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Sunday, July 22nd, 2018 10:30 pm

Synth Glossary

Arpeggiator:
Many synths can only play one note at a time (they are monophonic). With the arpeggiator on, if more than one note is pressed at a time, the synth will alternate between the notes. They also often have a range control that allows the user to tell the ynth to play additional octaves - so if the range is set to two octaves the synth will play the keys that are held down in the octave that they are played and then in the next octave up/down....

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Novation Super Bass Station Rack
The Super Bass Station (note the space between the words Bass and Station) comes in a more robust casing; and, looks-wise, seems far sturdier than its predecessors. There are oodles more controls on the fascia, including two sets of ADSR envelope controls (one for the filter, one for the amplifier), a keyboard follow amount for the filter and yes! level for a Roland SH-type sub- oscillator which really beefs up the bottom end.

The Station now has a third signal source with noise, an external signal and ring modulation. Choose any, or all, of these then mix them in, with their own dedicated level knob, alongside the two oscillators and the sub-oscillator. Output is stereo because panning functions are now included, as are distortion and stereo chorus effects. There are not one but two LFOs, nominally for tremolo and vibrato (VCA and VCF modulation respectively), but also routable to govern other functions such as the panner more on these later. Of course, the desirable functions of the BS's first two incarnations have been retained, such as a Pulse Width Modulation control, syncable oscillators for diamond hardness in your programs, and two filter types 12dB and 24dB for a complete range of analogue emulations. If you know a lot about sound synthesis, you should be smiling broadly. If you don't, smile anyway: no one will be any the wiser.

There's a new socket round the back, too: arpeggio clock out. That's because hey! the Super BS has a powerful arpeggiator on board. The standard arp fare is featured (up, down, up & down styles, random play) and all are extendable to span several octaves. Plus, there are 100 pre-programmed 'patterns', including several 'acid' rhythms with built-in slide, a welcome addition. Arpeggiator configurations, which can include some velocity information and can transmit over MIDI, are stored alongside the patch; around 35 of the factory presets are arpeggio active.

The velocity knob, as found on the Keyboard and Rack, has been turned into a push-button control on the pads to the left of the display. Here is where you set the other utility functions too: pitchbend range, how the notes are triggered, channel aftertouch response, tuning, sync set- ups, the arpeggiator functions and so on. Using these is a tad fiddly, and you need to wise up to the two-letter abbreviations used in the display. So if you've got sausage fingers and a goldfish memory, you're buggered; otherwise, there's a handy chart at the back of the manual to keep you posted.

Thanks for more memories
The number of memories available has been doubled to 200. "But," you say in a moment of realisation, "it's only a two-figure display. How do they get round that?" A flashing LED, that's how. Choose a patch between 0 and 99, and the Program LED shines red constantly; between 100 and 199 it winks at you. I'd like to have seen this implemented as a dot warning on the LED display (as found on the MAB-303), but the space available is already swallowed by 'dots' to display the edit and write modes. Programs have to be entered as a three-digit number; over MIDI, you have to use those tedious Bank Select Controller messages to access Bank A (0-99) or Bank B (100-199). Perhaps Novation could have included a patch number mapping table (you know, where prog change one is mapped to actual program 159; prog change two to prog 87; and so on) to make a set progression of patches available more easily.

The first 50 patches are stored in ROM and can't be overwritten; the next 150 RAM patches are yours to abuse. Novation has introduced an excellent 'Finder' scheme to make locating a certain type of sound a doddle, especially if you haven't got the manual to hand. In Finder mode, similar patches, such as hard basses, soft leads or bells, are grouped together in Categories, so if you hit the increment/ decrement button, you automatically jump to the next sound in the category to be met with a one-shot trigger or short demo riff arpeggio. All the categories are listed in the manual, and there's memory space available for you to create and compile your own. As to the patches themselves: well, Novation has just about covered everything you need. There are at least 60 dedicated basses including liquid Moogs, fat analogues, short resonant spikes, junglist sub-bass shakers; even some digital type stuff. Leads range from the soft and slippery to the razor-edged: there's plenty of choice if you're soloing in a 70s style or sequencing for a full-on trance-out.

The new ring modulation and sync functions means the Super Bass Station is now capable of bell sounds and frighteningly huge sync sweeps la early 80s Roland synths. Percussion emulations of hi-hats, reverse hi-hats, a snare and a kick are included (though more for show than actual practical use), and there are no end of whizzy and wacky SFX using smart LFO programming or the extremes of the ring mod. It's criminal that this machine is only monophonic, the ability to fire off a sound effect while a fat bass wobbles away beneath would be so cool. Ooh, I want the moon on a stick, me.

Can it 303 it?
The 303-ness of the Novation sound has been a sticking point with many people. Yes, the square wave emulation is peachy, and the TB-type slide is perfect (and so easy to program all you do is overlap the notes on your sequencer's edit page). As for the sawtooth and that essential filter acidness, well, the Super BS comes close, but not as close as the FB383 or the Syntecno Teebee. However, overdrive your mixing desk for those nasty Chemical Brothers-style 303isms and the Super BS pulls it off, no probs.

Practically every function, and certainly every knob on the front panel, transmits and receives MIDI controller messages. Novation has kept many of the same 'numbers' from the Rack and Keyboard for popular parameters such as cutoff and frequency: a smart move for those who want to upgrade.

Those LFOs: LFO1 is syncable to MIDI Clock, and LFO2 is syncable to LFO1, in a variety of ways, from multiples of or divisions of. So think about it. You could have a patch set up so that LFO1, maybe modulating the pitch slightly, is synched to MIDI clock, while LFO2, synched to LFO1 sweeps the filter at a faster rate. Meanwhile, the chorus and panner are also synched to LFO2. Alter the tempo of your sequencer, and the Super Bass Station stays exactly in time. Super by name, super by nature. Indeed.

Super bloody duper
It has to be said, then, this machine has practically all the hands-on synth power you could wish for in a 1U, 449 unit. And so it should: Novation has been delaying its launch so its backroom boys could keep cramming in extras as they were thought up. If you want faithful sawtooth 303isms, then you should look to the FB383. But if there's more to your life than acid revival, then the Super Bass Station is a must, and if dance/trance/techno is your bag, you'll adore the syncable LFOs. What other machine can give you such flexibility, creativity and control at this price? Don't ponder on this, 'cos nothing comes close. Looks like we're going to be saying nice things about Novation for many moons to come.

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