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Cherry Audio Novachord & Solovox

Cherry Audio Novachord & Solovox

Cherry Audio delve into the distant past to bring us two new virtual instruments.

Although it appears simplistic to modern eyes, the Hammond Novachord, which introduced much that we now take for granted in analogue synthesis, must have been mind‑boggling when it appeared in 1939. All of its sounds were generated from a single waveshape created by a fully polyphonic divide‑down oscillator bank. The output from this was then passed in parallel through five filters, and the outputs from these were mixed with the unfiltered signal using the front‑panel volume controls. Deep Tone was a path through a gentle low‑pass filter, the three Resonators were paths through differently tuned band‑pass filters, and Brilliant Tone was a path through a gentle high‑pass filter. From here, the signal passed through an attenuator (the ‘Balancer’) that affected only the lower half of the keyboard to allow the player to balance the treble and bass registers to taste, while a further set of low‑pass filters (controlled by the ‘Bright‑Mellow’ lever) affected the upper 54 keys but left the 18 lowest notes unaffected.

Loudness shaping was performed by an ADSR contour generator. Seven preset shapes were provided, ranging from a piano‑like AD contour, through a range of ADS contours, to vocal‑like AS contours with slow attacks. In all cases, the release was instantaneous unless you pressed one of the sustain pedals. The final stage in the signal path was a simple volume control.

The modulation generator was perhaps the most unusual part of the design. This comprised no fewer than six mechanical, fixed‑frequency LFOs, with each affecting two of the notes in the octave. Because these oscillated at slightly different rates and depths, they imparted a more complex and musical vibrato than would have been obtained by applying a single LFO to all 12 master oscillators. Four settings were available: off, small, normal, and small+normal for the deepest effect.

The only other control was a switch called Combination, which was, in effect, a two‑position patch memory, one for a predetermined percussive sound, and the other for a predetermined sustained sound.

The Software Version

Unlike the Kontakt instruments that are its competition (see box) Cherry’s emulation is generated by DSP rather than samples, so perhaps this is why its polyphony is limited to 32 voices. But there are many other differences between it and the original. For example, its Balancer acts as a key slope centred on C2, diminishing the level on one side while emphasising the other. It’s a valid approach, but it’s not how the original functioned. Also (for obvious reasons) any damper pedal connected to your MIDI controller operates across the whole width of the soft synth, whereas the original had three pedals — one for the lower 36 notes alone, and two that affected the whole keyboard.

Moving on, Bright‑Mellow is now a continuous control rather than a two‑position switch, and it filters the whole keyboard range. Again, this is valid, if not authentic. However, it seemed to me that its performance was not quite right, so I asked Cherry Audio about this and they told me, “Our implementation of Bright/Mellow is in error, and we’re currently wrapping up work on an update to address it.” I commend them on their lack of bullshit; by the time that you read this, all should be well. Another error lies in the release time, which is rather too short, so I hope that this will also be addressed.

Turning to the modulation, the soft synth employs six LFOs oscillating at very slightly different frequencies to emulate the...

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