The Alesis NanoBass bass synthesizer module was an off-shoot of company's Quadrasynth products.

In typical form, Alesis did what they do best - they took their technology and stripped everything down to the bare minimum to offer an affordable 'Nano-series' of products.

They did it before with their 'Nano-series' of multi-effects - why not do it again with their synths?!

The NanoBass was a member of a trio of 'Nano' products that also included the NanoSynth and the NanoPiano. Together, they offered over 1,000 sounds with 192-voice polyphony across 48 MIDI channels through three pairs of stereo outputs for under £1,000! In 1997, this was a steal! The 1/2 rack-mount format meant that two could fit into one single IU rack space (with an appropriate rack-mount adaptor tray).

The user interface for all three products was blindingly simple - 16 categories of sounds each with 16 variations offering 256 sounds for each module that were easily selectable from two rotary switches on the front panel (the NanoSynth was slightly different in that it offered a further 400+ sounds selectable using MIDI bank and program changes). All three modules also had built-in effects that could be added with the twist of the EFFECTS balance control. You had to be an idiot if you couldn't use the Nano-series!

If it all sounds too good to be true, there was one limitation - none of the sounds could be edited from the front panel but given the diversity of the sounds (and variations) on offer from each module, this wasn't quite the limitation you might expect. You could edit them using a 3rd-party commercial librarian/editor program (such as Mark Of The Unicorn’s Unisyn) if you were feeling adventurous but this had limitations not least of which was that you had to be fairly fluent in MIDI SysEx and with no on-board storage facilities on the NanoBass itself, any custom sounds you made had to be stored off-line and dumped (one-by-one) into the module. This complexity seemed at odds with the simplicity of the front panel UI.

The NanoBass was designed with one thing in mind - to provide a wide range of quality bass sounds to cover an equally wide range of applications. In that respect, it succeeded very well with various acoustic, fretless, electric, funk/slap and assorted synth bass categories (including 'rap', 'house', 'acid') on offer each with 16 variations. Some of these included bass 'effects' such as thumps, scrapes, rattles and finger squeaks. This innocuous little box was a veritable powerhouse source of solid bass sounds.

Of course, not every one of the 256 sounds was totally unique and some samples were re-used in different programs with variations provided by use of the effects and/or the internal synth parameters. As a result, some categories had duplications with some sounds being almost identical except, perhaps, for a subtle variation of chorus rate or depth or a hint more reverb (or whatever) but overall, the NanoBass provided a good range of useful bass sounds that could be used in a diverse range of musical styles.

Despite rave reviews at the time in several influential magazines, the NanoBass failed to make a big impression on the market. This was possibly because people were reluctant to spend £300 ($500) on what was perceived to be a limited and specialised 'one trick pony' - the lack of any editing (and/or the complexity of external software editing) probably didn't help either. Either way, it's a shame because the NanoBass was a good piece of useful kit to have at your disposal.

NanoBass modules can now be found for as little as $50 in the classifieds and second-hand shops and they are well worth picking up as a simple, no-nonsense source of quality bass sounds.

There are deliberate omissions in the collection where sounds in the original are obviously duplicated. For example, where the same sound is used several times in the same category but just with subtle (almost inaudible!) differences in the effects settings, the 'straight' or basic sound is used leaving you free to add your own effects as you think appropriate. Similarly, where sounds from one category are re-used in other categories, (for example, fretless/acoustic bass re-used in the Rap category), the duplications are deliberately omitted.