Hey there! It’s finally finished! Some of you might have already seen some of my progress in the past few weeks, in case you haven’t, I’ll “quickly” explain what I’ve been up to. I will cover as much as I can so it’s going to be a long post. The links to patches and videos will be at the bottom in case it’s a bit too much too read
So I have been doing a lot of research on the inner workings of the EMS Synthi VCS3 as I was building a VCV version of this awesome machine. After seeing some videos of people jamming on a VCS3, but also on the Synthi AKS, I felt inspired to reproduce the patchbay that is at the heart of both of these and several more EMS products, feeling it would be a very inspirational bit of gear. So I found some patch matrices in the plugin browser, plugged some modules together and wow! It certainly delivered! But that little endeavour quickly turned into wanting to recreate as many aspects of the Synthi as I can inside VCV!
The first few versions were already nice sound effect machines and I learned much about a lot of things in the process, got familiarized with the matrix and the ease with which sounds are created, but often I kept thinking “This is probably not exactly what you could do on a Synthi…”, turning knobs that actually wouldn’t be available, making connections that wouldn’t be possible, so I started looking online to see if I could find some specifications.
As I was reading the original manual I noticed at least one probably very crucial part of the puzzle: the waveshapes. Every oscillator has a shape knob that on oscillator 1 lets you dial in two very distinct variations of a sine, a shape that I found to be most easily created using Phase Distortion Synthesis available in Bidoo’s TiARE oscillator. Then there is pulse width modulation on the squares and an up and a down ramp on either side of the triangles on oscillators 2 and 3. For this I again chose Bidoo’s TiARE since these came the closest in recreating the ramp-triangle-ramp change without resorting to wavetables.
Then there is the volume of the oscillators, which is probably also crucial to get right. Standard volume for any given oscillator seemed to be around 10V peak to peak, whereas the Synthi has levels ranging from 3V (Sine, Triangle) to 6V (Ramp) peak to peak. I imagine this has a great influence on how it makes its sounds, and in my tries I have found a great deal of variation to be had in adjusting these levels. In the patches I included an INIT patch with the volumes adjusted to the specifications given in the manual, which greatly changes how it reacts to just about everything.
Which brings me to tuning. I really wanted to get the frequency ranges on the oscillators spot on, but this proved to be more difficult than I thought, mainly because the Nysthi tuners I used didn’t really give accurate measurements under 1 Hz. At the moment I am quite certain about the upper limits (500 Hz for the LFO/Oscillator 3, 10 kHz for Oscillators 1 and 2). I measured the LFO lower limit and it had a cycle of about 23,71 seconds which amounts to a lowest frequency on the dial of 0.04 Hz which is unfortunately still too fast but it’s the closest I could get for now without messing with the upper limit.
It doesn’t stop there though, the oscillators are calibrated to 0,32V/Oct, which means that the usual 1V/Oct is more than 3 times too much, although I have the feeling this could be compensated by not adjusting all the volume levels to Synthi specs. So for now I didn’t adjust the voltage sensitivity, something I might try in the volume adjusted INIT patch.
For the filter I chose the Vult Lateralus, after comparing it among others to the Laika by Lindenberg Research and another diode ladder filter by Autinn, Lateralus came out sounding the fullest and most versatile. I do not know exactly if it sounds anything like the original filter but it feels authentic, the response and drive act like I expect them to.
For the patching matrix I took the one from Strum for its simplicity and clarity. I tried the Bogaudio Matrix88 but although it has attenuation possibilities at the matrix (plus attenuverting possibilities which will probably come in handy in some of my other matrix synth project ideas), I found it difficult to see what knobs I had in use. I posted a request for color lit knobs on the Bogaudio GitHub and he replied that he would think about it, so fingers crossed! Another candidate was Bidoo’s ACnE, which has snapshots for instantly recalling different patches, and color changing knobs, but it has the inputs and outputs flipped which was too confusing for now. For the matrix layout I chose the version of the VCs3 that has all oscillators available at the matrix. I found some pictures of a matrix with Output Channel 1 and 2 as the first to rows, which I tried and it has nice possibilities, but I prefer the tonal flexibility of having all the waveforms at my disposal. In some example patches I connected some available outputs to the external channel inputs I included which was a way on the original to get extra control voltages double the amplitude due to the channel input amplification circuit.
One other thing I wanted to capture was the layout and workflow of the original, so I chose to put all the modules responsible for the sound to the side and replace them with an array of knobs by RJModules controlling just the actual available parameters. This does give an ease of mind as soon as you get to know what every knob does, but it also makes for a heavy patch, at least for my computer
I’m probably missing some more small details, but also feel this is as close as I’m gonna get for now and I would like to start doing other stuff with VCV again. Trying to get it ready for uploading I keep finding myself tweaking parameters and twisting the knobs to see what otherworldly sounds it can create. A good test for me was to see if the example patches from the manual would sound anything like their descriptions; with some of them I got a really good result, some of them don’t really sound like the description but are fun patches nonetheless. Below are a few videos and a list with patches:
EMS VCS3 GUI INIT Patch.vcv (133.7 KB)
-INIT Patch with adjusted volume levels
EMS VCS3 GUI INIT Patch Accurate Volumes.vcv (133.7 KB)
-Original Manual Example Patches 1-15 (excluding 11 and 12)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 1.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 2.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 3.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 4.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 5.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 6.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 7.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 8.vcv (133.9 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 9.vcv (133.9 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 10.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 10v2.vcv (133.7 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 13.vcv (133.9 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 14.vcv (133.9 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Manual Example Patch 15.vcv (134.1 KB)
-Pink Floyd - On the Run
EMS VCS3 GUI On the Run.vcv (149.3 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Runny Arpeggio.vcv (134.0 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Bass Drone.vcv (133.1 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Chordy Drone.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Dripping Fifth Drone.vcv (134.0 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Ripping Stereo Lead.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Stereo Octave Sirens.vcv (133.9 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Stereo Octaverb Drone.vcv (133.7 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Vocal Flute.vcv (133.6 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Beatmachine 2.vcv (138.3 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Beatmachine.vcv (138.2 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Kick n Bass.vcv (133.8 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI SFX Machine.vcv (133.7 KB)
EMS VCS3 GUI Computer Keyboard.vcv (134.8 KB)
For tips on how to use, it’s best to refer to the original manual (http://dl.lojinx.com/analoghell/EMSVCS3-UserManual.pdf)
I would love to see what you do with it, feel free to share videos or updates to the patch in this thread, that should make for a fun collection of bleepy sounds! If you have any suggestions on what could be improved, please let me know!