Solaris: THE quintessential vector synth?

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Christopher
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Solaris: THE quintessential vector synth?

Post by Christopher »

A few days ago I stumbled across this fascinating text, written by Chris Meyer, where he tells the story of how the Prophet VS was created:

http://www.vintagesynth.com/sci/birth.txt

There is one section where he goes into much detail regarding the oscillators on that machine and how the way they work was specifically chosen so that they create a fair amount of digital artifacts when they are pitched way down. (Similar to what happens on a PPG.)

I've never actually used a Prophet VS, but I always thought I had a pretty good idea of its sonic potential because I do have a Wavestation (which I know inside out). Of course the Wavestation lacks proper filters, but it does do Vector Synthesis and it also has the original VS waveshapes; should be kind of similar right?

Well, I've never known the Wavestation to sound particularly "gritty". Quite the opposite. Now reading that text about the original VS oscillators made me wonder if there is actually more to it than just taking the original VS waveshapes and running them through a generic sample playback engine (which is what KORG seemingly did on the Wavestation).

So yesterday I did a little shootout between the Wavestation and the SOLARIS. Both claim to have the original VS waveshapes, so are there any differences?

Boy, was I in for a surprise!!!

When playing notes in the center of the keyboard, initially there doesn't seem to be too much difference. The SOLARIS sounds a bit "fatter" (or the Wavestation a bit "thinner" depending on how you look at it), but not dramatically so. Higher notes appear a fair bit brighter on the Wavestation, the SOLARIS' VS oscillators seem to roll off the top end. But again, this doesn't appear too dramatic, probably something that could be adjusted with a bit of EQ in the mix.
But where it gets really interesting, is bass. The further you move down on the keyboard, the more you can tell how differently both machines behave. If you really pitch it way down, there is just no comparison anymore. Where the Wavestation stays very clean but also gets quite dull, the SOLARIS starts to bring in all those fantastic overtones in the top end. Weird stuff, but so beautiful. It is totally awesome and really has balls!
(And it definitely does give the filters something to work with, which makes it even cooler.)
So clearly the VS oscillators on the SOLARIS do much more than just play back those VS waveshapes. There actually seems to be quite a bit of emulation going on.

Is anyone here in the position to do a direct comparison between the SOLARIS and an original Prophet VS? I'd be very interested to hear an opinion from that angle.


And then there is one other thing: The SOLARIS finally has the joystick right!
On the Wavestation I always found the "Vector Stick" a bit weird because it basically moves within a round shape which doesn't really match the rectangular arrangement of the underlying four waves.
Furthermore, the waves are arranged in a "diamond" pattern, so they are turned by 45 degrees as opposed to a regular square X-Y coordinate system. Apparently it was the same on the Prophet VS. In his story, Chris Meyer mentions that he also feels that designing it like that was wrong.

Now behold the mighty SOLARIS: The vector mixers represent a regular X-Y coordinate system with the waves sitting in the top-left, top-right, bottom-left and bottom-right corners.
It just makes so much more sense to have it this way!
And what's more: Even the joystick moves within a square field, so you can actually physically feel the four corners where the individual waves sit. Just perfect!

John, making these changes, rotating the arrangement of the vector mixer by 45 degrees, was a great design decision. Thumbs up!

John Bowen
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Re: Solaris: THE quintessential vector synth?

Post by John Bowen »

Thanks, Christopher!

Yes, what you have here is the difference between a sample being played back with the Wavestation, and the real generation of digital waveshapes with the Solaris. I wanted very much to reproduce the way the Waldorf and VS waves were generated, so that you get the aliasing as you play down in the lower range, so that's what we did! I no longer have a Prophet VS to compare, but I can tell you that we used the original data tapes from the VS to properly generate the waveshapes.

John Bowen
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Posts: 1904
Joined: Sat Apr 07, 2007 3:00 am

Re: Solaris: THE quintessential vector synth?

Post by John Bowen »

Christopher wrote:A few days ago I stumbled across this fascinating text, written by Chris Meyer, where he tells the story of how the Prophet VS was created:

http://www.vintagesynth.com/sci/birth.txt

There is one section where he goes into much detail regarding the oscillators on that machine and how the way they work was specifically chosen so that they create a fair amount of digital artifacts when they are pitched way down. (Similar to what happens on a PPG.)
Chris Meyer's article describes it very well (it's been a while since I read that - good to refresh). That was the same goal I had with the Solaris, since we had both the original VS wave data as well as the Waldorf tables (thanks again to Waldorf for their kind permission to use the original tables!).

For the VS, I was responsible to generate the factory waveshapes, and to name them (which I never really finished!).
For some, I had certain combinations of intervals (using the additive program to set up 2 or 3 octaves, or octave + 5th, etc.), but most of them I did using Hacker, a program Josh Jeffe had created. This allowed me to use the mouse to quickly draw the waveshape and hear it in real time, and whenever I got something I liked, I saved it. (Not a big deal now, but back in 1986, it was a great advantage!). We also took a few single cycles from samples of Josh's voice and one or two other things, and for about 5 or 6 waveshapes, I tried to approximate a number of waveshapes from the graphic on the Korg DW6000's front panel using the additive program (they had printed on the front panel little representations of the additive content of some waveshapes). The visual approximation turned out pretty well, if I recall!

Here's the text from Chri's article:
The original waves for the VS were created three ways - extracting single-cycles from sampled
sounds, using a custom additive synthesis program, and using a program Josh slapped together
called "Hacker" where you could draw the waveshape. These were fed straight from the computer
through the filter and VCA of a Pro-One to figure out what the might sound
like in a patch. And by the way, no PPG waveforms appear inside the VS - we
had access to them, but in the end our consciences got the better of us. We
did steal some waveforms from the Korg DW6000, but only by looking at the
harmonic drawings on the front panel and trying to imitate them in our additive synthesis program.
In addition - on the actual Prophet VS instrument, you could create your own waveshapes by combining them using the joystick to set the levels of up to 4 oscs, and then store the result as a new waveshape. I thought this was extremely cool! (And it's one of the reasons I put on a 'silent' waveshape, so you could have combinations of less than 4 oscs if needed.)

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