Cherry Audio Novachord & Solovox Collection elegantly revives rare synths from the 1940s
Cherry Audio has recreated two obscure but classic instruments that paved the way for synthesizers as we know them
⊕ One of the few emulations of this era’s synths br>
⊕ Supremely affordable br>
⊕ Solovox in particular is fun for melodies and sequences br>
⊕ Added features like MIDI mapping and effects br>
⊖ Limited sonic palette by modern standards br>
Even for a developer that excels in emulating rare synthesizers, Cherry Audio’s latest releases are pretty niche. Originally created by the Hammond company in the 1940s, you may not know these synths, but they introduced some of the core technological concepts that are still being used in instruments today.
Novachord and Solovox come as a bundle for Cherry’s usual attractively low price, in standalone and plug-in formats. Sporting a familiar Cherry Audio GUI, the synths include – amongst other things – a virtual keyboard, pop-out MIDI controller assignments and a Focus mode to zoom in and scroll around the instruments’ interface. Unlike many of the company’s instruments, the interfaces here are relatively simple due to the period in which the originals existed.
Cherry Audio Novachord
The Novachord was – incredibly – manufactured between 1939 and 1942; it contains 163 vacuum tubes and over 1,000 custom capacitors, with full 72-note polyphony. It resembles the Hammond organs that were invented around the same time but operates differently, using an architecture combining oscillators and an early version of subtractive synthesis. Despite being used on numerous film scores of the time, the instrument itself is vastly heavy and also unreliable, leading it to be discontinued. Today, there are only five units still in working order, according to Cherry Audio.
Cherry’s Novachord controls are quite simple by modern standards but surprisingly advanced considering the age of the original design.
There are three Resonators operating at low, mid and high-frequency ranges and a Deep Tone setting that has a single-pole low pass filter. There’s also a Brilliant tone setting with a high-pass filter, and an attack knob with seven attack, decay, and sustain envelopes, plus a damper pedal-controlled release. Tones are routed in parallel to all the filters before being processed and summed together. Meanwhile, a simple vibrato control allows you to introduce modulation into an otherwise pretty static signal.
The Novachord’s sound is, as you might expect, a little old-fashioned. Cherry has added a reverb effect with speaker emulation that matches the Novachord’s built-in amp and speakers, plus a limiter to keep things nice and loud. You can be sure that you’re placing your synth in an authentic-sounding virtual space. But that’s not to say that it’s limited to any particular kind of music; stylistically the presets cover a fair range of pads, plucks and stabs, with the attack control as well as the Bright/Mellow slider letting you quickly modify the character of a sound.
It’s perhaps a stretch to say that Novachord’s sounds would fit into just about any type of modern electronic music, however, they are certainly handy for scoring, ambient music and sound design. In fact in those contexts and without knowing what synth was in use, many people would likely fail to guess that it was a vintage model such as this. Perhaps that also speaks to the influence the Novachord had on the better-known Moogs and ARPs that came after it, that it could be mistaken for one of those.
Cherry Audio Solovox
The original Solovox was developed from the Novachord’s oscillator and divider circuits, using 18 vacuum tubes and a monophonic keyboard. It produces a range of string, organ and woodwind sounds and can be heard in music recordings from the 1940s right through to the 1960s.
It’s simpler than the Novachord but has some similar features: two voices with tone controls; bass, tenor, alto and soprano switches to set note range in octaves; Deep, Brilliant and Full tone settings. Since it’s monophonic there’s also a Glide option to help you create smoother-flowing lead lines and melodies, as well as fixed-rate vibrato to add movement.
Cherry has modelled the speaker and amp sections in the reverb section and there are attack and release controls – the virtual vacuum tubes even change their lighting when used in different combinations, which is a nice touch.
Sonically it is, again, pretty straightforward. But sometimes less can be more; there are so many synths on the market that offer near-infinite levels of tweaking and layering that it’s refreshing to have some limitations. Indeed, some producers favour stripped-back instruments for this reason alone.
The monophonic nature of Solovox lends it more to basses, leads, melodies and sequences that would be at home in today’s productions. A punch in the bass and soprano voices for example, leaving out the two mid range voices, and you have an almost techno-sounding organ and synth hybrid. It even looks more like a Roland TR-series instrument, with its compact design and small keyboard. While the reverb can get washy quite fast, you can of course skip it and just add any effects you like in your DAW, giving you greater control to shape the sound.
We haven’t detected a lust among synthheads for the resurrection of these two instruments, but they are certainly more than mere curiosities. Perhaps you are looking for sounds from that period for a specific scoring use? You’d have a tough time finding other virtual synths based on 1940s instruments. Even if you’re not looking for period-specific sounds, these are a unique pair of instruments that can bring something new and different to your projects, particularly if you happen to be working with scoring or sound design.
If it isn’t clear by now, these are quite simple instruments as belies the age of their original designs, even though Cherry has modernised them with tools like MIDI mapping and effects sections. For achieving sounds from that era, they are one of a small number of options out there. For bringing unique elements to other kinds of productions, they are also interesting; the Solovox in particular brings a lot of fun to more modern electronic music thanks to its basic, groovebox-style design. As ever, a free trial of both synths is available for you to try out for yourselves.
Download Cherry Audio Novachord and Solovox for $59 or try it for free at cherryaudio.com.
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