Thursday 4 April 2024

Synthesizer Build part-56: VCF-1 STATE VARIABLE FILTER by THOMAS HENRY.

 A very easy to build and awesome sounding state variable filter by Thomas Henry. For Eurorack or Kosmo systems.

I have covered many different types of filters on my website but I had not yet built a State Variable filter. What does that even mean I hear you ask. Well state variable means that it can simultaneously provide two or more types of filtering. In this case the filter has Lowpass, Highpass and Bandpass outputs and rather than having to switch the filter into these different modes, you have them available together, so each filtertype has its own output.
I found this particular schematic on "", a website that has all of Thomas Henry's projects on it.
In the article about this filter he calls it a 'barebones' filter. Very much taken straight from the CA3080 datasheet. That may be so but it's still a great sounding filter. The way it sounds reminded me of the Steiner-Parker filter but I think it may even be better. It has a bit more edge to it I think.
It's a really old school filter with a 12dB/Oct. cutoff slope and it sounds like a 70's synthesizer filter should sound. It's pure sounding, phat in the low end (especially using squarewaves in Lowpass mode) with a beautiful but little bit agressive resonance. It's a beauty!
Anyway I urge you to read the article I linked to above if you want to know more about what TH said about this filter and its development.

Below is the schematic I used for this filter. It says the filter is to be used with a dual 15V powersupply but I did all my testing running it on a dual 12V powersupply because many of you will be building this for Eurorack and it works just fine. I also used a Eurorack friendly size of stripboard which is 24 by 41 holes. That will fit behind a Eurorack panel.
As you can see the filter uses two OTA chips, the AS3080. These are the modern version of the original CA3080 chips and I believe these are less noisy than the originals too. You can order them from Electric Druid, which is where I got mine. 
The LM13700 OTA chip also has two CA3080 chips inside and can be used in this circuit but then you'd have to design your own layout because that is a DIP16 IC. For this particular project you'll need the AS3080 chips. They are also available from Thonk --- click here ---

The numbering of the opamp pins has been changed to fit the layouts below, because I used the opamps in a different order to the original schematic.

The schematic shows a two transistor exponential converter with a PTC as temperature compensation. which we already know from the Thomas Henry 555-VCO. The temperature compensation is only useful if you intend to use the self oscillation of the filter as an extra oscillator. I never used a filter in this way and I can't imagine any of you will ever use the filter for that purpose so you can leave out the PTC and just use a 2K resistor. That's what I did eventhough I have these PTC's in my stock. In fact Thomas Henry himself used a 2K resistor as he mentions in the article linked above.
You do have to match the two PNP transistors though. I matched them as I always do just by measuring the Hfe on my multimeter and picking two transistor that measure the same value.
You might use the filter in full self resonance mode if you're looking for a special sound effect. I tested it and it will track with the keyboard because it has a Volt per Octave input. I have not tested how accurate the tracking is but I do think you can make it track over a few octaves if you want. Beware that the self oscillation is about twice as loud as the normal audio you get from this filter!!
You can leave out the Frequency Fine Tune potmeter too because that's only there to tune the self resonance for tracking. As a Cut-Off Frequency potmeter it is pretty much useless. One thing you can do is change the 3M3 resistor to a 100K and add a socket to that potmeter so it turns into an extra CV input with level control. Wire it up like the Envelope input. That's what I did myself. I find two CV inputs a necessity for a filter.

Below are the layouts I made for this build. As always they are verified. I used them to build my filter. I was very thorough with checking this stripboard layout for faults before I printed it out and used it to start building my filter. I'm glad I checked it over a few times because I did manage to catch some mistakes in the design phase which saved me some hours troubleshooting I think.
Anyway the build went fine and apart from one transistor being faulty which needed changing out the filter worked straightaway.

Here's the wiring diagram:
All potmeters are seen from the BACK SIDE!

The Cutoff Frequency potmeter is wired up in such a way that the filter opens up when you turn it clockwise. The Resonance potmeter is wired up so that it gives more resonance when you turn it clockwise going into self oscillation when turned fully clockwise.

A little remark about the Frequency Fine Control. Only include this potmeter if you intend using the filter as an oscillator with the resonance at self-oscillation. As I mentioned earlier, the Frequency Fine Control is meant to tune the self oscillation of the filter so that it tracks with the keyboard. In itself it has very little influence on the CutOff Frequency so if you intend to use this filter just as a VCF and self oscillation isn't important to you than leave out the fine control potmeter. It will save some space on the faceplate too. I myself left out the Fine control potmeter too. I changed the 3M3 resistor for a 100K one and connected a second CV input to that point, complete with level control potmeter like the envelope input.

Here's the stripboard only view. A little tip, when soldering in the trimmer potmeters put the wipers in the middle position. That way you won't have to do much tuning when you're testing the filter. 

Here's an overview of the cuts and wirebridges. Start soldering these in first before you solder in any components. There are 35 wirebridges to solder in. Make sure you're very very accurate here. It's easy to make a mistake and one wirebridge in the wrong position and the filter won't work.

And finally the cuts only as seen from the component side. As always, mark the cuts on the component side first with a waterproof Sharpie or Edding 3000 and then stick a pin through the marked holes and mark them again on the copper side. Then you can cut the strips at the marked places with a sharp hand held 6 or 7mm drill bit. This way you have the least chance of making mistakes.
Once again you need to be very accurate here because the component placement leaves no room for errors.

And here's the Bill Of Materials:

If you're going to build this module for Eurorack then I urge you to order miniature potmeters. You're going to need all the space you can get. There are 5 potmeters to accomodate and 7 sockets.

Adding extra's:
As you can see there's only one audio input but it is easy enough to add more inputs. You can simply connect them through a 100K resistor to pin 9 of the TL074 and they will be summed together. You can also put in more CV inputs if you wish by connecting them through a 100K resistor to pin 2 of the TL074, which is what I did.
   The trimpots for the Offset control could actually be left out. They are not really necessary. They are part of the design because the early versions of the CA3080 chip (which was originally used in this filter) had quite a bit of variation in their offset voltages. But the latest generations don't have that problem anymore. I left the trimmers in because I stayed true to the schematic but it's up to you. The filter should work fine without them. Should you take them out then you can remove the trimmers and the 100K resistors in series with the wipers. Leave the 22 Ohm resistors to ground in place.
   Finally we have an opamp left unused! We have to do something with that right? :-)
I always like to include a LED if I can, so I altered the layout a little and made a jumpwire from the envelope input to pin 3 of the TL072. The green wirebridge from pin 10 of the TL074 needs to be lengthened and soldered straight to the bottom strip (X). Now we have configured the opamp as a voltage follower or buffer so we can connect a Bi-coloured LED to it without drawing any current from the envelope input. I used a big 4K7 resistor as current limiter so the LED will only be the brightest with the highest voltage. Below is the layout to show this alteration. 

The components for this change are not listed in the Bill of Materials because this was done as an after thought, but it's only a LED and a resistor. I used a red/blue bi-coloured LED.

You may have noticed the audio input of the filter has an AC/DC switch in it. This is provided for instances where the full audio bandwidth of the signal is desired. DC coupling allows very low notes to pass through uninhibited by the input capacitor. This is actually the only filter on this website (apart from the ARP2600 LPF) that doesn't have a capacitor in the audio path, when switched to DC that is.
A DC signal can pass straight through the filter without ever encountering a capacitor so the filter can actually process a control signal! This opens up an entirely different can of worms.
For example you could patch the CV output of a sequencer through the Lowpass mode of this filter before it goes into a VCO. If you then modulate the cutoff frequency with an LFO you can create some really spacey effects.

This is the procedure for the V/Oct. tracking of the filter in full self oscillation:
Connect the lowpass output to your VCA so you can hear the signal. Be careful, the self oscillation signal is quite loud! (Very loud in fact)
Connect a keyboard or other V/Oct. source to the 1V/Oct. input of the filter.
Put the filter in self oscillation by turning the resonance full clockwise and adjust the V/Oct trimmer for as close to a one Volt per Octave interval as possible. Go between C2 and C3 on the keyboard for instance and turn the trimmer to get the best result. Use the Frequency Fine control to help you tune the oscillator to the right notes, if you kept this potmeter.

About the trimmers.... what I actually did was put them in the middle position and just leave it at that. There really is nothing to trim because the modern AS3080 chips don't have erratic offset voltages in their output like the old CA3080's used to have. So I didn't do any trimming and the filter works fine but I'll give you the procedure anyway, but as far as I'm concerned, you can ignore it.
Here is the procedure as mentioned in the official article: 
Put the trimmers in the middle position. With multiturn trimmers you start turning them untill they start clicking. Then turn back and count the number of turns until the wiper is at the other side and you hear it clicking again. Now turn the wiper half the number of turns you counted. Then it's in the middle position. You could also just measure the voltage coming from the wiper and turn until it's at zero Volts. Then it's in the middle too.
Connect a square/pulse wave to the filter input and monitor the Lowpass output with an oscilloscope. Now check for DC deflection as you turn the Frequency Cutoff potmeter through its range. Adjust the trimmer to get the least DC deflection at the output. 
The trimmers are interactive (they influence eachother) so you may have to go back and forth between them a few times.
There should really be very little to trim. As I mentioned earlier the filter will actually work fine even without these offset trimmers and with the AS3080 there should be any offset voltage to speak of.

Here are some pictures I took during the build proces:

As long as I was waiting for the new powder coated aluminium to come in the mail, I thought I'd make a template for the panel out of cardboard, so I can mount all the components in it and see if all the wiring is long enough. As you can see I changed my mind about the switch placement and I needed to lengthen several wires but it all fits nicely behind a Kosmo sized panel of 20 x 7.5 CM. I want to install this filter in my DIY synthesizer, not my Eurorack system. I think, if you want to fit it behind a eurorack panel, you have to make it a bit wider still.

Here's the finished module all ready to go mounted in my DIY synthesizer: I did all my testing running this filter on +/-12V and it was absolutely fine. But in my synthesizer I have two powersupplies, one for +/-12V and one for +/-15V, so I decided to connect it to the +/-15V supply for permanent use. 
(Boy, does this thing sound good. I love it!)

I wrote the labels with a white acryllic pen. I got new pens and this one is not as scratch resistant as the old pens I used to have so after I finished labeling everything I sprayed the panel with a layer of clear lacquer.

The stripboard is mounted behind the panel with a piece of plexiglass that I bent at both ends so it grips the stripboard like the fingers of a hand. I glued two little pieces of plexiglass at the ends so the stripboard can't slide out and I secured it with glue. Then I drilled a 3mm hole through one end and mounted it to the panel with an M3 bolt. I also used superglue to secure it and keep it from rotating should the bolt get loose.

When I first tested the filter I found that the Frequency control wasn't working. The Resonance was fine and I could see on the oscilloscope that the filter was doing it's thing but no Frequency control. I took my scope probe and tested the legs of the transistor pair and sure enough. Transistor Q2 was not working. So I put in a new matched pair of transistors and now everything was fine. It all worked as it should. Strangely enough the transistor was not faulty. It must have been a bad connection.

Here is a video of me testing the filter and the different outputs. It's a video I also uploaded to my YouTube channel.
I found with testing that the Lowpass sounds best with a squarewave on the input. The High- and Bandpass filters sound the best when you use a Sawtooth wave on the input.

Here's a little test video with a demonstration of the extra CV input I installed (with level potmeter). I have a sinewave connected to the second CV input. The rest is like the previous video:

Okay, that's it for now. Enjoy building this filter. It's a really good one!
If you have any questions about this or other projects then please comment below or post your question in the special Facebook Group for this website.

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Thank you!!


  1. Hey Eddy i want to build some of your modules but i dont know which type of stripboard to use. Could you send me a link of the ones you use?

    1. Here's a link to the ones I use. It's in Dutch I'm afraid but you should be able to order this:

    2. I have to say that I really like your changed page (banner), tasteful, great perspective (image banner) of your system. Thumbs up :)

    3. Thank you @maik I made it in photoshop. I had to darken it quite a bit to make text stand out more. I'm glad you like it :)


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