Sonicware’s Liven Bass & Beats has a lot to offer, but you’ll have to work hard to get it.
Sonicware hope to bring the same intense attitude to wavetables as they did with FM synthesis on the Liven XFM I reviewed in SOS June 2022. This time, with the Liven Bass & Beats, there’s a fierce split between the dual‑oscillator wavetable engine and the sample‑based rhythm engine. It’s an in‑your‑face EDM machine that loves to bang out those beats and get you dancing.
The general idea is that Liven Bass & Beats is a portable and performance‑oriented groovebox with hands‑on control over the party that’s about to kick off. Deeper editing of both the Bass and Drum engines is available via some handy overlays which transform the front panel into a detailed synth or drum editor. It’s affordably priced for a groovebox and sits somewhere between a Korg Volca, Novation Circuit Tracks and Elektron Models, but is altogether louder, trashier and more exciting.
The hardware is identical to the XFM but with a different paint job and two function‑changing overlays. It has the same clunky, plastic, velocity agnostic, clangy piano keys and buttons, a range of knobs and an inadequate speaker for the full‑on sound that tries to escape through it. Sonicware still don’t include any batteries, power supply or any kind of guide and so the out‑of‑box experience is one of silent miscomprehension. However, like the XFM, there’s lots to discover behind the pink and blue facade.
Liven Bass & Beats has two independent wavetable oscillators fed by 64 wavetables. It has a sub‑oscillator and a noise generator with 16 different flavours. There are two LFOs and two envelopes for modulation, and a separate one for the amplifier. A unison function lets you stack and detune the oscillators, and a distortion effect adds some bite. There is a multimode filter, but it seems to take a bit of a back seat. There are no filter controls at all on the front panel, which seems very odd to me considering the intention and emphasis of this machine. However, there are a pair of assignable knobs that could take on that role.
We’ll get into the synth editing side in a moment but in terms of front‑panel, hands‑on access, anything in pink is to do with the Bass. You have six banks of presets with 16 sounds in each and like everything else in this machine the presets are fierce and intense. Two more banks are left for user presets and are currently all set to basic square waves, which gives you a good starting point.
There are eight central knobs that give you some control over the sound. Most knobs and buttons have a dual function that are run by the Shift and Function keys that you will definitely have to make friends with. The first knob does bank and preset selection. The next two are assignable and could be anything depending on the preset. They also take care of the range and speed of the quirky Sweep function, which is an adjustable glide that applies to every note regardless of the note that went before. The fourth knob offers Dimension control, which is essentially the width of the unison detuning. Its Shift function sets the note probability in the sequence.
The second row of four knobs offer pitch modulation, release and gate length, and then the Machine Gun effect, which is a kind of tremolo, ratchet‑type affair. That’s about it for the Bass. As I say there’s no filter to play with unless it’s been mapped to the assignable knobs in the Editor and that doesn’t seem to be the case for most presets. The bass presets are excellent though and really show off the potential of the synth engine.
There are two ways to record a sequence of up to 64 steps. In Step mode you select a step with the Value button and press a key to assign the note, or you can play in a sequence with or without a metronome and your notes will be pulled into the nearest step. There are many of the usual things you can do with sequencers like change the length, add some swing, adjust gate length, transpose and such like, but all the fun really starts when you engage the Parameter Lock.
With Parameter Lock on you can hold a step and change more or less any parameter and it will be burnt into that step. This goes as far as selecting a completely different preset, so each step can have its own sound if you wish. Your monophonic bass line can very quickly become filled with all sorts of changes, switches, and unexpected happenings. And this is not some sort of clever multi‑lane automation, it’s anything and everything recorded per step. Which also makes it less editable, but then Bass & Beats is all about the here and now and embraces the idea of the do‑over.
One note I should make about saving — you need to save. Also, make use of the Copy/Paste of patterns so you can have various stages and variations available along the way. Because there are many ways you can lose what you’re doing. Accidentally hit the Pattern button and your unsaved pattern is gone. Move to a...