Saturday, 25 April 2020

Synthesizer Build part-29: VCA (Yusynth design).

A good working and easy to build VCA for use as extra VCA or as the endstage and line out for your modular set-up.

This module is a great solution for all your VCA needs. I needed a new VCA module for the second stage of my synthesizer and I wanted to upgrade from the first one I built, although it functions fine I hasten to add. This VCA is a more luxurious version of the first one you could say. And this one doesn't invert the signal like the first one did.

But before I get ahead of myself let me explain what a VCA does for all the people who are new to DIY synth building. A VCA or Voltage Controlled Amplifier, is used to stop your synthesizer from continuously making sound and to only produce sound when you press a key on your keyboard. So it's like a volume knob that is only opened up if it receives a signal from the Envelope Generator. Now the higher the voltage from the envelope generator (or ADSR)  is, the louder the output of the VCA will be. VCA's can of course be used for other things, like in drum machines, as a sort of Gate, to let through short pulses of noise to create percussion sounds but this is not what we're going to be dealing with here. This VCA is primary used as the last stage in your synthesizer from where the audio goes to the HiFi amplifier and the speakers. So to sum up: The VCA lets through audio when it receives a signal from the Envelope Generator and it stops audio from passing through when there's no envelope signal present on the ADSR input of the VCA. Opening up the 'Gain' control will enable you to bypass the Envelope Generator Input and output sound/audio without pressing any key on the keyboard and therefor without any Envelope Signal being present but normally Gain is set to zero.
I hope that's clear but you can always ask me things in the comments if you need more info.

The VCA is capable of handling input signals of + and - 10V and outputs them at the same level if the audio and ADSR potmeters are fully opened up and if you use an Envelope Generator that outputs an envelope of  +10Vmax. This VCA is perfect therefore to pair with the Yusynth 7555 ADSR from article 24.
If you need to output the signal to a HiFi audio amplifier then I advise some little extra attenuation. You can easily do this with a resistor voltage divider that halfs the amplitude of the audio. If you then turn the audio and ADSR potmeter back, the signal will be low enough to go into the Line-In of a HiFi amplifier.
As to running this VCA on a dual 12 Volt power supply; I don't think there will be any problems with that. After all the opamps and transistors all work fine on 12V so I think it's just a matter adjusting the trimmers. You can have an issue where one of the trimmers is turned all the way to its limit because of the lower voltage but I have no data on this so I can't be sure. The first VCA I describe in chapter 10 is purpose built for +/-12V so you can always build that one if you're not sure. I've build 3 of those so far and they work very well.

Here's the verified stripboard layout. Wiring diagram:

Print only. Btw, the green wire-bridges indicate connections to ground:

This is the schematic from which I made the layout:

Bill of Materials.

Calibrating the VCA:
With trimmer A2 you set the initial bias voltage on the base of transistor Q3. This influences the working of the Gain potmeter and you should set it in such a way that with the Gain potmeter all the way closed the signal is just muted. If you turn Gain up the last played note will then become audible without pressing any keys on the keyboard. So Gain is normally closed.
I found that the audio signal initially starts at 10V and then drops to about 6V. To counteract this you need to open up the Gain potmeter a little and then trim again so the signal is muted with Gain slightly open, This will stop the voltage drop of the signal and keep it at full power all the time. You will see this soon enough if you start testing it and connect this circuit to a scope. It's easy to counteract and it is in itself not a real problem because you hardly hear the voltage drop but you know, I strive for perfection ^___^
Trimmer A1 is the Balance trimmer. You set it so that the part of the signal that is above the zero Volt line has the same level as the part below the zero Volt line. In other words, you set it so that the signal has the same amplitude in both the positive and the negative part of the wave. This is best done using a triangle or sinewave on the input, together with an oscilloscope.
For trimmer A3 I advise to use a multi turn one. With this trimmer you trim away any DC Offset voltage on the audio output. Again you absolutely need a scope to do this but a cheap 20 dollar one will do nicely here.
The circuit has a LED that indicates the presence of an audio signal on the input. It's a sort of one LED VU meter and the brightness varies with the strength of the audio signal. If you turn the audio input level potmeter up, the LED becomes brighter.

Here are some pictures of the finished product:

You can see that I put a little white stripe alongside the counter clockwise first 20° of the throw of the Gain potmeter, to indicate to where you can turn the potmeter with the audio staying muted. If you turn it past the white, the signal become audible and normally the Gain should be slightly open but with in the white area.

The day after finishing this module I built two extra VCA's using the old layout and they work fine too. I wanted a few extra VCA's available but there was no need for the luxurious model. I'm going to use that as the end stage VCA in my second stage, with the output going to a HiFi mixer (at Line Out level) and use the other two VCA's for use in different patches.

Here's some pictures of the double model. I also posted these in the first VCA article:

So that's an other one done. One more and I'll have published 30 synthesizer related projects.
Okay, if you have any comments or questions please put them in the comments below and see you on the next one!


  1. Vraagje, in het schema staat dat je 100K log potmeters moet gebruiken. Op de veroboard layout en BOM staat LIN, is er een voorkeur ?

    1. Het maakt niets uit Rolf. Er staat logaritmisch omdat we met audio te maken hebben maar je kunt net zo goed lineaire potmeters gebruiken. Dat heb ik ook gedaan.

  2. Bedankt voor de altijd snelle respons, de mixer draait al. Zit nu een beetje te kijken wat als volgende te bouwen een VCA of VCF en ik heb een echt goede sequencer nodig want keyboard spelen kan ik voor geen meter.

    1. Haha ik denk dat de meeste keyboard spelers voor synthesizers kozen omdat ze niet kunnen spelen. Geldt voor mij net zo. Als je naar die documentaire "Synth Britannia" kijkt dan hoor je dat de keyboard speler van The Human League er net zo over dacht, LOL ^___^. Btw, die sequencer die ik op mijn website heb staan werkt goed maar is niet echt je van het. Ik heb die vrij vroeg in mijn synthesizer project gebouwd en ik wil nog een nieuwe versie maken. Maar ik denk dat een variant op de "Baby-8" wel ongeveer is wat je nodig hebt. En voor wat als volgende te bouwen.... Ik zou voor een VCF gaan. Een VCA is snel genoeg gemaakt maar ik kan de Digisound 80 Lowpass filter met de AS3320 echt aanraden. Klinkt fantastisch. Als je hem bouwt doe dat dan zonder the "Frequency Fine Control". Die knop heeft totaal geen nut.

  3. Bedankt voor de respons, die fine control schrap ik dan. Heb helaas alleen maar 200mm brede frontjes of 60, dus bouw maar gelijk twee VCF's :). Deze en die Steiner VCF

    1. Oh de Steiner is ook een hele goeie! Klinkt fantastisch en die heeft meerdere standen in één. Lowpass, Bandpass, Highpass en Allpass. Ik gebruikt dat filter heel vaak.