In pretty much every piece of music you’ll ever hear or write, you will know that without a decent sounding bass, you won’t get very far, it’s like asking for a cup of tea and getting no cup; be it a thumping, wobbling dance bass or a deep, pulsating subby bass, the low end of any track is a very important factor.
In the first of our new series: T+S Compares, I’m going to take you through some of our favourite synth bass engines and what features to look out for in each if you’re having trouble deciding which will suit your style best.
So, in no particular order, I present to you our leading bass synths of today:
Substance, released 14th September this year, is the newest of these 4 super-bass engines. I’ve been very impressed with this instrument; at a first glance I thought that the controls generally looked a bit limited but after actually spending some time experimenting, I couldn’t keep away from it.
The meticulously designed interface of Substance is pleasing to the eye and easy to find your way around. The four familiar macro sliders on the main module allow you to alter the nature of the sound without getting yourself lost and confused, which I often find myself doing when first trying to navigate through a new plug-in.
The presets are separated into categories such as complex and hybrid synths, one-shots, brass, subs and bass guitars, a versatile selection that you’ll want to spend hours exploring. The other modules: edit, EQ, filter and FX provide all the essential features you would want and more, the clear distinction between the three layers allows you to be in full control at all times. The rhythm and arpeggiator pages are something that really stand out for me in comparison to other, similar instruments; combine complex step patterns and wave shapes to parameters such as cutoff and bite to give your bass some life and movement, or draw your own creative wave shapes for some originality.
Overall, Substance is deeply produced and although the options to develop the sound yourself are possible, you probably won’t want to as they are all so there sonically! The apocolyptic sounding bass combinations you can create using the 3 different layers and a rich selection of presets make this is an essential instrument for anyone who is looking for that modern, heavily processed sound that works so suitably well with the dance music of today.
If you want get an idea of some of the sounds that you can achieve in Substance, watch this jjaw-droppingvideo from Output below, but just as a preliminary warning, turn your volume down first!
Rob Papen is certainly a man who knows his fair share about synthesisers, from programming them at the age of 15 to eventually starting his own line of original sounding synths and drum machines in 2004, he can only be described as a “synth wizard”. Amongst Predator, Blue II and Blade, the powerful and critically acclaimed mega-synths, sits SubBoomBass, a fully dedicated bass engine that fits right into the family.
The front panel is well designed with all sections placed on one page (excluding free modulation), so no need to trail through modules trying to find different parameters and effects. Along the top is 2 separate oscillators, 2 analog modelled filters and an amp section. The list of waveforms available in the dropdown from each of the two oscillators is impressive and goes much further than sines and saws; as well as all the hybrids and squelchy sounding Rez waveforms, there is also a bunch of percussion samples that can be added on top of the waveform, making full use of the flexibility of having two oscillators.
The analog modelled filter offers a variety of LowPass and HighPass 6dB, 12 dB, 18dB and 24dB and BandPass at 12dB and 24dB , aswell as a 12dB and 24dB Notch, Comb and Vocal Filter. The option of an additional filter with cutoff control and filter path routing allows you to route your dual filters in ‘serial’, ‘parallel’ and ‘split’ modes, a strong feature with which you can achieve some advanced modulation. The 16 step sequencer gives you the option of two different sequences that can play in modes ‘split’, ‘top’ and ‘join’ allowing for some interesting patterns. Switch to ‘free mods’ to find an ADSFR envelope, independent from the oscillators and filters, and the option to control the envelope times with velocity and key played make this a useful tool for live performance. The FX section contains some really grungy distortion and lo-fi effects along with classic reverbs, delays, choruses, flangers and phasers.
I think what makes SubBoomBass different for me, and I find this with many of the Rob Papen plug-ins, is the complexity and depth you can get into with it. Even from a glance, you can tell from the interface that there is plenty to experiment with. So for the slightly more experienced producer this is a dream.
Have a look at this demo of SubBoomBass from the legend himself: Rob Papen
The release of Zero-G: Epica, produced by Sam Spacey in 2014 received very positive feedback from users and critics alike, inspiring Sam to release a new and updated sample library: Epica Bass, released under his own name earlier this year. The clue is in the title with this Kontakt library, over 620 instruments built from 26,657 24bit mono samples means Epica Bass covers so many different genres making it well and truly epic.
The diligence put into the making of Epica Bass is obvious just from looking at the hardware used to process such accurate sounds. Created using solely analogue synths such as the original ARP Odyssey mk3, the Yamaha CS-30 and the Oberheim SEM and on the hardware recording side, a UBK Fatso and an Eventide H8000 have been used amongst others.
The main user interface of Epica Bass is very clear and though there are only three primary tabs along the top, they contain all the detailed parameters you need in an easy-to-navigate layout. In the ‘main’ tab you can find sub-sections for amp, modulation, filter and LFO, all with extensive synthesis functions; shape the sound of your bass using the 6 different ADSR filter types, the 3 LFOs (with 5 waveform options) and much more. The arpeggiator can give you a whole range of patterns with adjustable order, rate, swing and velocity. The ‘auto scale’ feature is also a favorite of mine, allowing choice of key, scale and mode, this can be a great inspiration point for the style you’re looking for in a project. Finally, the FX rack is an impressive display of simplicity and power in one with the 1176 Compressor, SSL EQ, Flanger, Chorus, Bit Crusher, Delay and Convolution Reverb, which all work really well with the urban sounding synthesisers.
Epica Bass manages to maintain such a raw, original and vintage sound, whilst using some advanced processing, simply down to the impressive list of hardware used and of course, the genius and brains behind all of this: Sam Spacey. Epica Bass again, like most of these engines, can cover such a wide range of genres due to its vast library and range of controls, but if you want to be taken back to the rave scene of the 80s/early 90s, to the birth of original electronic dance music such as house, techno, acid and jungle; this instrument will enable you to recreate the historic sound of synth bass under your fingertips.
Watch Time+Space’s very own Jon Dennis in this walkthrough video of features and sounds below.
As many of you will know, every time Spectrasonics release a product, they increase the standards of audio software production by a large margin, as seen from the recent release of Spectrasonics: Keyscape. They also achieved this after the release of Trilian in 2009; a huge 34GB library of 3 different groups of bass sounds including acoustic, electric and synth bass. For the purpose of this post, we’re just going to focus on the synth bass library, as you scroll through the selection of synths it will bring a smile to your face to see some familiar, legendary names such as the Minimoog, the ARP Odyssey, the Roland Jupiter 8 and the Roland TB303.
The main page of each patch is well designed and not too busy, with the relative, primary parameters such as cutoff and resonance easily accessible. Switch to the ‘edit’ page and you will find a carefully detailed panel with options to adjust Filter, Modulation, Envelopes and LFO, all of which can be opened up in ‘Custom Controls’ which brings the most useful editing capabilities for each patch right to the front panel. Similar to Substance, Trilian gives the option of adding a whole other layer on top of your primary sound source, opening up a world of interesting hybrid sounds. The FX page is an impressive collection of over 32 original fx processors including amp simulators and compressors, EQ and reverb and delays, unique processors and more, all integrated into a fully featured rack.
One more feature of Trilian that I feel really needs to be brought to your attention is the multi-mode, which allows you not only to have up to 8 different patches on one mixer but to go into its own set of pages which include FX, stack mode and live mode, which sets up a round-robin type effect and enables you to apply different playing techniques to certain notes.
In summary, Trilian has a lot to offer in terms of classic vintage synthesisers but I feel where it really takes pride is in its complex sound manipulation and with two layers, the ability to change a familiar sound into something completely obscure and new. Anyone interested in electronic music, specifically experimental, minimal and electroacoustic, definitely needs Trilian in their collection.
Here is Eric Persing, Founder and Creative Director of Spectrasonics, giving a features overview of Trilian synth bass.