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Peavey Spectrum Bass II

Digital Phase Modulation Synthesizer
Published October 1997

If you're tempted to try out the whole Spectrum of bass sounds, Peavey have updated an old favourite, and Nick Rowland has the lowdown...

Having scored a considerable success with the first‑generation Spectrum Bass a couple of years back, Peavey have now realeased its sequel, not unreasonably titled the Spectrum Bass II. To merit the addition of the extra digits, they've updated the range of sounds and increased its capacity from 200 to 256 presets, as well as improving polyphony and multitimbrality — up 50% to 12 notes and six parts respectively. With an eye on the revival of interest in all things squelchy, they've added to the synthesizer engine such things as multiple filter types, hard sync, oscillator offset and portamento, to allow the Bass II to emulate more realistically the sounds of Ye Olde Analogue Synths.

In essence, though, the concept is the same. A 1U‑high, 19‑inch rackmounting box stuffed full of instantly accessible bottom end. Acoustic, electric, fretless, analogue and digital synths, harmonics, slaps, pops — they're all in here, along with a few that defy categorisation. Like the original, the Bass II is primarily designed for Kwik Fix Dial‑A‑Preset use, with all editing carried out remotely, through either a software editor or Peavey's own dedicated hardware programmer, the PC1600.

The all‑new improved synth architecture actually makes the Bass II something of a programmer's wet dream — though you'd be hard put to guess this from the minimalist front panel, where the most prominent feature is the labelling. There's a volume knob, a three‑segment LED, buttons for increment selection, transpose, fine‑tuning, mode select, and that's your lot. Round the back, things are equally underwhelming — the Three Wise MIDI Ports, right/mono and left stereo jack sockets, and a socket for the 16V AC adapter supplied.

Getting Turned On

The first 64 presets are actually a selection taken from the other 192, the reason being that these reside in RAM and are thus designed to be overwritten with your own patches and variations. The 192 ROM patches are grouped in a reasonably coherent fashion according to the type of instrument, style of play or type of music (see the 'Preset Highlights' box). Running through the presets, what first strikes you is the sheer range of timbres the Bass II is capable of outputting — from polite, well‑mannered jazz basses to screaming analogue monsters that make the inhabitants of the Lost World sound like pussycats. Being something of a techno fiend, I found I spent most of my quality review time among the synth sounds — with 107 presets, by far the biggest section. These include a whole host of inspirational shakers and movers, including woody FM stuff, startlingly bone‑shaking sub‑basses, and some suitably caustic acid‑style examples. Tucked at the back of this section you'll also find Movie Bass 1 and 2 and Slow Movie, which give you that threatening subsonic drone that usually kicks off cinema trailers for action movies.

I was struck by the number of presets that are enjoyable to play in their own right.

Many of the synth basses really came to life with some on‑the‑fly tweaking of the resonance and cutoff, which was easy enough for me as the review model was accompanied by a PC1600. Most voices are also dynamically expressive — they change timbre the harder you hit the key — which makes up for the lack of front‑panel editing facilities. The same goes for the 'natural' presets, those based on acoustic or electric bass guitars. These are no less impressive in quality terms, though some might quibble at the quantities involved. Compared with the Alesis NanoBass (reviewed last month), for example, the Spectrum Bass II seems to short‑change somewhat in the acoustic and fretless department. However, don't forget that, because this unit is up to six‑part multitimbral, you can quickly create new hybrids by layering voices. You can also take advantage of some of the voices that sound good in the higher registers to create pad or melodic lead sounds, while still using other voices to pump out the bass. Of course, the only limit in both the above scenarios is the unit's overall 12‑note polyphony — although if you can afford a second unit, you can make use of the autoflow feature which automatically sends the overspill to a second Spectrum Bass II. It's also worth mentioning that the Bass II can be programmed to ignore MIDI notes above a certain number, so that if you're using a MIDI keyboard without a split facility you can assign bass sounds to the lower keys only.

The Bass II puts some pretty formidable synth power at your MIDI‑tips.

Talking of how the Spectrum Bass II fits into a MIDI setup brings us neatly to discussion of its various MIDI reception modes — Omni, Poly, Multi and Legato. The first two (both standard MIDI modes) should be self‑explanatory. Multi activates multitimbral mode, where the Spctrum Bass II can be set to receive information on between two and six MIDI channels (the number is set by the user), which is a useful way of making sure that the Peavey doesn't take up more MIDI channels than are actually required. Where this unit pulls a few rabbits from the hat is in legato playing. Selecting Legato mode spreads the same preset across up to six MIDI channels, so that the Bass II can be played by a MIDI guitar (Peavey's very own CyberBass, for example), with each string sending MIDI data on a separate channel. In Multi/Legato mode you can still play legato, but assign each channel a separate sound. Bring in the legato footswitch controller (MIDI controller number 68, to be exact) and you're able to toggle between normal and legato playing style in real time on any of the six channels. Et voilà! For the performance‑orientated musician, a mixture of channels and voices playing legato and normal with the ability to switch back and forth as required.

The Bottom Line

In my review of the Alesis NanoBass last month, I made the point that the bass line is rarely treated as a character part: it's not the sound that matters so much as what notes are being played and how they fit in with the overall composition. And, like the NanoBass, the Spectrum Bass II is excellent if you simply want to dial up an appropriate sound, then get on with the far more important business of writing an earth‑shaking bass line. That said, the Peavey is undoubtedly a characterful instrument. Indeed, I was struck by the number of presets that are enjoyable to play in their own right. These are mainly in the synth section, where, as you might have gathered, the Bass II scores very highly indeed with its analogue impressions. What also appeals to me about the Spectrum Bass II (as indeed it did about its ancestor) is its multitimbrality. Not only can you have fun layering sounds, but with up to six parts to play with, the Bass II is potentially a very versatile instrument to have around your studio. And MIDI‑fied bassists (if such people exist) will also appreciate the intelligent Legato mode. Though not without faults — you try scrolling through 256 presets with just two squitty little buttons — the Bass II deserves a place on your wish list. Presets and programming power in equal abundance, and at an appealing price: bass never came so attractively packaged before.

Powers That Be

The Wall Wart Watchers among you may like to note that the Spectrum II's power supply is one of those where the transformer is connected to the plug by a length of cable, rather than plugging directly into the socket. And it's also got mounting holes so that it can be fixed securely to an immovable object, out of the way of high‑kicking roadies or stumbling tape ops. So, without wishing to give the impression that SOS reviews pivot solely around the functionality of a unit's power supply, let me just take this opportunity to say: "Nice touch, Mr Peavey, though [sotto voce] it's a shame about the lack of a dedicated power switch."

Preset Highlights

ACOUSTIC: nine patches ranging from heavy to light timbres.FRETLESS: 12 smooth and sophisticated sounds in acoustic, electric and chorused flavours.P‑BASS/SLAP: a total of 15 funky‑ass slap and tickle sounds, some with harmonics.FINGER: three finger‑pickin' good electric basses.ROUND: a half dozen twangy pop/funk sounds.PICKED: nine picked and plucked examples offering a range of tones.HOFBASS/SPECTRE/R‑BASS/POP OV1: a total of 16 presets based on samples of classic electric basses of our time.POP: four indie pop wonders.VEL‑SWITCH: five presets that crossfade from one timbre to another according to MIDI velocity.WHEEL‑SWITCH: Five presets that can move from, say, fretless to acoustic via modulation wheel.SYNTH‑BASS: 95 examples ranging from cool digital to warm analogue.SYNTH: 12 atmospheric and SFX sounds, some of which make passable keyboard pads.

Open The Box...

Along with 2Mb worth of 16‑bit classic analogue and digital bass waveforms, the Bass II puts some pretty formidable synth power at your MIDI‑tips. The 24 oscillators — normally two per voice — can be stacked in fours to create some really fat sounds (though this limits polyphony to six notes), then the two pairs of oscillators can be set to crossfade or cross‑switch with a programmable switch point. There are four filter types to play with: 2‑pole low‑pass, the classic 4‑pole low‑pass, band‑pass and high‑pass. There are standard amplitude and filter envelopes and two aux envelopes. Other goodies include portamento, sample & hold, keyboard scaling, pan, LFO, and a very flexible modulation routing matrix (15 sources, with any output able to feed virtually any input). Whether you're looking to make the odd tweak to an existing preset or to create your own custom sounds from scratch, the Bass II is capable of delivering. To fully utilise this power, you'll need a pretty good grasp of synth architecture, plus some form of external editor, as everything is done via SysEx messages. Naturally, Peavey recommend their very own PC1600 MIDI controller for the purpose and, while any SysEx editor will actually do the job, it's certainly to be recommended for convenience's sake. At the touch of a button, the Bass II will download a complete set of presets to the PC1600, specifically designed to edit the 200 parameters or more involved in constructing a preset sound. As I said, you do need to know a bit about synthesis, though the presets will keep many people going for long enough!


  • Excellent presets.
  • Prodigious programming capabilities.
  • Multitimbrality.
  • Intelligent legato mode.


  • More buttons please!
  • Perhaps too complex (if that's possible).
  • The PC1600 is more a necessity than a luxury.


A versatile unit, with a wide range of characterful and gutsy sounds, which puts Peavey ahead in the bass race.