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. 

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