Bass... the final frontier
Deep Bass Nine
TB303-type synth module
From the fluffy clouds of analogue heaven comes another offering, hot on the heels of the Bass Station. Rob Green jumps into his spacecraft, turns on the ignition and sets the co-ordinates for Deep Bass 9!
The Deep Bass Nine is part of a new wave of TB303 simulators. But this analogue bass module's charms indicate that it is more than a mere clone. If you are familiar with the layout of the legendary acid machine, you will notice, on first sight, that the rack-mountable Deep Bass Nine (DB9) has exactly the same control knobs. In fact aside from their considerable cosmetic differences, the only real difference between the 303 and the DB9 is the latter's lack of an internal sequencer.
Why not simply buy a real 303, I hear you cry. Why indeed. Well, for starters, you can't control the filter on a 303 from your sequencer, but you can with a DB9! Basically, the DB9 takes the 303 concept, and brings it full-on into the 90s. Manufacturers Control Synthesis listened to the 303, and figured out a way of creating a very similar sound with more bottom-end punch. The 303 itself was very small and fiddly, and powered by an AC adaptor. Naturally, these characteristics tended to present problems when 'tweaking' the tiny amplitude shaping controls during sequencing. The unit would often slide around, sometimes causing problems with the adaptor, and occasionally resulting in power glitches.
Control Synthesis offer you similar classic sounds with the same handy controls, only in a full-sized, durable, studio friendly box. It is not before time that someone has decided to repackage the 303 idea in this way. This isn't to diminish the level of innovation about the TB303. It should be remembered that when Roland conceived the 303 over a decade ago, it was not designed for the sort of rigorous use that the likes of us put it through. In fact, it was invented for your regular guitar boffin, to emulate a bass guitar sound with which to accompany himself in a jamming session. I wonder if those men in white coats down at Roland ever realised that it would become a major part of the sound of heavenly house, slamming techno and grinding acid.
The thing that surprises me is that none of these new bass synths have included an internal sequencer as featured on the 303. This function of the 303 can be useful, as well as fun. Its quality is actually quite crude, but inspiring bass lines can sometimes be created almost by accident. I suppose the guys at Control Synthesis thought that in the MIDI era, everyone would prefer to do the whole job from the sequencer. And in the main, they're probably right.
The DB9 has some really well thought-out features which set it apart from its chief rival, the Bass Station. One of these is the ability to link the DB9 up to other old analogue gear. For example, by connecting the DB9 up to a 303 via the CV and gate, you can obtain a fatter, Moog-like sound. For control versatility, the DB9 seems to have the edge.
What with control voltage and MIDI capabilities, the DB9 is starting to look like a really good package. What's more, Control Synthesis have thrown in a handy little audio-in socket, to exploit the DB9's filter section with other instruments: A digital keyboard, a guitar or even your own voice. This utility is by no means amazing, but is a very usable, thoughtful addition.
"As an instrument for a dance setup this unit really shines through."
Apart from the MIDI channel selector, the DB9's front panel controls are exactly the same as those on the TB303. At the far left, there is a waveform selector. We are offered two waveforms, sawtooth and square. A cross waveform is also depicted on the dial, which can be selected when running instruments through the external in.
Next in line, we have the tuning knob. This of course allows 10 semitones of fine tuning, up and down. Next door, is the filter cutoff frequency which has plenty of range. The best thing about this is the ability to control it via MIDI using the modulation controller, which of course can be recorded directly onto your sequencer. Never again will you have to repeatedly tweak that filter, to try and regain the sound from your original recording. Filter resonance is next to the filter, then envelope modulation, decay, accent, volume, and (not found on the 303) a MIDI channel selector.
On the back panel there's the kettle-type power socket, (nothing like a cuppa when you're working - Ed) which is rather less prone to being pulled out than the little AC adaptor on the 303. Features like this set the DB9 apart from the 303 as far as serious studio use goes. A voltage selector is next, then the CV and gate in sockets.
With these and the CV and gate out sockets, the machine is very adaptable for use with older analogue synths. Also included of course, is MIDI in and thru. Also on the back panel there's the audio in, for processing an external signal through the DB9's filter, and the audio output.
"Basically, the DB9 takes the 303 concept, and brings it full-on into the 90's."
On the whole, the Deep Bass Nine is a reliable, rugged piece of studio equipment. The casing is durable, and Control Synthesis don't seem to have forgotten much. As I said before, I would like to have seen a sketchpad sequencer included, perhaps, but in the pursuit of economy, maybe the compromises are in the right areas.
As an instrument for a dance setup, this unit really shines through. Whether you want to control it via MIDI or CV, if you like weird, wobbly acid basses, you'll have loads of fun with this baby. It's very liberating playing around with the filter on the modulation wheel of your keyboard as you play a bassline. Accent is also controlled by velocity, giving you unusually simple computer control.
I found the DB9's manual comprehensive and informative. And there's a nice little touch at the back of the book, which will be familiar to those of you who bought synths at the beginning of the Eighties or earlier - they give you some sound charts with their own settings, and some blank ones for your own use. This is a really visual, pleasant way of working and is evocative of those old machines from the 70s. I find this much more satisfying than punching in parameter settings on tiny plastic buttons. The Control Synthesis charts offer you an 'Acid' setting, their very own 'Deep Bass Nine', a 'Square Synth Bass', a 'Brass Bass', and also a setting to aid you with external treatment.
Think of the benefits. The price is £449, which is not as cheap as the Bass Station, but just try getting hold of one. If all you want is great sounds, good control and sturdiness, then you will not be disappointed with the DB9, especially if you're used to a TB303. The Deep Bass Nine is a bit of a late arrival, and so far has had little coverage, but don't overlook it. For ease of use and sounds - I love it. When the men in white coats come to take it back, they'd better have me instead!
Price inc VAT: £449
More from: Control Distribution, (Contact Details)
Gear in this article:
On The Re:Mix CD:
29 Deep Bass 9 demo
This disk has been archived in full and disk images and further downloads are available at Archive.org - Re:Mix #5.
Review by Rob Green
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