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Novation Virtual BassStation

Software Plug-in [Mac & PC]
Published December 2003
By Paul White

Novation Virtual BassStation

Novation's V-Station plug-in provided a software version of their hardware K-Station — now there's a software version of their mid-'90s hardware monophonic analogue bass synths, the BassStation and BassStation Rack...

Novation's BassStation Virtual Instrument is the software counterpart to their well-known analogue bass synth of the same name, which were reviewed in SOS, amazingly, back in the mid-'90s. The software emulation behaves so similarly to the original hardware that patches created for the hardware version can be loaded into the software version, if required. All the controls may be automated via any host software that supports MIDI controller automation and 100 factory preset sounds are included, covering most analogue bass genres. The plug-in is also written to be very processor-efficient so that, for example, running on a Pentium 4 1.8GHz machine, it typically takes less than five percent of the available CPU capacity.

Station Platforms

BassStation runs in both Mac and PC environments supporting either VST or Audio Units plug-in formats. Note, however, that Mac users can only use the plug-in under OS X, as OS 9 and earlier versions of Mac OS are not supported. Authorisation is via the familiar 'challenge-and-response' system whereby a unique code is generated upon installation. This code has then to be entered at the Novation web site (www.novationmusic.com), along with the product serial number and owner details, in order to generate an unlock code. Each user is entitled to two authorisations allowing the plug-in to be run on two different computers at the same time, and of course if you change your computer, you can reauthorise via the web site.

I checked out the plug-in in Audio Units format running in Logic Audio under Mac OS X, and installation was both automatic and trouble-free. However, there appears to be no grace period, so you need to authorise the plug-in before you can use it. My code was emailed to me within 10 minutes of registering, but I'd recommend copying the unlock code to the clipboard and then pasting it into the authorisation window, as it comprises some 128 characters in groups of four separated by hyphens, and by the time you've typed this in correctly, electronic synths might just have gone out of fashion!

Station Basement

The sound-generating architecture follows the classic analogue paradigm with two tone oscillators (sawtooth or square wave with pulse-width modulation) modelled on those used in the analogue version. Oscillator 2 may be detuned in both fine and semitone steps as well as being switchable over four octaves, and either oscillator can have its pulse-width modulated manually, from Envelope 2 or via the LFO. These oscillators are processed via a resonant low-pass filter (switchable from 12dB-per-octave to 24dB-per-octave responses), before feeding the digital equivalent of a VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier). There are two ADSR envelope shapers with three trigger mode options and these provide independent control over filter cutoff frequency and amplitude, though ADSR 2 may also be used to control pitch and pulse width. There's also portamento, velocity sensitivity and a multi-waveform LFO that can be sync'ed to MIDI for tempo-related mod effects.

The LFO can generate triangular, sawtooth and random stepped waveforms (the latter useful for creating sample-and-hold style filter and pitch effects) and also has a delay feature to allow it to come in after the note has played for a more 'naturally played' effect. In many ways, then, this is a very simple bass synth, but like its analogue counterparts, its real appeal is its sound.

Bass-ics

The BassStation is strictly monophonic, both in the sense that it's not polyphonic, and also in that it's not stereo, so it's only accessible in Logic Audio from within the Mono plug-in instruments list. The notes trigger on the last-note priority system — in other words, whenever you play a new note, it triggers and the previously sounding note is cut off. Normally, this is exactly what you want a bass synth to do, though there might have been some advantage in offering the traditional analogue high-note priority or low-note priority as options. It's also easy to get decent analogue lead synth sounds out of BassStation, and for programming using your laptop on the train, you can trigger the notes via the on-screen keyboard, which is also velocity sensitive (depending where you click on the keys!).

The Setup screen features most of the same controls as the main screen, but all those on the right of the main screen are replaced with controls relating to the range of the pitch-bend wheel, the mod wheel, aftertouch, and breath control, as well as patch import and export.The Setup screen features most of the same controls as the main screen, but all those on the right of the main screen are replaced with controls relating to the range of the pitch-bend wheel, the mod wheel, aftertouch, and breath control, as well as patch import and export.

The 100 preset sounds can be overwritten or modified, but you can also save your own sounds or banks of sounds according to the method employed by your particular sequencer software. In any event, the current control status is saved when you save the song, so even if you've edited a patch, the song will still load with your version of the sound, not the original preset. Conventional save operations are supported by the Write, Confirm and Compare buttons.

A Setup page allows parameters relating to the mod wheel, bend wheel, aftertouch, and breath control to be set up, some on a per-patch basis and others globally. The import and export routines for moving sounds between software and hardware BassStations are also found here. The manual does a good job of whisking you through the essentials in the minimum of space, but there's also a PDF manual on the install disk that goes into much more depth as well as offering a practical grounding in the principles of analogue synthesis.

The Sound

It's easy to create or edit sounds on BassStation, and it generates the type of bass sounds normally associated with the likes of Roland TB303s and Junos or certain ARP and Moog instruments. Certainly it gets very close to the sound of the analogue BassStation and the digital filter design works very well, even when set near self-resonance, which is where many digital implementations start to sound fake. The level peaks that are generated near resonance can be pretty high though, so you either need to set the channel fader setting in your sequencer mixer carefully to prevent peaking, or place a limiter plug-in after BassStation. Both punchy and drone-like sounds can be achieved with ease, and though I wouldn't go so far as to say the sounds are exactly like any of the commercial analogue models mentioned earlier, you can get very close to these and other classic sounds with relatively little effort. I also found the control automation to work fine within Logic Audio, which isn't always the case with other plug-ins from third-party companies.

Conclusions

If you like the sound of the analogue BassStation but prefer working within a virtual environment, then BassStation is the ideal solution, covering just about every genre of analogue bass sound on offer, as well as being pretty good at basic analogue lead synth sounds. The only users who lose out are Mac OS 9 diehards, but now that most serious software is stable under OS X, perhaps this would be a good time to make the change?

There's little not to like about BassStation, as all its features are straightforward and to the point. It is equally happy spitting out fast-attack bass sounds or fat brassy drones, though my guess is that the dance music composer market will get most excited about the product, as all those de rigeur dance/trance/techno bass sounds are there on a plate. In all, this is a nicely executed product that delivers the goods without unnecessary complexity or frills.

Published December 2003