Sonuus B2M MIDI interface for bass: not the next big thing
(Dave Molter | Posted 2010-05-09)
Bass players have experienced synth envy since the first MiniMoog bassline appeared in the 1970s, and although almost 40 years have passed, there are still few viable options for bassists who want to play synth lines without learning keyboard. In fact, the Roland V Bass systems are about the only reliable bass synths systems available, and those require the expenditure of $1,400 and the addition of a pickup to your bass of choice. With keyboards capable of producing a raft of bass and other sounds in the $200-$300 range, that's a lot to spend to release your inner Funkadeklic.
That's why I was intrigued to see the new Sonuus B2M Universal Bass-to-MIDI Converter. At a street price of $99 USD, the B2M looked like it might be a low cost alternative to at last allow bassists to compete with their keyboard playing brothers and sisters. A brief demo of the B2M on Youtube convinced me that the device was worth a look, so I picked one up from Musiciansfriend.com.
The B2M is a compact (83mm × 58mm × 34mm) green and white plastic box, powered by one, 9V battery (included). Setup is simple: plug your bass into the 1/4" jack on the front, and run a standard 5-pin MIDI cable between the B2M's MIDI out port and the MIDI IN port on your keyboard or synth module of choice. In my case, I used the B2M to drive an Alesis Micron synth. A standard 1/4" output jack allows you to run your unaltered bass signal to your amplifier. Four top-mounted colored LEDs function as a MIDI signal indicator, clip light, low battery indicator and power-tuner. The power-tuner LED acts as an n electronic tuner for notes low B through high F, making it effective for even 7-string basses. The more out of tune a string is, the more the LED pulses. A "Chromatic" slider switch allows the user to send notes without pitch bend information. The box is well made and includes a wrist-carry strap. Were I to use the B2M in live situations, I'd mount Velcro on the bottom or a cellphone anti-slip pad to keep the M2B from falling off the amp.
After setting up the B@M and my Micron, I connected a number of different basses: a Dingwall Combustion strung with rounds; a Lakland 55-4 strung with flats; an OLP Fretless strung with rounds; and a Hofner Icon strung with flats. The B2M instruction sheet suggest that users turn down the volume of the bass to avoid having the Clip indicator illuminate. However, even at full volume on all four basses (three of which are active), I never saw the Clip indicator flash.
I began testing with the Dingwall with EQ set flat and both pickups on full. I knew that in most cases, fast playing was a no-no, so I started slow. Although latency was low (no appreciable delay between the plucked note and what was produced by the synthesizer) I experienced many octave jumps and "gliches" as the interface picked up overtones. The B2M manual suggests that if this occurs, you try using only the neck pickup, turn down the tone controls or switch plucking hand position. It also recommends muting the strings with the palm of your plucking hand. I did all this in various combinations with only moderately good results. Octave jumps still occurred, but less so when I completely muted the string both the plucked string and the open strings.
Seeking to cut down on ringing and overtones, I next hooked up my Lakland 55-94, which is strung with D'Addario Chromes flats. Flatwounds cut the number of octave jumps and false triggers significantly, but I was still unable to play anything other than mid-tempo lines with success. This was the case with my Hofner Icon, also string with flats. I had less luck with mu OLP fretless.
The Alesis Micron has 25 preset bass sounds, including a Moog Taurus clone and a few MiniMoog bass staples, as well as pads, leads, strings, brass and more. Latency was good -- no appreciable gap between plucking and sound. However, the Micron seems to always trigger in the same octave a lot of time. That is, I would play a line on the G string, then go down an octave and play the same line, but the Micron never changed octaves. In fact, I could get the octave change only when playing very slowly.
The bottom line
Although inexpensive, well-made and well thought-out, the Sonuus B2M Universal Bass-To-MIDI converter is not a plug 'n' play solution for bassists who want to jump right in to playing complicated synth lines on bass. To get the most out of the B2M, be prepared to alter your playing style and, probably, the sound of your bass to achieve accurate tracking. This means that you must pay close attention to attack, muting and cleanliness in your playing. Although this is a good thing, it's not something you're likely to achieve overnight.
The B2M worked best for me with flatwound strings. If you hate flats, be prepared to tinker with your setup to make roundwounds work. My advice for using the B2M live:
* Put an EQ pedals between your bass output and the B2M input and try cutting frequencies until you achieve good tracking.
* It is possible to double synth bass lines by running an unaltered signal to your amp. If you plan to do this, I'd recommend a second amp for the synth, or take it direct to the PA system.
<*If you plan to switch between synth and bass, this can be achieved by using an A/B box or something like the Radial Engineering Bass Bone.
Although the B2M seems like a good idea, I believe it will take most players some time to make it work effectively. If you're interested in approximating synth bass lines with the least amount of effort -- but an a higher price -- you many want to look into one of the many bass synth stompboxes , including the new Mark Bass SuperSynth, which sells for around $250 USD.
Dave Molter(“Laklander”) has played bass professionally for 45 years. He is a freelance writer and moderator of the Music Gear Review bass guitar forums. Dave’s bass influences include Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, Chris Squire and Tony Levin. His primary bass is a Lakland 55-94 five-string. Dave uses Genz-Benz amplifiers and Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flats or Lakland Nickel Rounds strings. Bass Guitar Forums