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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 Novachord’s vibrato but, instead of having fixed routings, these are assigned as you play, which the developers feel offers a more natural quality to the sound. In addition, the modulation generator offers two waveforms. This is because there was a change in the waveshape from square‑ish to triangle‑ish during the Novachord’s production run. Other improvements include a continuous volume control and the addition of a room/hall reverb that adds a huge amount to the untreated sound. There’s also a simple limiter but, with correct programming, you should never need this.

So... how accurate does it sound? Perhaps the most apposite response to this is, “Why does that matter? You’re never going to get the chance to conduct an A/B test!” But, if pressed, I would suggest that, while it has the soul of the Novachord, it’s a little too polite to be a perfect emulation, perhaps because the well‑behaved oscillators, filters and modulators don’t capture the instabilities of the original. Whether this is a fair comparison (after all, the only referents are roughly 80 years old!) and whether it’s a shortcoming or a blessing is for you to decide. But if there’s a tangible disappointment, it’s that Cherry declined the temptation to add velocity sensitivity. This may seem the purists’ approach, but the prototype of the original was velocity‑sensitive, and this feature was only removed when Hammond discovered that it was too expensive to implement on production models. I hope that the developers will add this to the list of MIDI control sources in a future update.

But what of the sound itself? In truth, it can be gorgeous. Played through a tube saturation emulator and then your favourite selection of choruses, delays and reverbs, the soft synth shares much of the quality so beautifully captured by Dani Wilson’s samples of #346. Patch it and play it like a cheap organ and it will sound like one but, with a bit of careful tweaking and sympathetic playing, solo strings and ensembles just pour out of it, as can ethereal voices that make my Roland VP‑330 throw jealous hissy‑fits. Layer it using two or more instances and swoon. Of course, the Novachord architecture is capable of more than that but its palette is, by modern standards, very constrained so don’t expect too much of it and remember that a small selection of beautiful sounds is worth more than a huge library of mediocrity.

Coffee & Mints

Bundled with the Novachord, Cherry’s Solovox looks and feels nothing like its namesake, which was similar in design to a Clavioline. The differences are so significant that I contacted the company to ask whether the two are related at all. I was told, “We felt the original Solovox’s interface was very limited and that, with its switches underneath the keys, it would’ve been difficult to represent. We also felt that a straight emulation would not be interesting as a plug‑in. So we decided to blend its speaker, vacuum tubes and fundamental controls into an updated interface that is more visually interesting, and we implemented the controls as continuously variable knobs to provide much more flexibility than the fixed switches of the original.”

Cherry Audio have completely reimagined the Solovox’s front panel.Cherry Audio have completely reimagined the Solovox’s front panel.

Its voice generation starts with a single oscillator offering a button (‘Mute’ — as in a brass instrument’s mute, not silence) to switch between a sawtooth‑ier or a square‑wave‑ier tone, and four octaves of the octave‑divided waveform, selectable in any combination. The signal then passes through five parallel audio paths, with a low‑passed version (deep tone), an unadulterated version (full tone), two band‑pass filtered versions with adjustable peak frequencies (first and second voices), and a high‑pass filtered version (brilliant). This time, the loudness contour generator is an ASR offering variable attack (percussion/singing, not to be confused with Korg’s different use of the same terms) and release (short/long). A fixed vibrato is also provided but there’s no way to adjust the depth of this, even when using MIDI CCs or other controllers; it’s either on or off. Finally, there’s an exponential glide with adjustable rate, and a basic reverb with no controls other than depth. And that’s yer lot, baby!

In use, it sounds like what it is — a basic and well‑behaved monosynth. However, I’ve never heard a well‑behaved instrument of the Clavioline family. I’ve owned three, and all of them were brash, harsh, aggressive... choose your adjective. There’s something about the Cherry Solovox that’s too damn nice, and a more peaky response with some well‑analysed and recreated grit and distortion in the signal path would have brought it closer to the original, especially an original suffering from decades of electronic degradation. Nonetheless, it allows you to recreate sounds redolent of the mid‑20th Century, and its limitations force you into the same territory as before, whether recreating 80‑year‑old imitations of flutes and clarinets or playing ‘Telstar’. Whether that appeals or not is, as always, a matter of taste.

In common with other Cherry soft synths, the Solovox allows you to assign MIDI controllers to voice parameters, each with minimum and maximum values and selectable response curves. Assignments can be global or on a per‑patch basis. You can even direct a single controller to multiple destinations. Make it sing!In common with other Cherry soft synths, the Solovox allows you to assign MIDI controllers to voice parameters, each with minimum and maximum values and selectable response curves. Assignments can be global or on a per‑patch basis. You can even direct a single controller to multiple destinations. Make it sing!

Final Thoughts (For Now)

Cherry Audio have made a name for themselves by creating imitative soft synths and selling them at affordable prices. Although it’s questionable whether there was a need for yet another ‘soft’ Minimoog or ARP 2600, many of their products have been a little more leftfield and have represented excellent value for money even though one or two have fallen a tad short when compared directly with their inspirations. But this isn’t a criticism that will be levelled easily against either of the instruments reviewed here because it’s rumoured that as few as five fully functional examples of the Novachord now exist, and the Solovox fares little better.

I suspect that the Novachord is the one that will persuade you to hand over your cash and that the Solovox will be viewed as a bonus, but who knows... some players might love it.

So kudos to Cherry Audio for making these available to us in modern form, albeit with many changes from the original architectures and controls. Speaking of which... both soft synths also include Cherry’s MIDI Learn system, which means that you can map aftertouch, any MIDI CC, MMC, or key on your QWERTY keyboard to any number of controls on their panels with your choice of range, polarity and curve for each. Within their limitations, this makes both instruments expressive in ways that Laurens Hammond may never have dreamed possible. Inevitably, these changes and extensions may not appeal to purists. On the other hand, there may be too few additions to appeal to potential owners who like their soft synths to include the dining room table as well as the kitchen sink. But if you fall between these extremes and have a penchant for something different from the likes of the myriad Minimoogs, Odysseys, Prophets and Jupiters that dominate the pantheon of imitative soft synths, they’re worth a look. I suspect that the Novachord is the one that will persuade you to hand over your cash and that the Solovox will be viewed as a bonus, but who knows... some players might love it. Either way, let’s party like it’s 1939.  

Many thanks to Dani Wilson at Hideaway Studios for her help with this review.

The Alternatives

Cherry Audio Novachord & SolovoxPhoto: DA Wilson, Hideaway Studio

Many years ago I was contacted by Dani Wilson, a vintage synthesizer specialist who had purchased a Novachord from synth guru Marc Doty and had it shipped to the UK. (The story behind this instrument — serial number 346 — and its loving restoration is told in detail at Not long after receiving it, Dani sent me a selection of samples that blew me away. There was something magical about them, especially when treated with modern effects, and Dani subsequently partnered with Steve Howell at Hollow Sun to create a rather excellent Novachord Kontakt instrument (SOS July 2010). Competition for this arrived not long after in the form of another sample‑based recreation from Soniccouture (SOS October 2010), which is based upon Phil Cirocco’s instrument in the US. Samples or DSP? I’ll leave you to decide.


  • Two unusual soft synths that might send you down unexpected musical paths.
  • The Novachord is capable of creating some gorgeous strings, pads and choral sounds.
  • Cherry’s MIDI Learn system extends both instruments considerably.
  • They’re not going to break the bank.


  • They’re not wholly accurate recreations of their inspirations — particularly in the case of the Solovox.
  • Velocity sensitivity would be nice.
  • They will prove to be too limited and limiting for many players.


Cherry’s latest offering comprises a pair of limited but unusual soft synths that drag two of the earliest attempts at synthesis into the modern world. They’re not for everyone and I doubt that they will be at the centre of your music creation, but they could add interesting flavours that you won’t find elsewhere.


$39 including VAT.