The Super bass station is a 1U rack-mountable monophonic synthesiser. Contained within its diminutive proportions, there lies 2VCO's, 2LFO's, switchable filters and two envelope generators. Also included are analogue distortion and chorus. Modulation is good, but could not be called truly extensive in the same way as say, a Waldorf microwaveXT.
Round the back there are the obligatory midi in, out and thru connections, stereo audio outputs (on quarter inch jacks) mono input to the filter and gate/CV/clock outputs for the built in Midi to CV converter. Power comes from a (large) wall wart PSU.
To describe the instrument to you, I will work from left to right accross the panel. On the far left, there are the headphones socket and the master volume level, which operate as expected. Next there is the portamento knob / data entry knob. This has two purposes as would be suggested by its name. when in utility mode, this knob controls the value of the selected area. When in program mode, it controls the amount of portamento (glide) that is applied to the sound. Next to this is the data entry pad, and associated LED display. The data entry pad is similar to a touch tone phones key pad, being a 3 * 4 arrangement of soft rubber buttons. When in utility mode, each of these buttons calls a new menu, and then is used to advance through the pages by repeated pushing. The LED readout is a small two digit affair, and underneath it are an audition button, and a mode select button.
The LFO section is next. A switch select between the two LFO's and the speed and delay can both be set via knobs. All other settings take place from the data entry pad. Here you have the option of waveform, and also SYNC settings, to syncronise the super bass station's LFO's with midi clock.
The VCO section takes up a sizeable chunk of the front panel and is next. Here you can select the oscillator to work on, with this having consequences on what the controls do / affect. If you are working on OSC1, you can adjust the waveform choice (saw or square), amount of pitch mod (from LFO1 or ENV2) and set up a pulse width mod (including a mod source from ENV2, LFO2 or Manual).The extra Sub OSC is fed directly from OSC1, and is output at half the pitch.
Whilst working on OSC2, you have different options. Here you can again set the waveform choice (saw or square), but you also need to set the oscilator divisions, which are give in lengths (ie - 16'). You can also give OSC2, certain amounts of retuning, with the semitone, and detune options. Again you have the same options for pitch modulation as OSC1.
Next along the front panel is the mixer section. It consists of three knobs and a switch. First up in the OSC1 / 2 mixer, which is continuously variable between OFF (no output from OSC), OSC1 only, OSC 1 + 2 and OSC2 only. Below his is the dedicated SUB OSC knob, which controls the amount of sub osc. Next is the switch which determines the effect of the associated level knob. You have the choice of noise, ring mod and external audio (feed from the rear panel input). Which ever is selected, the level knob sets the level for. However, all three sources can be used at the same time.
Penultimately there is the filter section. This is a switchable 12 / 24 db/8ve (2 pole and four pole) resonant low pass filter design, designed to sound like the filter section from the Roland TB303®. The filter can self oscillate (in 24db/8ve mode) at high resonance levels, and can therefore be used as a third oscillator. Modulation of the filter can come from ENV2, LFO2, or keyboard tracking, each with a dedicated knob.
The final seciton is the envelope section, containing two identical ADSR type envelopes. Every knob and many functions have internally assigned midi controller numbers and can therefore send and recieve midi cc messages. Very handy! In short the Super bass station is packed with knobs, switches and buttons that just call out to be adjusted.
In sound as well though, the super bass station does not fail to impress. Novation have clearly set out to produce a (cheap) modern alternative to the 303. And here in most respects they have exceeded the original. The sounds it produces are thick and warm, or thin and meak, depending on what you want. Effects although rudimentary are good, and the distorion in particular is very rich.The control aspects of this synth, with the midi control available is stunning, and the speed with which new sounds can be created is incredibly short. The presets supplied with the unit are functional, if a little uninspired.
There are a couple of downsides to this instrument though. Firstly, the fact that many functions are hidden behind pages on a menu, and the coresponding small LED readout make some function incredibly hard to fin and use, without continually referring to the manual. Often you think, well i won't bother, because of the time you have already spent looking in the manual. The LED is a pain. For example Novation have proved 149 user storage locations for created sounds. However as the display only shows two digits, the first number is lost, is - the display may show 58, but this could be 158, or 058. Many times i have lost sounds because of this! The other problem was always going to be a problem on a synth of this type, especially when many functions share contols. when you recall a saved patch, the knobs and switches might not necessarily actually relate the value it is at. Unfortunately it can therefore be incredibly difficult to know at all times exactly what you are controlling (especially in the OSC section with its complex routing capabilities). This can prove infuriating at times. Also, make sure you have enough room in your plug block for the PSU, as it is the biggest wall wart that i have ever seen! Overall however, i have fallen in love with this small box of tricks. The sounds that come from it can be mind blowing, and easy are to program. It takes up virtually no room in the rack, looks and sounds superb, has extensive midi control possible, and best of all is cheap.
FOOTNOTE : The midi to cv converter included with the super bass station is extensive. There are many options including the type of voltage output to match the system that your synth has. Novation even include a handy general guide to the major manufactures. And the best part is that it can be used at the same time as, but independantly of the internal synth. If it works properly then this feature alone is worth the asking price. However as we do not yet have an analogue synth which uses CV / gate, I cannot test this feature.