The early days of the Aviator

August 26, 2013 in The Aviator

Digging around the other day we came across a set of photographs of the very first Aviator, the “First of the Few”. This first unit was very much a prototype and although it had a full front panel initially it was mounted into a rack case with all the additional electronics circuitry bolted on. Later the unit was modified, put into a proper case and the additional circuitry tidied up. On the very early Aviators the 3 Voltage Controlled Oscillators and the Voltage Controlled Low Frequency Oscillator were built on individual circuit boards that were stacked. The 24dB Low Pass Filter, the Range Switch and Ring Modulator Circuitry were also on individual circuit boards.

Early Aviator from Exclusively Analogue

When we did the update last year to build the “Last of the Few” we did quite a major redesign to tidy up the circuit boards without changing the actual circuitry or sound of the Aviator. The 3 VCOs and the VCLFO were all put on a new single PCB, the Range Switch circuitry was combined with the Range switches into a new PCB, and the Ring Modulator moved to the main front panel PCB. We kept the 24dB Filter circuit separate since it allowed the option to put different types of filters other than the standard SSM2044.

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Project Merlin Confirmed And Why Knob Size Matters

April 20, 2013 in Exclusively Analogue, Project Merlin

Depending on where you come from, and your particular interests, the word ‘knob’ can refer to a number of things including things not really suitable for this website dedicated to Analogue Synthesizers!

I’ve just had the pleasure of visiting someone in Germany who really enjoys analogue synths and he has an enviable collection of modulars, including an Emu which is why I was there. Looking around the room my eyes always focused on the big old modulars like the Moogs and then at the newer, smaller and compressed modulars. Whilst I can appreciate that small knobs and small format modulars work for a lot of people, (it saves building an extension to your house or flat just to hold the modular!), for me ‘Big is Beautiful’. In particular the large format of the Emu modular is a favourite which is why I’ve spent a vast amount of time and effort to recreate this classic.

Once I had completed the rebuild into a new 4 tier cabinet with new power supply and some additional Pioneer Tribute modules I surveyed the result of my labours and knew why I liked the Emu so much. To then plug it in and hear the results was even better, more so when the big smile appeared on the owner’s face. It seems I’m not alone in liking ‘BIG KNOBS’ because I heard that there is a group of analogue synth enthusiasts in Germany who hold regular ‘Happy Knobbing’ events where tweaking ‘knobs’ of various sizes on analogue modulars and synths is their ‘thing’.

There is a good reason for all this talk about ‘knobs’. I’ve started work on my next synth, (I’ve called it “Project Merlin” for now since it will hopefully produce ‘magical’ sounds), which for want of a better description will be a cut down Aviator with a new unique filter and some interesting modulation options. I have to decide on the format both in terms of the overall size and also the size of the human interface part, the ‘knobs’.

I’ve used the Emu style large knobs on the ‘Last of the Few’ Aviators and that seems to work very well against the black front panel. The original silver Aviators had slightly smaller coloured knobs which also worked at the time but I have to say that the overall look of these last few Aviators is better, in my opinion.

I’d like your help in determining which route to go down; choice for you is a small compact synth with small knobs or something a little larger, about 2/3 the height of the Aviator, with BIG knobs. Your opinions would be appreciated!

Aviator No. 41 Dispatched Plus More Sound Samples

March 9, 2013 in The Aviator

Aviator No. 41 is built, tested and ready to be delivered and work on No. 42 is about to begin. Here’s hoping that No. 42 will indeed be the answer to life, the universe and everything for the person that’s ordered it. Keep an eye out for some more photos of The Aviator in coming weeks as there have been a couple of custom requests we’ll hopefully be able to share with you.

In the meantime here’s a few more sound samples for you, quickly recorded on a laptop while testing No. 41 so apologies for the sound quality. One of the sounds demonstrates the VCO sync function used for the lead synth part of a Jean Michele Jarre piece and what makes it great is that it’s almost the analogue synth equivalent to an overdriven electric guitar. Another sound demonstrates the “Sample and Hold” in use controlling the VCF frequency to give random frequency changes of the resonating filter.

Why Analogue Synths In A Digital World?

February 2, 2013 in Exclusively Analogue, The Aviator

I’m often asked why I remain firmly rooted in the past using technology from the 1970s and 1980s rather than taking the leap into the present and embracing the digital world. While you might think at my age I would enjoy nothing better than driving my car listening to classical music, heavy rock or perhaps the Bee Gees it might surprise you to know that Tiesto, the Swedish House Mafia, or a Trance compilation (played at the required high volume sufficient to get the whole car to become a bass resonator) is nearer the truth!

I know Trance is an acquired taste but what attracts me is that if you listen to most tracks you can guarantee that a lot of the sounds used are “analogue'” in origin and in particular a great deal of use is made of sweeping filters. Analogue synthesizers have been part of my life since the early 1970s when I used to listen to Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Wendy Carlos, etc playing their Moog synths. I was captivated by the sound and my journey into building analogue synths began in 1977 when I built my first one, based on an article in an Electronics magazine. This synth, a Minisonic, was built whilst serving on HMS Hermes and whilst it was a basic analogue synth is could still produce some awesome sounds.

Little did I know that my passion for analogue synthesizers would take me on an incredible journey. In 1992 that same journey took me to a studio in North London where I ended up working on one of the most famous analogue synths, Keith Emerson’s huge Moog Modular. To think that 20 years earlier I had listened to this monster being used on the numerous ELP albums and there I was working on it! 20 years on from that and here I am still pursuing my passion and building analogue synthesizers again.

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First Aviator In 16 Years Takes Flight

January 18, 2013 in The Aviator

As we showed you in the previous post, work has started on the first Aviator to be built in 16 years and we are today pleased to announce it is finished and being prepared for shipping. It will be heading over to France for a gentleman that previously owned 2 of the “Original” Aviators all the way back in the 1990’s and from speaking to him, it seems he regretted ever selling them. This one has the “Custom built for…” text in the top left of the front panel and has the alternate black design as you can see from the photo below.

For the sound test we captured a short video of the filters in action.

With so much time passing since we last built an Aviator the original design notes needed a good dusting but it was great to get to grips with it and certainly brought back some memories. Now that we’ve finished this one there’s another two orders waiting in the wings so expect some more soundbytes and videos in the coming weeks.

Pioneer “Tribute” Sound Test

April 15, 2012 in The Pioneer

As work continues on building the Pioneer “Tribute” systems and as a follow-up to the photos supplied in the last blog post here is a short sound test that was recently recorded. Apologies for the fuzzy ambient noise in the background, future recordings will hopefully have this reduced so the full capabilities of the system can be admired.