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Cherry Audio Elka-X

Software Synthesizer By Gordon Reid
Published February 2023

Cherry Audio Elka-X

Cherry Audio recreate that rarest of beasts, the Elka Synthex.

Several reasons have been advanced to explain the spectacular commercial failure of the Elka Synthex. Some have blamed the name — Elka were primarily associated with low‑cost organs and accordions. Others have blamed the company’s failure to appoint an appropriate distribution network. Yet others blame the DX7, although that’s daft because the Yamaha appeared nearly two years later. But one thing seems clear; no‑one claims that it was a failure because it sounded bad.

Despite its sophisticated looks, the Synthex was a basic, bi‑timbral polysynth. In each of its eight voices, the outputs from two DCOs plus noise were presented to a multi‑mode filter and then an audio amplifier before the mixed audio was passed through a chorus effect and onward to the outside world. Ring modulation of one oscillator by the other plus an unusual cross‑PWM feature created complex tones for sounds such as bells and chimes, two ADSR contour generators provided shaping, and low‑frequency modulation was generated by a global LFO per layer plus a dedicated vibrato oscillator. The eight voices could be split between its Upper and Lower parts to provide splits and layers, but neither velocity nor aftertouch were supported. If this sounds much like an Oberheim OB‑Xa or OB‑8, it’s because it is. The only unusual extra was the provision of a four‑track sequencer.

Introducing The Elka‑X

Although it looks like a Synthex, Cherry Audio have followed a well‑trodden path with the Elka‑X by taking the original architecture and extending it in numerous ways. So, for example, whereas you could only detune DCO2 on the original, you now have independent fine‑tuning of both oscillators. More significant changes can be found in the filter (where a 12dB/octave low‑pass mode has now appeared) and amplifier sections, as well as in the contour generators, where you can now determine the desired amount of velocity sensitivity. What you won’t find, however, are any ‘analogue feel’ controls to add small inconsistencies between voices. Perhaps because the Synthex used DCOs, Cherry felt that these would be inappropriate.

There are now three onboard effects units; the original chorus has been emulated, but the soft synth also boasts a sync’able, multi‑mode delay unit and a reverb. When you use the Elka‑X bi‑timbrally, a complete set is available in each Layer. The Master output pane has also been extended, with controls for layer volume and pan as well as master tuning and volume, and a simple limiter has been added to minimise any nasties.

The primary modulation source is again an LFO per layer rather than per voice. This generates your choice from six waveforms (a uni‑polar square wave and a random mode have been added) with independent depths for the Group A bus (DCO1’s and DCO2’s pitches and pulse widths) and the Group B bus (the filter cutoff frequency, amplifier gain and the sequencer rate). The LFO can be synchronised to the master/MIDI Clock and has also gained a Reset function, reinitialising the waveform when a new note is played after all previous have been released. The performance pane containing the triangle‑wave LFO2 and pitch‑bend...

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