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Why Don't New VCOs Sound as Good as Old VCOs? Keyboard Synthesizers
Old 10th April 2018
  #1
Gear Maniac
 

Why Don't New VCOs Sound as Good as Old VCOs?

I don't want to debate *if* they do. That much is obvious. Every non musician I have over to my house I do a little test with. Play a key on a new VCO synth (P6, OB6, "D" etc). Then play a key on a classic.

There's never any contest. Jaws drop. Eyes widen. Goosebumps appear. Panties drop, sometimes.

The question is why. Why do old VCOs sound so much better that even to amateurs it's never any contest? Or even old DCOs? The Deepmind has no emotional effect on people whatsoever. The Juno makes them swoon. Etcetera.

Sure--you can put a soft synth or anything quite frankly--through $10k of high end processing. But that defeats the purpose.

I appreciate the analogue renaissance. I love it. But. The only new poly that gets close to the old ones in tone is the Dreadbox Abyss. The Mini or modular reissues nail it, but that is exactly the old design.

Is it clocking, pitch control, amps, signal chains? All the above?

For example, in the P6/OB6, it seems like the autotune, or algorithmic cv control of pitch, is sampling and holding, somehow forcing, the start phase of voice--there's a weird kind of artificial forced phasing that sounds very unnatural, very weak, it's very noticeable. The voices don't smush into each other. I have no idea, though, I'm not an engineer. I just know it sounds...off. Nice, but not AS nice.

Is it even fair to call something that has total locked control of pitch or phase etc a "VCO"? Again, I have no idea. I just know I'd rather have a real autotune I press now and then than...this constant, ever-present DSP control of the oscillator that appears to be basically what these new VCOs do. Do we need a whole new word for them? Oscillator fascism?

Hold forth.
Old 10th April 2018
  #2
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Yoozer's Avatar
It is never the VCO alone; the circuitry around it plays a role as well.

Distortion, tolerances, heck, even component age may play a role. But eyes deceive too - the sheer size and occupied space influence, too.
Old 10th April 2018
  #3
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I believe stability is a key to killing the vibe as you suggest. I think a huge part of what you perceive as old vs new has to do with the first few new polys that came out and gave new a bad name. Yeah the p6 and ob6 were overengineered, then slop added back in but ultimately didn’t sound like the originals. The ob6 circuitry was taken from the sem module, yet anyone who has played both know they aren’t close.

The best evidence that it’s not about old/new is the behringer D and reissue D. In this case the new sounds identical to the old because the circuitry was copied exactly. This was not done until the reissue. Uli took it a step further and proved that smt with an exact circuit copy can nail a sound. Until the behringer D, it was never proven or disproven that smt sucked. Now we know.

We really are in the infancy stage of this revival. Give it time and I believe people will demand VCOs that match the old ones and the manufacturers will deliver. Up until last year, people gobbled up anything that was considered a poly and didn’t argue or care.

Keep an eye on the Ubxa. If that nails the obxa it will be further proof that you just need the right circuit, not a specific package, but in my head that has already been proven.
Old 10th April 2018
  #4
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Gringo Starr's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by neonrider View Post
There's never any contest. Jaws drop. Eyes widen. Goosebumps appear. Panties drop, sometimes.
Same... here. This is exactly right. There’s simply no arguing this. I’ve done the same thing and got the same responses from non-musicians who had no clue what synths they were hearing. The “wow” comment always corresponds with a vintage synth.

Actually I’ve never had panties drop because of my old circuitry but maybe someday.

Last edited by Gringo Starr; 10th April 2018 at 10:41 PM..
Old 10th April 2018
  #5
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xanderbeanz's Avatar
Dust
Old 10th April 2018
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vertflyer View Post
I believe stability is a key to killing the vibe as you suggest. I think a huge part of what you perceive as old vs new has to do with the first few new polys that came out and gave new a bad name. Yeah the p6 and ob6 were overengineered, then slop added back in but ultimately didn’t sound like the originals. The ob6 circuitry was taken from the sem module, yet anyone who has played both know they aren’t close.

The best evidence that it’s not about old/new is the behringer D and reissue D. In this case the new sounds identical to the old because the circuitry was copied exactly. This was not done until the reissue. Uli took it a step further and proved that smt with an exact circuit copy can nail a sound. Until the behringer D, it was never proven or disproven that smt sucked. Now we know.

We really are in the infancy stage of this revival. Give it time and I believe people will demand VCOs that match the old ones and the manufacturers will deliver. Up until last year, people gobbled up anything that was considered a poly and didn’t argue or care.

Keep an eye on the Ubxa. If that nails the obxa it will be further proof that you just need the right circuit, not a specific package, but in my head that has already been proven.
the ob6 failed on the wrong capacitors in the filter, the same goes for current SEM modules. stinginess is cool
but it does not always have to be that when deepmind was very similar to the juno used, just do not hold the original chips. if that makes the thinner sound?

I hope the UB-Xa because the "original" chips are used and hopefully no DSI savings glut is used.
Old 10th April 2018
  #7
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time_zone's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by neonrider View Post
I don't want to debate *if* they do. That much is obvious.
Obvious to you maybe.
By the way, asking why "X always occurs" doesn't at all establish the truth of "X always occurs".

Just my 2 cents ...

Old 10th April 2018
  #8
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robot gigante's Avatar
Some sound as good, most (such as your examples) don't, if we are just talking raw VCO sound. Factor in everything else going on in the synth and that's a different story. Also, not every old synth has amazing VCO's.

As regards SMT, anyone with ears knows SMT doesn't suck unless the circuit design sucks, and has known it since SMT was a thing. Nothing needed to be proven. Come on man.

I think circuit design is the main factor.
Old 10th April 2018
  #9
Gear Maniac
I blame too precise vco and autotuning (e.g. exp-converter with high end op amps (prophet 6) and too clean VCA (non ota, mostly ssm2164) which lack distortion, loundness compression and just can‘t really glue the waveforms together.
Old 10th April 2018
  #10
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autoy's Avatar
3 measurable factors that explain why the topic title has a fair amount of right and why many musicians, short of technical knowledge, describe it as mojo or vibe:

1 - PSU: linear PSUs influence the whole circuit current. Today's power sources are switched, much more power efficient but have ripple effects that ultimately affect the sound. To know more: Linear Regulated vs. Switch Mode Power Supply | EAGLE | Blog

2 - VCAs: a fast envelope will never be perceived as fast if it doesn't hit an equally fast amp. Some old OPAmps, specially those with JFET buffering, have an amazing dynamics control. Think of it as a built in compressor that gives that extra thump and width you perceive in many vintage units. Modern synths (hey, even the expensive ones) increasingly use poor VCA solutions (coolaudio esp) leading to a flat sound, hence the perception of sounding "boxed" and limited, less airy and other magical descriptions.

Modern VCAs are clean, precise with scooped mid-heavy response. To me older VCAs sound more balanced but probably younger ears will tell you they prefer the modern sound because most of the music nowadays sounds that way. There is not a right or wrong in this question but I do know what I prefer personally.

3 - Digital control: software generated LFOs for example, don't sound as natural as voltage controlled LFOs, specially when taken to audiorate, if this control voltage is CPU managed. I haven't heard a single instance where a digital controlled LFO isn't terrible at audiorate (compared to CV LFOs or software generated but not polled). Neutron seems to have a software LFO but there's not a CPU polling for values, as there's no storage, so it sounds good at audiorate. DSI synths are specially bad at this for example.

There's more ways digital parameter polling can interfere with sound and it's really hard to get it right. Modern Moogs get the best results by far.
Old 10th April 2018
  #11
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adamstan's Avatar
 

I'm really curious - how would you rate the sound of the poly I'm working on?

The only VCO synths I own are the ones I've built, so I don't have direct comparison with classics. In the past I had Siel Opera 6 and now own Poly61 - both DCO synths.


(for line recording start from 1:02 mark)

As for VCOs - they are pretty typical oscillators built around integrator saw core, and heated 3046 as expo converter. There is no background tuning - only old-school autotune at the press of a button.

VCAs are built with LM13700.

Modulations (LFO and EG) are digital, generated per-voice.

Does it sound "new" or "old"? And does it sound good?
Old 10th April 2018
  #12
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happyham's Avatar
 

I dunno, have you tried the raw square wave of the intellijel dixie or verbos complex oscillator?
Old 10th April 2018
  #13
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drxcm's Avatar
 

Not completely convinced of the truth of this - my moslab 5U oscillators sounds plenty amazing compared to even vintage synths
Old 10th April 2018
  #14
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EvilDragon's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by autoy View Post
I haven't heard a single instance where a digital controlled LFO isn't terrible at audiorate (compared to CV LFOs or software generated but not polled).
Solaris.
Old 10th April 2018
  #15
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autoy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by EvilDragon View Post
Solaris.
Probably, but that's why I said I've never heard (as in experienced).
Old 10th April 2018
  #16
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autoy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by adamstan View Post
I'm really curious - how would you rate the sound of the poly I'm working on?

The only VCO synths I own are the ones I've built, so I don't have direct comparison with classics. In the past I had Siel Opera 6 and now own Poly61 - both DCO synths.


(for line recording start from 1:02 mark)

As for VCOs - they are pretty typical oscillators built around integrator saw core, and heated 3046 as expo converter. There is no background tuning - only old-school autotune at the press of a button.

VCAs are built with LM13700.

Modulations (LFO and EG) are digital, generated per-voice.

Does it sound "new" or "old"? And does it sound good?
I was coincidentally listening to your synth yesterday and congrats, it sounds very, very nice! It sort of reminded me of the Oberheim Matrix DCO series but it has a bit of a Roland JX/MKS edge to it as well. I would classify that sound as late 80's analog.
Old 10th April 2018
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer View Post
It is never the VCO alone; the circuitry around it plays a role as well.
+Googolplex.
I need to repeat it so often.
Strip everything else from the synth, put an oscilloscope lead on the VCO.
If you are at least half competent with an EQ, you will be able to match the VCO sound PERFECTLY with any freeware VSTi (talking about the basic timbre, not functions like sync or audio rate modulation).
The real magic happens further in the signal path.
Old 10th April 2018
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adamstan View Post
Very nice.
Will it be for sale in the future ?
I mean in production quantity of 100 to few hundred units ?

You should make a new thread for the synth, i bet people will have many questions.
Old 10th April 2018
  #19
Gear Maniac
 
adamstan's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mutantt View Post
Very nice.
Will it be for sale in the future ?
I mean in production quantity of 100 to few hundred units ?

You should make a new thread for the synth, i bet people will have many questions.
Yeah, small run - if we manage to make and sell 100 units it will be really good I hope it will be ready this year. I started working on it 3 years ago, and this is my second poly - first was 5 voice with ladder filters built in 2008 (you can see its demo on my channel too - I called it "B5").

When I have next revision prototype ready (hopefully the final one ), I'll make new thread for it.
Old 10th April 2018
  #20
Gear Maniac
 

It’s the amps!

I always hear it as saturation (and of course, drifty imprecision)
Old 10th April 2018
  #21
The op is comparing synths, NOT VCOs.

You simply can't extract the new VCO from everything else in the synth that impacts on the sound.
I have old modular VCOs and I have new modular VCOs and if you get well made new ones they don't sound that different.
I think the biggest difference with old VCOs is (as has been mentioned above) they have bad tolerances, design faults and imprecise circuitry - which makes them sound fat sometimes and gives them a lot of character.
Old 10th April 2018
  #22
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Old 10th April 2018
  #23
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by pppch View Post
the ob6 failed on the wrong capacitors in the filter
You (or perhaps it was someone else) have said that before, I think it was in the UB-Xa thread. But has anyone ever tried replacing those caps with the silver mica caps you're no doubt referring to? Looking at the voices boards it doesn't seem too difficult.
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Old 10th April 2018
  #24
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Bach666's Avatar
 

Does this undeniable truth apply to Studio Electronics Boomstars too?
Old 10th April 2018
  #25
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as long as people make good music with worse sounding new VCOs, who cares?In a mix noone will notice anyway. Just make music and don't care about how your tools are sounding (tipp by various pro artists).
Old 10th April 2018
  #26
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Acid Mitch's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gringo Starr View Post

Actually I’ve never had pantries drop because of my old circuitry but maybe someday.
You should try a larder filter. Works every time.
Old 10th April 2018
  #27
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EvilDragon's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by decoder23 View Post
as long as people make good music with worse sounding new VCOs, who cares?In a mix noone will notice anyway. Just make music and don't care about how your tools are sounding (tipp by various pro artists).
QFT.
Old 10th April 2018
  #28
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string6theory's Avatar
Queefing Free Turds?

Or is that the OP?

You know when pppch is in da house, it’s all “troll free”!

Oh, btb, my new synths rock.

Carry on...

Old 10th April 2018
  #29
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Yoozer's Avatar
@string6theory - it's "Quoted For Truth"

Quote:
Originally Posted by pppch View Post
the ob6 failed on the wrong capacitors in the filter, the same goes for current SEM modules. stinginess is cool
What makes the original SEM have the "right" capacitors?

You launch something and you hope it'll be a success. If it's not, then you might be wrong? Or you may be right, just not that great at marketing. Or right for a specific subset of people whose taste matches yours.

The ability to make a "musical" design has not been lost; that is not the issue. Perhaps this is just all a matter of taste (or even hearing loss related to age). If your high frequencies are attenuated, you might design in such a way that you add more HF.

Quote:
Originally Posted by decoder23 View Post
Just make music and don't care about how your tools are sounding (tipp by various pro artists).
But making music is scary, it's easier to talk about your tools.

*looks at own postcount*

oh, crap

Quote:
Originally Posted by autoy View Post
I was coincidentally listening to your synth yesterday and congrats, it sounds very, very nice! It sort of reminded me of the Oberheim Matrix DCO series but it has a bit of a Roland JX/MKS edge to it as well. I would classify that sound as late 80's analog.
JX8P was the first thing I thought when I heard this as well. Must be the glassy sync-patches.
Old 10th April 2018
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoozer View Post

But making music is scary, it's easier to talk about your tools.

*looks at own postcount*

oh, crap
I actually lied, imho gearslutz is for people, or at least it has been like that for me over the last years, who do care if synth A sounds "better" than synth B or just different and I like that. It's gear talk, not music talk and gear talk includes to talk about quality of gear with positive and negative aspects.
But lately it seems that people start to care less if a machine sounds really good or if it's "ok for the money" and people who talk about differences just get hit by the "in the mix hammer" and similar things.. of course it is true that talented people can make good music with literally everything and less talented people won't even make more than an average track in a studio which is full of high end gear..
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