If someone were to say that Novation are easily one of the best synth companies around at the moment, it’d be hard to argue against it. Their product range speaks for itself, with the Peak and Summit raising the bar for what a poly-synth is capable of and considered by many to be modern classics. However, it isn’t just their fantastic gear and innovation (pun not intended) that makes them stand out. It’s the fact that they can be counted on to constantly improve their existing products by adding new and exciting features.
The Bass Station II was an incredible, fully-featured synth right out of the gate and one of the most powerful synths of its size. You couldn’t really ask for more from a mono-synth, especially one that can be powered by USB! The BSII had a significant upgrade with the v2.5 firmware update back in 2018 but v4.14 significantly improved the BSII‘s capabilities.
A direct collaboration between Novation and legendary electronic musician Richard James aka Aphex Twin, this update introduced “AFX Mode”, which came about from Richard’s concept of “being able to assign a discrete set of synthesis parameters to each note of Bass Station II, either variations on a ‘seed’ patch or disparate sounds designed to constitute a chimeric whole”. Quite an undertaking but the geniuses over at Novation achieved it, with “AFX Mode” being the fruits of their labour. The mode allows the BSII to modify a patch on a key-by-key basis and “introduce subtle changes up and down the keyboard; divide the keyboard into multiple zones, each playing its own sound; or create entire drum kits in a single preset”. The new AFX Station, a limited edition version of the Bass Station II with brand new patches and aesthetics, is the culmination of this collaboration.
If you’re already familiar with the original BSII and want to get straight to the AFX Station, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. For those that aren’t familiar with the Bass Station II, it’s the big brother of the original Bass Station that came out in 1993 and was at the forefront of the analogue revival. Don’t be fooled by its name, whilst it excels at bass sounds, it’s also capable of leads, percussion, sound effects and (with the new para-phonic mode) pads. It boasts a pure analog signal path, with two analog oscillators being shaped by two analog filters (“Classic” multi-mode and “Acid” mode). That’s a lot of analog! Despite this, it’s fully programmable so you can instantly save and recall your favourite patches, making the Bass Station II ideal for live use. No scrambling to get the knobs in the right place for the next song! Its sound is shaped and modulated by two LFOs that can be assigned to a variety of destinations, two ADSR envelopes and analogue distortion. Performance-wise, it has a 25-note keyboard with aftertouch (perfect for those one-handed solos!), a powerful step sequencer and an arpeggiator. There’s a vast amount of other features so if you’d like to check out a more in-depth spec, feel free to click here.
Right off the bat, you can tell that the AFX Station is something special from the first look. Its re-design was created with Aphex Twin’s approval and it shows. The bright blue of the original Bass Station has been upgraded to a striking purple, the screen-printing on the panel looks decidedly more Aphex Twin and his logo is proudly displayed beneath the master volume. The visual upgrades aren’t only aesthetic, they’re practical too! The panel has been updated to reflect the new features, making parameters such as Osc Error, microtuning and AFX Mode a lot more immediate.
The AFX Station comes pre-loaded with the exclusive presets, v4.14 and the AFX Mode so you get straight into creating some sonic weirdness as soon as you plug it in!
For collectors and hardcore Aphex Twin fans, the AFX Station also comes in a box designed by frequent Aphex Twin collaborator Weirdcore. The box itself displays matte-finished, high-quality gloss artwork on the outside and inside.
Inside the synth, the AFX Station features 128(!) brand new Aphex-Twin inspired patches. They’re divided into seven banks or “overlays” and have been designed by leading electronic music artists including Richard Devine, Noyze Lab, Perplex On, r beny and Lightbath. These fresh sounds are, in my opinion, the most enticing thing about the synth as they truly harness the amazing capabilities of the synth engine.
Alongside this, Novation are releasing a new editor for their software Novation Components, which will provide greater control over these complex new sounds.
Aside from being a desirable synth already, the AFX Station is a must-have for Aphex Twin fans and collectors alike. I like to think of it more as the apex (pun intended) of the Bass Station II and an evolution of it, rather than simply a BSII with a fresh look and collectibility.
Existing BSII owners will still get a lot out of the AFX Station, with the updated interface allowing access to the updated features easier and the exclusive patches to explore from legendary sound designers. Some cool possibilities arise from having an AFX Station and a BSII. Imagine MIDI’ng them together, stacking them and then sticking them in paraphonic mode for some other-worldly eight oscillator pads or having two intersecting sequences that you can tweak on the fly!