From Jurgen Haible:
The lush Sound of the Solina (TM) Ensemble is created by 3 BBD delay lines that are modulated in a unique way:
There are two 3-phase modulation generators, one running at slow speed ("Chorus"), and one running at high speed ("Vibrato").
We'll focus on one of the modulation generators first, "Chorus": the slow one.
"3-Phase" means that the modulation generator has 3 outputs, each of which's phase is roughly 120 deg apart from the previous output.
Let's call them "0 deg", "120 deg" and 240 deg" - it's easy to see that, with 360 deg describing a full circle, the three modulation outputs a modulation generator are equally distributed around a circle. They are routed to the CV inputs of the 3 BBD's clock VCOs. Modulation of a BBD line causes a pitch shift similar to the Doppler effect of a moving sound source, so with the 3 BBD lines modulated by the 3-phase control signals, a sonic image of 3 sound sources that are moving along the same circle, with equal distance to one another along the outline of the circle, is created.
Actually, each BBD clock VCO is controlled not by a single modulation generator, but by a combination of the slow and the fast generator.
BBD1 sees a CV that is combined from the Chorus generator's "0 deg" output and the Vibrato generator's "0 deg" output.
BBD2 sees Chorus "120 deg" and Vibrato "120 deg".
BBD3 sees Chorus "240deg" and Vibrato "240 deg".
This method creates the famous "Solina" sound, which was so sucessfull that it has been emulated by other manufacturers.
Of these, I have studied two very closely: The Crumar Performer, and the Dr. Boehm Phasing Rotor 78. I've also taken a look at the Korg Polysix's Ensemble mode.
The original Solina did not use a 3-phase oscillator at all. Not even a sine wave oscillator, for that matter.
There's a Square Wave oscillator which is then turned into an approximated sine wave by heavy filtering, creating the "0 deg" signal of the "Chorus" part.
This is then fed into a 1-pole low pass filter with a gain 1.83 for very low frequencies. The brilliant idea behind this: For one specific input frequency, you get unity gain and the desired 120 degree phase shift. You can adjust the frequency of the square wave generator for the "0 deg " and "120 deg" signals to have the same amplitude, and you'll have the right frequency and the right phase shift automatically.
The "240 deg" signal is not created with another filter: It's derived from the "0 deg" and "120 deg" signal with a simple inverting adder stage. (The wonders of vector maths: The vector sum of a balanced 3-phase system is always zero.)
The "Vibrato" path even needs one stage less: There's the square wave oscillator with filtering for the "0 deg" signal, a LPF for the "120 deg signal".
These two signals are added to the "Chorus" signal chain at the respective stages, so the inverting adder of the "Chorus" takes care of the vector maths to create the "240 deg" signal of the "Vibrato" as well. (Even though there is no point in the circuit where you could measure the individual "240 deg" signals separately!)
This was pretty brilliant at a time when saving an opamp stage in a circuit made a difference. :)
From today's point of view, it's the tiny flaws of the original method that may make it interesing: Whatever adjustment of the Vibrato and Chorus speed potentiometers, it is not possible to create a perfect level balance and equal phase distribution for both, the fast and the slow part of the modulation.
My conclusion is that if there is a perceivable difference in the sound of a Solina, compared to a Boehm or the Polysix (other than EQ-ing and SNR), this may have to do with these special modulation waveforms.
The Boehm, for instance, has a very direct and precise method of directly creating 3-phase signals.
When emulating the behaviour of some Vintage instrument, my design goal is always to be as precise as possible. But don't get fooled: If part of that vintage sound is due to certain imperfections, all the precision of the emulation must be directed to re-create that specific - once "non-perfect", but now your reference! - solution.
This doesn't mean to just copy the original and to use the same components. While this certainly works in most cases, it's rarely an option if you want to give others the oportunity to to build your circuit as well. I have a set of TCA 350's in my drawer, but I'd rather go for BBDs that are still available (even when production has long stopped), the TDA1022. And I've omitted a lot of the more bulky components in the Solina's modulation generators, but I've painstakingly taken care to get the same waveforms, with all their "flaws", as in the original. (A circuit simulator is a gift from heaven for that kind of work.)
I've also noticed that a diode in the Solina's BBD Clock VCOs is slightly bending the combined modulation waveform, before it really hits the VCO core. As my VCO implementation is different - CMOS gates like the Boehm, instead of transistors - that kind of waveform bending is also implemented in a different way, to get the same result without introducing en extra 21V supply rail. I've made it adjustable with a trimmer, so you can set that effect to your taste, Solina Way or Dr. Boehm Way.
Filtering in general, and the Crumar Performer in particular
In the Solina, the signal as it comes from the tone generation and string sound shaping, runs thru a second order 12kHz filter before it goes into the BBDs. This acts as an anti-aliasing filter, as well as adding to the sound shaping a bit.
With longer BBD lines (TDA1022 instead of TCA350), the clock frequency can be higher, this allowing for a wider bandwidth without increased aliasing. So I've implemented a 16kHz anti-aliasing filter, plus a 12kHz filter, to be able to choose a broadband sound vs. a slightly darker sound. A third option was inspired by the Crumar Performer: It has a very specialized 3-Band EQ that is very effective on string sounds. With my Performer, I get very convincing, yet very different, string sounds with a 0-10-0 setting and with a 10-0-10 setting (low-mid-high). I've included this wonderful EQ in my emulation.
Specs & Downloads
Specs & Downloads
|Additional Resources||Build Guide & Bill of Materials|