IK Multimedia’s new virtual-bass instrument isn’t quite like anything you’ll have ever seen or heard before. Matthew Mann gives us the lowdown…
Manufacturer IK Multimedia
Price $299 (Download)/$229 (USB drive/boxed) €299.99
Contact via website
IK Multimedia has been in the virtual instrument game for quite some time and has developed a sturdy reputation. Instruments such as Sampletank, the T-RackS suite, and Miroslav Philharmonik have garnered much attention and praise. And newer products like the Lurssen Mastering Console and Saturator X are entering more and more home and project studios…and even some pro studios. With that, it comes as no surprise that the company is pushing the envelope with its newest release, Modo Bass – a virtual bass unlike almost anything else ever released.
All about that bass
Modo Bass opens with a simple image of perhaps the definitive electric bass… the venerable Fender P-Bass (a 60s version). Along the top of Modo Bass, we find a strip that contains images of the first 10 basses available. To the far right of this strip is an arrow that lets you scroll to the two remaining basses. Let me tell you, there’s a lot here. A total of 12 iconic basses are initially offered for use. From the 60s P-Bass all the way down to the Flame Bass (based on a Warwick Streamer), every instrument has a very unique character and sound to bring to your mixes. Each sits nicely in one track or another and would be fine as-is. But this is not just a sampled bass pack. Modo Bass is much, much more.
“IK’s modal synthesis ensures this is not just a sampled bass pack. It’s much, much more.”
Modo Bass uses something IK Multimedia calls modal synthesis technology – it models each physical component of the bass body from the strings, pickups and electronics to the player’s action. Then it takes all these interacting factors and adds effects and amps to the signal chain. The result is a plug-in that just might be the last electric-bass instrument you’ll ever need. Let’s see what’s under the bonnet.
The main screen is laid out in tabs, and the first is the Model tab. This is where you can choose from the 12 basses offered. The list of basses is pretty impressive in its own right, and there’s a guide on page 93. As if having access to these 12 basses wasn’t enough, Modo Bass also gives you access to many of the parameters for each one, making them completely customisable and giving you access to a ridiculous number of permutations.
Mutlicoloured chop shop
Once you’ve chosen your bass of choice, you move to the next tab – Play Style – to determine how the bass will be played. You can choose to play with fingers, a pick, or by slapping. Then you can add muting to the strings as you see fit. Next, you can choose whether the stroke is with the index finger, middle finger or alternating – and then decide whether the touch will be normal, hard, or soft. There’s even a control to let the strings ring and decide what fingerings will be recognised – and whether open strings will be used or not. The dynamic range and playing style can be set and adjusted in real time, too. Many of the parameters in this tab can be changed using key switches in the C0 range of your keyboard. I found this to offer the most expressive playing experience I’ve ever had with comparable instruments. The bass tone was constantly evolving and realistic. You can even add more ‘detach’ and slide noise as you see fit.
“Modo offers a truly expressive playing experience…The bass tone was evolving and realistic”
The next tab in line is the Strings tab. From here, you can decide on the number of strings; the action of the strings (standard, high, low); the type of strings (flat wound, round wound); the gauge and age of the strings – and there’s even a button to change your tuning reference based on frequency, like A4 – 440Hz (or 432Hz, for those of you who are more ‘in tune’ with the universe).
I almost forgot to mention that from the first three tabs, you can adjust where the pick will be played on the strings. Grab the triangle positioned over them and drag it up or down the strings to give you more mid-frequency tone (neck), or a rounder, more bass-heavy tone (bridge).
The next tab is the Electronics tab. This enables you to change out the pickups on your bass – so you can choose the pickups from any of the 12 basses and add them to your own. You can go from single-coil to humbucker in the bridge or neck. You can even add a piezo pickup to blend into your tone. And each pickup has its own volume knob for absolute tonal control. Of course, when you go from passive to active circuits on this tab, it enables a three-band EQ for even more control of your tone.
Moving on to the Amp/FX tab, I found I could choose between a solid-state or tube amp, either from the drop-down menu or by clicking on the bass cabinets themselves. Each amp comes with gain and tone controls. The tube amp (with 1×15 cabinet) adds buttons for added punch and harmonics, while the solid-state amp (with 4×10 cabinet) adds a graphic EQ and limiter. In front of the amp, you’ll find four effects pedals, which you can select by clicking on the stomboxes in the image. These pedals are freely assignable, so you can choose which order in which to place your effects.
The pedals on offer are:
- Envelope Filter
- Graphic EQ
These effects all come from the AmpliTube Custom Shop and sound very good. IK went another step further and modelled the interaction between the stompbox effects to accurately replicate how different stomps will affect each other. Pretty nifty.
I also discovered the global bypass. This allows you to shut everything off and route the bass to any other effects package you happen to have on hand. And the volume controls to the far right on the Amp/FX page also allow you to blend between amp and DI signals.
The last tab is the Control tab. Remember the key switching I mentioned earlier? This is where you can assign different keys and knobs to various MIDI CC parameters for performance. This is where you change playing style, select chord or note modes, add vibrato, adjust pluck position… adding up to a whole host of performance parameters. There’s also a MIDI Learn function, so you can assign these parameters to your favourite controller. They’re also completely automatable. This is part of what makes Modo Bass one of the most expressive virtual instruments I’ve ever heard.
I’ve played several virtual bass guitars over the years. I started with Steinberg’s VB-1 and moved to Reason’s Electric Bass Refill. From there, I tried Trilian and Trilogy – both from Spectrasonics. I even tried a couple of the offerings from Native Instruments. I have to say that modern virtual instruments have gotten so good that it’s often hard to choose one over another. In fact, it usually comes down to a matter of personal taste, hard-drive space and wallet size. A package like Trilian is a sample library which, while covering every conceivable type of bass out there and doing it with breathtaking realism, does so at a cost of a whopping 34GB of hard-drive space (not to mention the download time). IK Multimedia’s Modo Bass focuses on electric basses and does so with breathtaking realism in a relatively lean 170MB download.
“IK’s 115 go a long way to getting you to where (and who) you want to be”
IK has also chosen 115 presets which give you some nice variations right out of the box (well, download) – such as the very recognisable ‘Call The Police’ and ‘Jaco’ to the aggressive drive of ‘Stoned’. These presets go a long way to getting you to where (and who) you want to be. And I have to say that, with these performance controls, it’s just plain fun to play!
What’s the bottom line
Sure – there are some synth and acoustic basses I’ll miss out on by not buying one of the larger packages, but that’s what synths are for, right? And I really don’t use virtual acoustic basses very often at all. So, I think this is one brilliant package.The only downside I could come up with is that it costs more than some of the smaller packages and as much as the big boys. Is it worth the outlay?
To my ears, I have to say… yes. You can’t wring this level of realism and customisation – in such a tiny amount of hard-drive space – out of any other option. Add to this the brilliant stompbox and amp emulations from IK’s esteemed AmpliTube library and you get an all-round package worth every penny.