Wednesday 12 February 2020

Synthesizer Extra's No. 01: SIMPLE AD/AR using the 7555

A fantastic little AD/AR envelope generator that is super easy to build and works very well.  Perfect little adition to the DIY synthesizer.

I was looking for a better AD/AR design than the one I had built and used upto now and I came across the Thomas Henry design. Here is the schematic.
This design uses the CMOS version of the NE555, the 7555 and it can be built on a piece of stripboard that is the same size as the LMNC version that I first used.

If you're new to all this; AD/AR stands for Attack Decay/Attack Release. It's a little Envelope Generator creating a control voltage that can open and close a Voltage Controlled Amplifier (or you can drive a filter with it. There are lots of options.)
In the picture below is the stripboard layout I made for it. I added all the features that Sam Battle has in his design, like the Arcade push-button with internal light and I added a little thing of my own, an option to double the output voltage of the Envelope from 0 to +5V to 0 to +10Vpp. I always find it handy to have a bit of extra charge on the envelope if I want to use it to control a filter for instance. You can of course connect a potmeter to the +10V output and so turn the output amplitude up or down from 0 to 10V. That way you can do away with the +5V output altogether. Since I already made and wired up the panel for this, I couldn't use the potmeter option. I simply exchanged the old stripboard for this new one and soldered all the wires back in place. You can also wire up the opamp in such a way that it inverts the envelope. That would be easy enough to do. As a final extra I put in buffer stages for the envelope output, for both the +5V and the +10V output. You could also wire one of those up to be an inverter. Lots of options here. One thing that is different from the LMNC version is that the Arcade Push Button won't work as long as a key is pressed down. The Gate signal has priority in this design.

The layout below is an early version and although it works fine, it is a bit messy. So I made a new layout which you can find a bit further down the article. I'm leaving the old one up in case someone who built it needs to reference it for troubleshooting or something.


Beware if you are using standard 24 x 56 holes stripboard, that the layout only goes from A to U not to X. So only 21 strips!

(Last revised: 1-March-2020: Changed attack and release pots from linear to logarithmic. 4-Oct.-2021: Cosmetic changes to layout.)

Here's a close-up of just the stripboard:

Bill of Materials:

Here's a look at how fast this little AD/AR is and it is super fast! It reacts to the Gate signal with practically no delay what so ever as you can see from these scope images. The risetime is about 12 µSec. The same as the risetime of the Gate signal (Gate = yellow, AD Out = blue). The gate signal has a bit of a skew in it half way up. That's due to some circuit specific stuff elsewhere in the synth but not really relevant because we are zoomed in so much it's practically instant. I mean, it's 12 millionth of a second in total:

I made an updated version of the layouts above. I built it and changed the old one for this new one and everything works as it should so it's verified.  In the previous layout the output stages and 0 to 10V is a bit clumsy, although I guarantee that it works fine! The layout below is just a bit neater because I gained some knowledge over the past year and applied it here:

Beware if you are using standard 24 x 56 holes stripboard, that the layout only goes from A to U not to X. So only 21 strips instead of the usual 24!

Here is the schematic for this version. As you can see I added two buffers (which is a bit overkill but I wanted to use all the opamps available) and one opamp with a gain of x2 to get a 0 to +10V output. The buffers help to prevent this AD/AR from 'hanging' if you use it with inputs that have a bit of a low impedance (see text below). Both outputs are connected to a switch so you can choose between them. You could of course connect sockets to both outputs, instead of the switch and have two outputs permanently available, a 0 to +5V and a 0 to +10V. That's up to you.

The AD/AR works as follows: In AR or Gate mode, the Attack remains high for as long as you keep the key on the keyboard pressed down. After you let go the Release kicks in and the signal will fade out in the time you have set with the Release potmeter.
In AD or Trigger mode the Attack/Decay cycle still needs to have been completed before you can trigger it again but as soon as the Attack cycle has been completed the Decay kicks in, regardless of whether the key is still pressed down or not. For fast trigger sequences the Attack and Decay need to be set to short times because it won't trigger again until the cycle is completed, and that's perfectly normal.
So with the Attack a tiny bit open and Decay/Release fully closed you get a powerful envelope pulse of either 5V or 10V depending on how the switch is set.
In Gate mode you can have both Attack and Release fully closed to get fast short envelope pulses as the video below will demonstrate.
If you build this circuit with separate inputs for Trigger and Gate, and you feed it both at once, the Gate signal will take priority.

Here are some pictures of the stripboard using the new layout. I had made a mistake at first because I forgot this layout only had 21 strips instead of 24 so I made some cuts in the wrong place. That's why I placed the warnings with the layouts. And that's why there are some horizontal wirebridges in the lower ground strip (bottom black line).

12V vs 15V:
A little word on operating this from a dual 12V power supply. It will work but you'll need to change one resistor at the output. (R7 on the schematic). The 2K2 (R7) becomes a 3K3. This is necessary to give pin 6 on the 7555 the correct threshold voltage. I myself put in a 5K trimpot for R7 so I could experiment with the threshold voltage. It turned out that changing the resistance value of R7 mainly influenced the amplitude of the Envelope. In other words, you can set the initial envelope voltage with it. So after I learned this I took the trimmer potmeter back out and put in a 3K3 resistor.

The 'hanging' issue:
Because the resistor voltage divider at the original output influences how this AD/AR works I decided to add some extra buffer stages at the end, to stabilize the working of the circuit. I noticed that impedance differences, when connecting it to certain filters in my synth, can make the AD/AR hang sometimes. The release won't activate like it should, probably because the threshold voltage on pin 6 is disturbed somehow. I didn't want to rebuild the whole stripboard so I used a little piece of stripboard with just a single TL072 on it and buffered the +5V aswell as the +10V outputs. I stuck it onto the main board with hot-glue. It now works perfectly. No hanging or anything. I incorporated these buffers on the stripboard layout so they are now part of this design.

This design works a lot better for me than the LMNC one. This AD/AR reacts to trigger signals with an amplitude of +4 V and upwards and gate signals from +1.8 V and upwards with a maximum frequency of at least 60Hz. For triggering to work well, you need to open up the Attack a tiny little bit. The circuit is so fast that the envelope pulse shuts off before it has time to reach full potential. I tried different things to fix this little issue but I wasn't successful upto now. Anyway, it's nothing serious having to turn up the Attack a tiny little bit when using Trigger pulses. When you use Gate signals there's no problem.
I do strongly advise you use a logarithmic potmeter for the 1 M Attack potmeter. I used a normal linear one first but had trouble setting short attack times accurately. I've now put in a logarithmic one and it makes a world of difference. Works so much better. I really need to change the Release potmeter into a Logarithmic one too. That would make it much easier to dial in the Resonance or Cut-Off frequency when I use this to activate a filter. For the 4,7µF capacitor you can use a normal electrolythic capacitor. You don't need to use a Bi-polar capacitor in this circuit, unlike the LMNC one. You can put in extra electrolythic capacitors in parallel with the 4,7µF cap. to stretch the Attack time to the maximum length you want. I put in a 3,3µF and two 1µF caps for a total of 5,3µF which gives me almost 10 seconds maximum attack time. If you need longer Attack times just put in a 10­­µ­F cap.

Here are some technical specifications:
Minimum Attack time: 692 µSec
Minimum Decay time: 248 µSec
Maximum Attack time: 6 seconds with 4,7µF cap.  9 seconds with 5,3µF (which is what I installed)
Maximum Decay/Release time: ±30 sec.
Maximum input pulse frequency: ±60Hz

Here's a link to the Electro-Music Forum page that deals with this design:

Here's a little demo video of this AD/AR in action:

This second video shows one way of using the AD setting (trigger mode) of the AD/AR to control the cutt-off frequency of the ARP2600 filter. The Attack is fully closed so the instant a key is pressed the envelope voltage opens up the filter and then the Decay sets in and slowly closes the filter off as the envelope voltage fades down to zero. Watch the big blue light and listen to the effect on the sound.

The LED inside the Arcade push-button is connected to the +10V envelope output with a 4K7 resistor. It shines nice and bright. There's also a yellow LED on the panel between the input and the output. That one is connected to the output jack with a 1K resistor. It shines normally when you use +5 V out and extra bright when you use the +10 V output level. This is just a handy indication of how the output switch is set. It also reacts faster to pulses than the LED inside the push-button so it's a better indicator for that too. The LED was already built in so I thought I might aswel use it like this. :)
The Arcade push-button switch, which is the manual trigger, is fed with half the positive rail voltage (+7,5V) by means of the voltage devider formed by the two 68K resistors. I thought that was better than giving it the full whack of the +15V rail voltage. You can of course use other values for these as long as they are both the same. If you want to feed the switch with a different voltage then you can calculate that voltage as follows: Say R1 is the resistor coming from +15 V and R2 is the resistor going to ground. V = 15/(R1+R2)*R2
The arcade push button will not work as long as a Gate signal is present!!
Gate takes priority over manual trigger, just so you know that.

Okay, conclusion time: This design is a big improvement over the LMNC simple AD/AR and I can highly recommend using it. It works very well with patches where you feed it a fast trigger signal to control drum modules for instance. The switch which lets you choose between +5V or +10V output works perfectly fine but if you want more control just build it with the output controlled by a potmeter like I mentioned before. I do recommend you include the extra buffers at the end. They will insure that this AD/AR works perfectly under any condition. The only tiny little down point is that in Trigger mode the Attack needs to be a tiny bit opened to get a full envelope pulse. With Attack fully closed in Trigger mode, the pulse you get on the envelope output stops so fast that is doesn't have time to reach the full voltage potential. You could say it's too fast for its own good. You can see this happening on the oscilloscope. You get really fast pulses that don't reach the full voltage before they're cut off again. In Gate mode you won't have this issue and it works just perfectly. I really like this design and I highly recommend building it.

Here's a picture of how I added the buffer stages by glueing on a little print with a single TL072. This saved me from having to rebuild the whole thing.

Finally, for my own record keeping purposes, here's two pictures of how the finished synthesizer now looks, with two new VCO's and the Envelope Follower and the little oscilloscope of course:

Okay that's it for this article.
This article isn't really part of the synthesizer build itself so I named it 'Synthesizer Extra's'.  That's the header I will use for articles describing enhancements and changes to the original synthesizer that I build in the past 19 articles.
If you have any questions please leave them in the comments or post them on the special Facebook Group for this website. Okay, see you on the next one.

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  1. I have a question about the IC 7555, can I use a NE555 instead and have the same or a similar effect?

    1. You can try it and it might work but the normal NE555 has some problems that the 7555 does not have. For one, it can have oscillations on top of the squarewave output (see my article on the 81 LED chaser) and it also consumes a lot more power than the 7555 does. But try it and see if it works. I bet it will work.

    2. sameguy here. the thing is I had to switch two components. the 7555 -> NE555P and the two Log Pots are Lin Pots. I am getting no signal on the LED or on the output. is that even possible? The pots can't be the problem am I right?

    3. sameguy again. nevermind I forgot to add a cruical component. namely the transistor *facepalm* I will test it further when I've done the faceplace, but it seems to work like inteded with the NE555P and I forgot to mention I use TL082 for the Opamps because I've got several laying around. THANK YOU so much for your work and dedication! greetings

  2. Nice work! I've built the LMNC AD/AR but this one looks the business, and I've re made the layout to use one TL074 (had a ton of them hanging around). Can I just check that in your second layout the resistors labelled 20k and 22k should be 2k and 2.2k (or 3.3k in my case)? Or have I missed something (wouldn't be the first time!)

    Absolutely love you site. It's helped a lot over the last year.

    1. Thanks for the compliment! I'm glad you find the site helpful. As for the resistors. The value doesn't really matter as long as they are the same or close to the same because they are used as voltage dividers. So whether it's 2K2 or 22K doesn't matter as long as both resistors are the same or close to the same so they divide the voltage in half.

  3. Hello! Thanks a lot for sharing your work! I am now working on a dual eg version of your design based on 7556 and was wondering if you have the schematic of your final version layout? Just thought i ask you first before i retrace(could make an error..). Would gladly share it here when im done.

    1. I'm afraid I don't have a schematic for the final version I did but it's just adding a few very simple extra's like an opamp buffer stage on the output and an extra opamp with a gain of 2 for 0-10V. It's really basic stuff but I'm afraid you'll have retrace it if you want a schematic. I would love to see the schematic you create (and check it over for you if you want) and even add it to this article (with full credit given of course) if you would like that. I look forward to seeing it.

  4. Hi Eddy, wouldn't it make sense to put a 1k resistor on the output socket like most outputs on most modules have?

    1. Yes it's a good practise to do that and you can put a 1K in if you like. They are used to protect the output of the opamp against short circuits when putting in or pulling out the patch cables, however all modern opamps have short circuit protection built in so it's not absolutely necessary these days but it certainly can't hurt to use them.

    2. Oh so that's what those are for. I thought it had something to do with the low output impendance / high input impendance rule of thumb modular systems tend to have (or so i've read they tend to have, don't know if that's true).

    3. Yes that is also true, however on a AD/AR output impedance is not that critical because we're only pulling current from it occasionally or in pulses. The output impedance of opamps is usually very low, upto 190 Ohms in your average opamp, so in the case of the opamp output of an oscillator, where we draw a signal from the output constantly, it is helpful to up that a little to 1K to protect the output against running hot over time. That's why it is standard to use 1K on VCO outputs. However that VCO signal usually goes into an other opamp and opamp input impedances are infinitely high so it that case 1K isn't going to make any difference. But if that signal goes into a transistor input the impedance might be lower so for safety, and to be sure, we use 1K on VCO outputs and because it really doesn't matter you should always use 1K on an opamp output, then you're always good to go. So your point is valid. :) (I hope that made sense ^___^ )


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