Novation Bass Station II Review

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Function: Analog bass synthesizer
Price: $499.99
What’s New:  In a modern, digital world, is there room for one more analog synth?  With the market oversaturated with VST plugins, modeling synths, and digital emulations, the Novation Bass Station II shows us why analog synthesizers will never truly be replaced. 
 
Features:  Based on the classic original Bass Station, the Bass Station II is a mono synthesizer with two oscillators (and a sub oscillator), two filters, a step sequencer, arpeggiator, and fully analog effects section.  Bearing a resemblance to its ancestor with its black, white and blue color scheme, the Bass Station II sports full sized, synth-action keys and a patch save function.  The back controls are fairly straightforward: power on/off/bus powered (via USB), mono ¼” output, ¼” sustain pedal in, mono ¼” external audio in, MIDI 5 pin I/O, ¼” headphone out, and a USB port.  The oscillators are capable of generating sine, triangle, sawtooth, and square/variable pulse width waveforms and both oscillators can be synced, detuned, and played at four different octaves.  All the oscillators then are processed by the mixer section, which also allows the noise generator, ring modulator and an optional external audio source to be mixed together.  The signal then travels to the filter section, where the user can choose between two filter types, an “Acid type” (diode ladder type), and the “Classic type” based on the original Bass Station filter.  Both LFO’s are independently adjustable between rate and delay time and feature triangle, sawtooth, square, and sample and hold waveforms.  Amp and modulation envelopes control attack, decay, release, and sustain and pass the signal to a distortion send and filter mod effect.  The arpeggiator features 32 different patterns between up to 4 octaves and the step sequencer offers 32 preset rhythms and allows you to create your own.  The keyboard can be powered by an included power adapter or via USB from a host computer, making it a mini MIDI controller as well as a hardware synth.  One of my favorite features is the external audio input, which routes through the filter and effects section of the Bass Station II.  Octave switching and transposition is achieved via two big blue buttons above the mod wheel and pitch bend.  For giant octave leaps, the Bass Station II’s pitch bend is automatically set for an octave bend on the majority of its presets.
 
Feel:  Everything on the Bass Station II feels great.  Every knob and slider feels natural and smooth and the full-sized keys feel great.  The two octaves are more than enough for natural-sounding synth bass playing.  To my satisfaction, none of the controls felt cheap or loose, (a BIG concern of mine on both the Arturia Minibrute and Korg MS-20 mini) and the keyboard feels great.  The blue lights in the pitch bend and mod wheel are a nice modern touch, giving the keyboard a modern accent to an otherwise classic look. 
All these little touches add to the idea that you’re playing a pro keyboard, not a toy. 
 
Sound:  As soon as I heard the first note on the Bass Station II, I knew it was a unique synth.  With its twin oscillators and filters, the Bass Station II sounds huge and focused at the same time.  The first preset is a basic synthesizer setup and it shows off the sound of the oscillators and filter section quite well.  Detuning the oscillators slightly creates massive bass textures, especially when adding the sub oscillator.  My personal favorite part of the synth is the filter section.  The extra large cutoff frequency knob allows pinpoint control over the filter cutoff, and as it’s the biggest knob on the control surface, you’ll never have to look for it in the dark.  The overdrive is a real standout.  Warm and growly, it’s hard not to crank the drive it sounds so good!  The LFO’s and modulation section give complete control over every aspect of the synth you could possibly want, and it’s possible to route and assign the mod wheel to control almost any feature.  A completely unique sound, the Bass Station II falls (roughly) somewhere between a Juno 106 and Roland TB-303: big and fat but focused and crisp as well.  Although made for bass, the Bass Station II sounds great for leads and the arpeggiator makes it perfect for rhythmic, pulsing sounds.  One of the most helpful features of the Bass Station II is the fact that you can dial in the tempo to the exact bpm, especially helpful for syncing the arpeggiator and step sequencer to tempo without MIDI.  The distortion effect at the end of the chain sounds fantastic, giving the bass a nasty edge while retaining the clarity and low end. 
            As an owner of the Novation Bass Station plugin, I tried the hardware against its software companion out of curiosity.  Although the plugin sounded good, there was no comparison in the low end; the Bass Station II was bigger, wider, and crispy than the plug, even when I switched the software to stereo. 
 
Bottom Line:  If you want a synth bass, the Bass Station II is the best in its price range.  You won’t find another synth that sounds or feels as good with as many features as this for under $500.  Although it may seem like a one-trick pony, the monophonic Bass Station II offers more with its one note than most digital emulations and modeling synths.  Its completely unique sound makes it stand out a lot more than other classic keyboards and the feel of the controls top all the analog synths in its class.  The Bass Station II offers a tremendous value and quality and I wouldn’t be surprised if just like its ancestor 10-20 years down the road, it becomes a highly sought-after classic. 
 
For more information about the Bass Station II and other products by Novation, visit novationmusic.com. 

Yamaha HS8 Review

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Function:  Studio Monitors
Price:  $349.99 (Each)
What’s NewWhen talking about Yamaha studio monitors, the classic NS10M is probably the first thing that comes to conversation.  Since the late 70s, the NS10M has been the workhorse of countless studios and producers because of its pronounced midrange and for being brutally revealing.  The HS8 is the latest studio monitor from Yamaha, and in the tradition of its forefather, offers outstanding sound quality for an extremely accurate mix: a worthy successor of the NS10M for today’s world.
 
Features:  The HS8 is a two-way, bass-reflex, nearfield monitor featuring an 8” woofer and 1” dome tweeter.  Controls include one XLR and one TRS input jack, level control, a high trim switch, and a room control switch that cuts frequencies under 500Hz by 2 or 4 dB when engaged.  With a frequency response of 38Hz to 30kHz, the HS8 provides an extremely wide range of audio. 
 
Sound:  Set up in my small (but well treated) 11×10 room, the HS8s sounded great.  The frequency response was flat and balanced, (even flatter than the older HS80M in my opinion) and stereo imaging was amazing!  The highs were smooth and clear and the lows powerful and present.  Onto the midrange: the mids of the HS8 make them some of the most revealing speakers I’ve ever heard.  Not hyped or accentuated, the midrange reminded me instantly of the classic NS10M sound, laying the vocal bare and letting you hear the true nature of your mix.  I’ve always struggled with ear fatigue using NS-10Ms all day, and the more balanced HS8s helps my ears tremendously.  I found the low end to be tight and present and more than enough for most genres, although if you mix dance or hip-hop, you may want to look at the HS8S subwoofer, made to work perfectly with the HS8 line. 
 
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for monitors that will provide the truest, most accurate mix to help your mixes translate on any system, the HS8 is the perfect speaker for you.  The HS8s offer tremendous quality for the price and sounds great in any environment.  Its balanced sound and even bass distribution makes the HS8 a worthy successor of the NS10M, and in many regards a better speaker to mix music on in today’s world. 
 
Fore more information about the HS8s visit yamaha.com.  

-Andy Toy

M-Audio M3-8 Review

M Audio M38

Function: Studio Monitors

Price: $349.99 (Each)

What’s New: The M3-8s are the newest studio monitors from M-Audio.  A three-way design, The M3-8 sports a low, mid, and high driver and enough power for any studio application. 

 

Features:  Housed in an attractive wood cabinet, the M3-8 features an 8” woofer, 5” mid driver and a 1” tweeter.  The midrange and high drivers are set inline to aid with stereo imaging and provides a unique look to the monitors.  Controls are all placed on the rear panel and include volume, low, mid, and high EQ controls, EQ on/bypass switch, and a low cut switch that filters out frequencies at either 80Hz or 100Hz.  Inputs include balanced XLR and TRS and unbalanced RCA in. 

 

Sound:  Right away I could tell the M3-8s were going to be a lot of fun.  At 220 Watts, the M3-8s provide plenty of volume and sound great at loud volumes.   After playing with the EQ controls, I found a setting that sounded good and flat in my room, and started playing music to get a sense of how the monitors responded.  The first thing I noticed was the bass.  In my small (but well treated) room, I was hearing low end like I never did before!  You don’t just hear low end with the M3-8s, you experience it.  Dance, hip-hop, and rock and roll sounded phenomenal!  In addition to deep, punchy bass, the midrange was smooth and worked nicely with the top end, which was clear and not harsh at all.  Working all day, I had very little ear fatigue with the M3-8s, which came as a relief after years of working NS10s (which fatigue my ears on a daily basis!).  A note of caution, be sure not to lay the monitors on their side, it messes with the stereo imaging quite a bit, and gives a false sense of the width of your mix. 

 

Bottom Line:  The M3-8s are a producer’s dream.  Powerful and loud enough for any situation, huge frequency response, deep bass balanced with smooth midrange and top end M3-8s are a great pair of monitors and a ton of fun, especially when programming or working up tracks.  The added midrange driver sets the M3-8 apart from most studio monitors in its price range and makes a huge difference in the sound and stereo imaging. Depending on your room, you’ll probably need to EQ the speakers to your taste, but once set, the M3-8 delivers a pure, smooth sound that will stand with any other monitor in its class.

 

For more information about the M3-8s and other products by Maudio, visit maudio.com

-Andy Toy
Tech Editor, WL mag

 

PreSonus Eris E8 Review

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Function: Studio Monitors
Price: $249.95 (each)
What’s NewThe Eris E8s are brand new two-way speakers from PreSonus.  Joined by their little brother the E5s, the Eris line is PreSonus’ first foray into the world of studio monitors, with outstanding results. 
 
Features:  The E8s come in a sleek, all black enclosure with a little blue logo that lights up when they power on.  All inputs are in the rear, including XLR, balanced TRS, and unbalanced RCA line ins.  In addition to standard input gain, the E8s have an “Acoustic Tuning” section of low, midrange, and high frequency controls.  The E8s also feature an “Acoustic Space” control that cuts the low frequencies at 800 Hz by 2 or 4 dB, for control over bass buildup when monitors are placed close against a wall.  The frequency response is an incredible 35 Hz – 22kHz, quite impressive for 8-inch woofers and perfect for mixing without a sub.  At 130 watts, the E8s provide plenty of volume for any listening environment.
 
Sound:  The Eris E8s sounded great the minute I plugged them into my Apogee Quartet.  I work in a small, well-treated room and have my desk about two thirds of the way into the room, so I didn’t need to utilize the “Acoustic Space” feature on the E8s.  The switch works quite well though, and can be quite useful in small rooms where space is tight and monitors need to be placed near the wall.  I tend to be a “set flat and forget” type of engineer, so I set all the EQs flat and the gains to unity and fired them up.  Right away I was blown away by the depth and three-dimensional nature of the speakers.  They had great stereo imaging, deep bass, clear highs, and the midrange was not overemphasized at all.  After listening to some of my favorite records I decided to try some tracking.  I was particularly impressed with the high-mids and top end, the E8s offer a lot of detail but don’t hype the high mids at all, so listening and working for long periods don’t fatigue my ears (something that has plagued me for years using NS-10s).  The low end is quite nice on the E8s and provides detail and focus for making bass and kick tight and punchy.  I did a quick mix of a demo I was working on and it translated wonderfully in my car, iPhone, and laptop without any tweaks (to my relief).  Overall the Eris E8s are quite balanced and let me listen for hours without any ear fatigue. 
 
Bottom Line:  This is the best pair of monitors under $500 that we’ve heard.  The fact that my ears didn’t get tired after 8 hours of using the E8s is a huge deal. I engineered a session all day long and never felt uncomfortable in the least.  If you have enough space for 8” woofers, there’s nothing not to like about these monitors.  At just $499 for the pair, they easily outpace other contenders in their price range in sound quality and features, and the added EQs make them a great option in less than ideal listening conditions.
 
For more information about the Eris E8s and other products by PreSonus, visit PreSonus.com.

Novation Launchpad S Review

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Function: MIDI Controller for Ableton Live
Price: $169.99
What’s New: It’s safe to say that when Novation released the original Launchpad in 2009, it completely revolutionized the way electronic musicians used Ableton Live.  Now in 2013, the Launchpad S is a fresh, revamped MIDI controller that includes all the features of the old design plus some brand new goodies.  Designed in conjunction with the folk at Ableton, the Launchpad S is an 64 button, pad-based MIDI controller designed specifically to work perfectly with Live
The beauty of the device is its simplicity.  Completely bus-powered, Launchpad S sports big, bright, multi-colored pads (upgraded brightness from the original) that let you control your entire session without ever looking at the computer.  The updated plug-and-play drivers work perfectly with Mac OS X and Windows 7 and 8, plus the Launchpad S is now MIDI class-compliant, which allows the Launchpad S to work seamlessly with any MIDI application.  Just plug in the hardware via an extremely thick, heavy-duty USB cable, (we were quite impressed with this cable!) open up Live and the Automap software does the work for you. 
Upon opening a Live session, the controller displays the first 8 scenes and clips as lights on the grid.  Just touch a pad that you want to play or trigger the whole scene with the button on the right.  Up, down, left, and right arrows make easy navigation for big sessions, and a dedicated mixer mode lets you control volume, pan, FX sends, solo, and track arming without even looking at the computer.  Two user modes allows for customization and can turn the Launchpad S into a drum machine or synthesizer at the touch of a button. 
As a controller, the Launchpad S is sturdy and well built; the pads feel great, the lights are even brighter than before, and the exterior is a hard plastic with non-slip bottom feet.  Included with the hardware is a free download of Ableton Live Launchpad edition, a loop library from Loopmasters, and a software plugin version of Novation’s Bass Station.  One note: the included software is only available via free download, there are no CD’s included in the Launchpad S packaging, so if you’re counting on using these when you open the box, be sure you have an internet connection. The Launchpad S has a dedicated iPad app that hosts its own sounds and effects and works with the hardware through a simple adapter sold separately.
If you’ve ever been intimidated by Ableton Live, the Launchpad S is the answer.  There’s no assigning, MIDI mapping, or trouble-shooting, just plug in the controller and press play.  Launchpad S is a perfect compliment to Live to trigger loops and click seamlessly between songs and throughout the entire set.  Launchpad S’s ease of use, great price, and flawless integration with Ableton makes it our number one pick as a MIDI controller for Live. 
 
Visit novationmusic.com for more information about the Launchpad S and other products by Novation. 
-Andy Toy
Tech Editor
Worship Leader Magazine