The debut plugin (disregarding Loopcloud’s linking module) from soundware giant Loopmasters, Bass Master (VST/AU) is a sample-powered synth dedicated solely to the creation of bass sounds for dance and electronic music.
A cursory glance at the interface makes it clear that this isn’t a particularly deep instrument - there’s no mod matrix to be found, and the oscillators are decidedly light on controls - but that, we’re told, is by design, the aim being to serve up a wide range of mix-ready low-end tones via a fast, intuitive, bass-focused interface.
It almost goes without saying that Bass Master is monophonic, and with up to 10s of Portamento or Legato glide, and 1-12 semitones of pitchbend range, the movement of those single notes is highly adjustable. Two sample-based oscillators are layered (using the level sliders in the Mixer section) to make a bass sound: Top and Sub, each housing any one from Bass Master’s 217-strong collection of analogue and digital synth-sourced waveforms.
Rather than arbitrarily designate specific ‘sub’ and ‘not-sub’ samples to each oscillator, Loopmasters has lumped the whole lot into a single library, arranged into six categories: High, Mid, Low, Percussive, Simple and Sub. It’s an expansive roster, featuring all manner of modulated and ‘static’ bass music-, house- and techno- appropriate waves, variations on classic analogue shapes, percussion elements, sub tones and more, divided roughly evenly between one-shot and looping playback. Clicking the button to the right of either sample menu loads a random sample into that oscillator.
It’s important to understand that these are not multisamples, so pitching them up and down also timestretches them.
Bass Master includes three ‘Layer’ effects modules (Distortion, Stereo Chorus and Reverb Send) and a multiband compressor (Frequency Booster) on the master output.
Like the rest of Bass Master, the Layer FX (which, along with the filter, can be bypassed for the Sub Layer) are designed to be operationally fast and unfailingly effective. To that end, each has just two controls (Drive and Colour for Distortion, Amount and Rate for Chorus, Level and Size for Reverb), plus a menu of five, four and three distinct algorithms respectively for variation within each module. Switch Chorus to the Detune algorithm for analogue-style pitch drift, or Widen when you want to fill out the stereo field, for example. It’s a nifty, well thought-out arrangement, and the diversity of the algorithms opens up plenty of processing possibilities.
The Master FX Frequency Booster applies compression independently to the Top, Middle and Bottom frequency bands, the crossovers between which have been “tuned to work well with bass”. While you don’t get access to the compressor’s controls, you can apply it in parallel with the dry signal using the dry/wet Level fader, making it a handy last-stage processor for dynamic shaping and tonal emphasis.
Loopmasters says this gives Bass Master an old-school sampler feel, which it does - but that’s obviously not the reason for the implementation. We assume it’s been done this way to keep the footprint and resource usage as low as possible, which, again, it does: the whole caboodle weighs in at 225MB, and barely tickles the CPU meter. Also, while multisamples would, of course, yield a more detailed, expressive sonic palette, that level of complexity isn’t as important with a bass synth as it is with, say, a piano emulation, or general purpose synth, as the range of notes in most basslines will be relatively short.
The only differences between the Top and Sub Layers are that the Sub can be transposed up or down an octave and has a two-stage (AR) amp envelope, while the Top Layer boasts a full ADSR envelope and the Sample Start slider, for offsetting the ‘playhead’ start position. The Sub Layer can also be switched out of the filter circuit and Layer FX, for a pure, solid bottom end, regardless of the frequency-shaping and processing mayhem being inflicted on the Top Layer. It would be better if the filter and FX could be bypassed independently, but that’s hardly the end of the world.
Bass Master’s resonant filter offers 13 types, taking in 6/12/18/24dB/octave low-pass, 6dB band-pass, 6/12dB high-pass and comb, with Ladder and ‘regular’ modes for the LP, HP and BP, plus a ‘no resonance’ HP mode. Ladder mode is noticeably grittier around the resonant peak than the regular model, and the comb filter is good for wilder sounds.
A pre-filter overdrive circuit dials in a decent wodge of distortion, while keytracking enables the cutoff frequency to follow incoming note pitch. Filter modulation is provided by an LFO and an ADSR envelope, both featuring bipolar Amount controls, for positive or negative movement. The LFO runs synced (eight bars to 1/32T) or unsynced (0.01-50Hz), retriggering or free, and includes the spiky SawExp, and both stepped and smooth random options among its eight waveforms.
Beyond the amp envelopes and filter, the modulation setup is incredibly rudimentary. Indeed, the only other source is the Mod wheel, to which up to three parameters from across the instrument (including the Layer and Master FX) can be assigned, each with its own bipolar Amount control. It’s a world away from the intricate modulation systems of your average modern softsynth, but while a few more LFOs and envelopes might be welcome, Bass Master’s simplicity in this area certainly keeps the workflow speedy, encouraging deployment of the mod wheel in every patch for ‘one-finger’ morphing, as demonstrated brilliantly by the 350+ presets.
The pared-back clarity and pointed efficiency of Bass Master’s architecture and interface mostly work in its favour - it’s almost hard to make a bad sound with the thing! The samples are awesome; the filter sounds great; the FX and Frequency Booster work well; putting the mod wheel up front inspires creativity; and all in all, it confidently plays to its own strengths. There are occasional points, however, at which the shallow modulation scheme does come across as restrictive; and the lack of onboard sequencing feels like an opportunity missed.
Taken on its own terms, then, Bass Master is a reliable, effective and slick solution for the producer looking to make big, solid, manually morphable bass sounds in a hurry. Just be prepared to come up against its technical limitations from time to time.