Tuesday 16 April 2024

Synthesizer Build part-58: VCA-1 by THOMAS HENRY.

 A very good working VCA and Mixer using the AS3080 IC. Very easy to build and with a Line Out option too.

Having built the VCF-1 and the X-4046 VCO designs by Thomas Henry I thought I might as well build the VCA-1 aswell. By coïncidence I needed a new VCA in my DIY synthesizer anyway because the transistor based VCA from way back in the beginning when I started this Modular journey is now starting to act up after working flawlessly for 3 years. It was about time for a new and updated VCA and one with a little more options too. This project is another one from the Birth of a Synth website where I got the others from too.

I built and tested this VCA to run a dual 12V powersupply so perfect for Eurorack too. It's designed for +/-15V but either voltage will work fine. No component changes needed.

If you're new to DIY synthesizer building and you're not sure about the function of a VCA and what it's for, then please go back to project 10 on this website and read the first bit of that article. That will explain it for you. Then come back here and build this one ;)

This VCA is not only a Voltage Controlled Amplifier. It's also a 3 channel mixer and it has a Line Out option (all in mono though). I did put in 3 inputs in the layout but I only used one in my own module. I didn't have the room for 3 because I needed this VCA to replace my old one and that one is only 4 CM wide. You could easily add even more channels just by putting in more 100K resistors connected to pin 2 of the TL074, and having your inputs come in through those resistors.
This project was yet an other hole in one. It all worked flawlessly at the first try, just like the X-4046 VCO. I LOVE Thomas Henry designs. They just work so well.

Here's a look at the finished product on the test bench:

I made a few changes in the way I'm using this VCA as opposed to how Thomas Henry intended it to be used. TH had the ADSR coming in on an unattenuated input and an extra CV input with attenuation. I turned that around and I have given the ADSR a level control and the extra CV input has no level potmeter. I also put in an extra bi-coloured LED because I used a quad opamp instead of a dual plus a single opamp and just like with the State Variable Filter I had one opamp left over. I connected that to the ADSR input so we have a visual indication that the VCA is receiving an envelope signal and if that signal is positive or negative in Voltage and how strong that signal is, going by the brightness of the LED. Actually a very useful feature to have.

Here's the schematic I used to make the layout. As mentioned, I made some changes in the type of opamps I used. I also only used one input instead of three. As you can see it's a very simple circuit and it works very well with the AS3080. I used a TL074 for the opamps so the opamp pin numbering on the schematic will be different from the layout.

Below are the layouts I made for this project. As ever they are verified. I used them for my build and it again worked straight away, just like the VCO. No mistakes and everything worked right from the get go. Again the LED was an extra I put in myself and it's not in the schematic. It's fed by an opamp buffer connected to the ADSR input with a Bi-Coloured LED on the output and a 2K4 resistor as current limiter. It's a useful addition.

Wiring diagram:

Stripboard only view:
This layout was small enough to have a few strips left unused which gives up plenty of room to connect some L brackets to mount the stripboard to the faceplate.

Cuts and wirebridges (component side view). I did not bother to make a layout with just the cuts on it because they are easy enough to see on this combined view:

And here's the Bill of Materials. 

You can order AS3080 chips from Electric Druid

You can also order them from Thonk.

Testing was pretty straight forward. I connected my scope to the Max. output and put a VCO signal on the input (yellow line) and an LFO signal on the ADSR input (blue line) to serve as envelope signal. The scope showed a beautifully responsive VCA reaction as you can see on the screenshots below. 

When you turn the INITIAL potmeter past the 1 o'clock position the audio signal will reach its amplitude limit. In that case the VCA will also not shut completely. (The audio will not distort though) You can look at the Initial potmeter as the 'Gain' control on other VCA's. You use it to open the VCA so you have continuous sound without any keys being pressed on the keyboard. The further you turn it clockwise the louder the audio will be.

Here you can see the negative voltage rejection on the ADSR input. As soon as the blue line goes through the zero Volt line and higher, the audio will come on. The LED will shine blue when there's a negative voltage presented on the ADSR input and the VCA will just stay closed.

This is simple. There's only one trimmer and you use it to trim away any DC offset on the audio output. What you do is you connect an oscilloscope to the Max output. Set the AC/DC switch to DC. Then you put an audio signal on the input and an LFO signal on the ADSR input, like the screenshot's above. Then you turn the trimmer until the signal is centered around the zero Volt line. In other words, the zero Volt line goes straight through the middle. 
That's all.

Here are some pictures of the finished module:

So that's it for now. Three in a row this month and three very good Thomas Henry projects for you to sink your teeth in.
If you have any questions or remarks please comment below or in the special Facebook Group for this website.

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