‘Classic’ filter, designed by Chris Huggett, presents versatile options with 12dB and 24dB slopes and low-, band-, and high-pass modes. Adding the ‘Acid’ filter, a 24dB diode ladder design, introduces darker tones.

Bi-polar modulation possibilities abound, with the mod envelope and LFO2 serving as sources for the filter. The ‘Effects’ section, featuring distortion and oscillator filter modulation, adds a final layer of sonic manipulation. Distortion is a powerful tool, especially when paired with the Acid filter, while audio-level filter modulation delivers a distinctive character to the sound.

I would use Bass Station 2 for its ability to produce deep basslines. To my ears, it finds a natural home in techno, house, trance, and dubstep and drum & bass. The synthesizer’s analog warmth and capacity to recreate classic sounds make it a fitting choice for genres rooted in ’80s nostalgia, such as synthwave and retrowave.

I am also impressed with the gritty distortion capabilities that are pretty helpful for creating more industrial sounds. That enables me to craft more aggressive and experimental sounds. For ambient and experimental music, the Bass Station 2 also has solid modulation options, effects, and unique filters, allowing for the creation of atmospheric and evolving textures.

Pros & Cons

Regarding the positives, the Bass Station 2 emerges as a rich-sounding analog synthesizer that won’t break the bank. The inclusion of patch memories adds a layer of convenience without compromising on the sonic goodness. The sequencer, for me, provided instant enjoyment, and its ability to transmit output via MIDI got well-integrated into my workflow.

The keyboard, despite its compact size, impresses with velocity and aftertouch capabilities, enhancing the overall expressive potential. Additionally, MIDI data is transmitted from every control, ensuring comprehensive connectivity. I love how portable and lightweight it is. It can integrate into any setup, whether a bedroom studio or a professional setup. 

Novation Basstation Review

On the flip side, there are a couple of drawbacks to consider. The keyboard length felt a bit restrictive to me for certain tasks, posing a potential limitation. The absence of ‘pot pickup’ is a notable con, affecting the immediacy of control adjustments. Further, the synth’s multi-functionality might require a learning curve, as it doesn’t follow a straightforward ‘what you see is what you get’ approach.

Finally, this synth is almost a decade old, and some people may consider it outdated. However, there was a 2019 firmware update, so I suggest that you check the manufacturing date before buying and buy the models manufactured after 2019

Is Novation Bass Station 2 Still Relevant in 2024?

Despite it being a decade old, I believe Bass Station 2 has successfully stood the test of time. Its sound quality is pretty solid, and its ability to produce distinctive distorted bass tones is also quite impressive

I am a fan of its cutoff frequency knob, which is designed to emulate the wasp filter. I like the smooth operation and high resolution of the filter and its innovative use of two MIDI CCs to eliminate the common issue of steepness found in other analog synths. Syncable LFOs add rhythmic versatility, along with the arpeggiator’s 32 different rhythms, and various options enhance the instrument’s creative capabilities.

Bass Station 2’s modern integration features, such as USB-powered operation and MIDI connectivity, position it as an adaptable instrument in contemporary setups. The 2019 firmware update, with additions like oscillator drift and the AFEX mode, reflects the manufacturer’s commitment to providing users with up-to-date functionalities, ensuring the synth’s continued relevance. The implementation of the sub-oscillator, highlighted in the 2019 update, also stands out for its unique decoupling feature.

Conclusion

Novation Bass Station 2 really stood out to me as a synthesizer. The solid build, striking a balance between solidity and portability, coupled with its intuitive interface, lightweight, and a nod to classic aesthetics, makes it even more attractive.

The synth delivers a palette of decently rich and deep sounds. Its drive and dirt capabilities add a layer of raw energy. The synth could have benefited from a more extensive preset library, offering a broader range of starting points. Additionally, the power lead’s length falls short, presenting a minor inconvenience that could be addressed for enhanced practicality.

Despite minor yearnings for features like variable filter tracking, the Bass Station 2 still proves to be an acceptable and affordable analog synthesizer. I hope this article helped you understand Bass Station 2 a little more. Thank you for reading. 

Buy Novation Bass Station 2 on Thomann

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