After weeks of teasing, Novation and Aphex Twin have revealed their collaboration, the limited edition AFX Station synth.

And hey, I did warn you not to read articles if you didn’t want spoilers, because Novation plastered streets in several major cities with literal pictures of what this thing is.

So the guesses here were right – the AFX Station is a Bass Station II pre-loaded with the AFX Mode firmware that Aphex Twin developed with Novation.

It’s just that – no new firmware; this is actually functionally identical to running AFX Mode on a Bass Station II, with the software that shipped in 2019. (I had hoped for at least a firmware bump for both, but Novation has initially confirmed to CDM that the changes are only silkscreened labels for those functions and enclosure / knob / wheel color combos.)

But if Novation’s idea was to call attention to the Bass Station II again, it worked. And why not? Because even though this instrument was released back in 2013, it’s a perfectly suitable buy in 2020 – especially at these prices. It’s just a great little analog monosynth in the mold of the irresistible UK original from the early 90s – sub-oscillator, noise, ring mod, and both multi-mode and “acid” filters, plus arp and step sequencer. And its design is strikingly friendly. The funny thing is, for all the low-cost synth competition and remakes of recent years, it still holds up. The AFX bits just give you the option for some more experimental edge – without sacrificing the personable front panel.

And even if you’re not an Aphex fanperson, some of these features – detunable sub oscillator, envelope retriggering (especially on drums), editable microtuning, and oscillator glide diverge plus a fixed duration option on decay – count as devilishly useful stuff. The signature feature, key-by-key parameters, is a little more of an acquired taste, but maybe that’s down to your playing style more than it is how well you know Richard James’ back catalog.

What we don’t get here is much beyond that. The AFX Station gets silkscreens to make those AFX Mode features more discoverable. And there’s a handsome new color scheme. And you gotta dig those fuschia pitch and mod wheels and overlay. And there are what appear to be different knob caps (maybe a slightly different part; I haven’t touched this yet).

Now that their site is up, we get a little more information, but – you should be able to get the same with an existing Bass Station II. There is a new giftbox designed by Weirdcore. And you get some extra sound content, too:

  • 128 new synth patches and seven new overlay banks from Noyze Lab, Perplex On, Richard Devine, r beny and Lightbath
  • “The new Overlay editor in Novation Components allows full control over managing the behaviour of AFX Station in AFX Mode.”

So that “Overlay editor” bit is cool – and available to all BSII owners in Components, the Web-based interface for Novation’s hardware. It means it’s now much easier to edit this per-note insanity.

Why you’d get this particular hardware is – if you like the colors. If you liked the old colors, you still get a largely underrated synth.

That is worth saying, though. Since all the same functionality is available on the Bass Station II, you might well decide that what you want is to go pick up a BSII and hope the AFX Station knocks down prices. But then, that’s why this exercise was worthwhile for Novation. It calls attention to a synth with some powerful features.

Let’s just stop and consider that you can find exceptional original synths with keyboards for under $400 – not just sound modules or cheap remakes of past gear. The three the stand out to me are KORG’s excellent Monologue (even though it lacks the software expand-ability of its brethren), the increasingly tasty Arturia MicroFreak (now even with vocoder capability), and absolutely now the Bass Station II with AFX Mode. Any of those these three is a solid choice, and they’re even different enough that you might be happy with more than one.

This market had ceased to exist for many years – the original Bass Station being an exception that proved the rule. And I think Novation, KORG, and Arturia all three deserve some credit for helping establish that market – for people who are hard-core enthusiasts, but maybe don’t have the deepest pockets.

No doubt about it: the Bass Station II deserves this longer life, whatever paint scheme you put on it. Even if maybe this hype campaign had us hoping for something more … uh, new.

Launch is now.

Cost Exc. VAT: £333.33, €378.14, $439.99 

Now, shhh, can we all convince people they need this so we get their old Bass Station II on the cheap? We could, like, slap an Aphex Twin sticker on there or something. Or our own artist name/label, ahem. Wait – no one read this. Everyone you need the limited edition. Blech, look at that old one.