Review – Solina V by Arturia

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If you want something that closely resembles the most famous string synthesizer of the 1970s and 1980s, the Solina V is definitely a candidate. We see what this emulation of a classic has to offer.

 

by Rob Mitchell, March 2016

Around the mid-1970s, there was a new kid on the block in the world of synthesizers. It was called the Eminent Solina, and it opened the doors to musicians looking for something to resemble an orchestral type of sound. There was the infamous Mellotron of course, but it had its own problems. It was based on tapes, it wasn’t the most reliable, and its price put it out of reach for many people. The Eminent Solina was free of this cumbersome tape-based limitation. It was based on a single oscillator that used divide-down technology to produce a lush sound. It had a nice, warm quality that can be heard on many records from that time period.

Eventually, the people at ARP forged a deal with Eminent to re-brand it under their own company’s name. With its new name, the ARP String Ensemble became very popular, and made its way to many player’s rigs around the world.

The Solina V by Arturia has all the parameters of the ARP String Ensemble, as well as many other new features: paraphonic and polyphonic modes, multiple effects (including a convolution reverb), and a resonator section that’s very similar to a certain 1970s polysynth. The Solina V isn’t based on samples; it is a physically-modeled synthesizer.  To those unfamiliar with the term “paraphonic”, it means the instrument is capable of playing multiple tones, but it falls short of true polyphony in some fashion, such has having all the notes share the same filter.

I will get to more of the details later, but for now I wanted to go over the system requirements.

For the PC, you’ll need the Windows 7 (or higher) operating system, two gigabytes of RAM, and a 2 Ghz CPU (32-bit and 64-bit).

For the Mac, you’ll need OS X 10.8 (or higher) operating system, two gigabytes of RAM, and a 2 GHz CPU (64-bit only). It works in Standalone, VST and Audio Unit, AAX (Pro Tools 11), and can use the NKS by Native Instruments.

After you’ve installed the Solina V, you have to register it with a serial number and unlock code. Along with the Solina V itself, you’ll need the Arturia Software Center, which is simple to install and easy to use. The Software Center is what allows you to activate the Arturia plugins you have purchased. It also enables you to download demo versions of other Arturia products, and update any plugins you have already installed.

 

First Impression

After I had it running in my DAW, I took a look at all the controls on the main screen. Actually there aren’t too many to go over, but I will cover those in detail. After I go over this main display, I will get to the hidden panel that has many other goodies for manipulating the sound.

Along the top of the display is where the menus are to load in presets that ship with the Solina V.  A bank selection menu lets you switch between viewing all banks or just the banks created by a certain preset designer. Each of the author’s banks can also be viewed by type from that same menu. The next menu over is to set which type of presets you’d like to view. The third menu is for viewing the presets under the type of category you selected previously. Another way to change presets is to use the left/right arrows, which let you browse through the presets one at a time.

Banks can be imported and exported, but only full banks can be imported, not single presets. You can export presets one at time if needed, so you could then save a few of them yourself, or share them with others. Just a quick note: the factory presets can’t be overwritten, but they can be renamed and saved afterwards. Just to see what would happen, I tried to save a preset without changing its name. To my surprise, it did save it. When I looked for it in the menus, it had automatically added a numeral 1 after the original name for me. The original preset was safe and sound.

The “Open” button is where many hidden functions are tucked away (I will get to those later), and the “Poly” button switches between a paraphonic and polyphonic mode. The lower section (bass instrument) of the Solina is always monophonic. The Poly button only affects the upper section, and not the bass instrument. In the upper-right is a CPU meter, and various menus for the settings having to do with MIDI configuration, and split modes. There is a “Panic” button included, just in case you need to shut down some hanging notes. It’s rare, but on the off-chance your computer might have a problem with MIDI data, this will snap it out of it. 

Now we’ll check out the main controls of the plugin itself, starting along the left side. Standard pitch bend and modulation wheels are here, and there’s a Volume Master slider. To the right of the volume slider are the buttons for the Contra Bass and Cello settings. These play lower pitched tones that are somewhat similar to what they are named after, and the Cello is one octave higher in pitch than the Contra Bass. They can be switched on or off with the push of a button, and both can be turned on at the same time if you’d prefer a layered sound. As I mentioned, the bass section is monophonic. This section also has its own volume level slider.

To the right of those controls are the sliders for Crescendo (adjusts the attack) and Sustain Length (time it takes for the note to fade). I thought Sustain Length should just be named ‘Release’, but it was probably taken from the original synth’s naming conventions. The bass and upper section each have a different response for these settings. It also depends on a few other factors, such as what mode you’re using. In addition, there are some extra controls in the hidden section, and they can affect them as well.

Next we have the Upper instrument controls, with a volume slider and buttons to switch on the different parts. These include a Viola, Violin, Trumpet, and Horn. Similar to the bass sounds, these resemble what they were named after and are enabled at the push a button. They can all be switched on at the same time to layer the sounds, but the Horn and Trumpet will not play at the same time. In other words, the Horn takes priority over the Trumpet. Over to the right of these buttons in the Ensemble effect, which is modeled after the Eminent’s ensemble. I have not played an actual Arp/Eminent String myself, but this effect sounds great to me. It gives it a lush, dense sound that mixes perfectly with the string sounds that are within the Solina V. On the off chance that you don’t happen to care for it, you could of course switch it off and just use your own external effect.

 

The Hidden Features


Now that I’ve covered the basics of what is immediately available, I will go over what other options are included. After you click the “Open” button, the lid pops up on the top of the display, and a new panel is revealed.  It will also open up if you click on the top of lid.

From here, you can get to the aftertouch and velocity settings. These are located on the left side of the display.  Next to those controls is an LFO with Rate, Retrig (retrigger), and Sync options. Normally, the LFO will be free-running, but if Retrig is switched on, it forces it to always start at the beginning of the cycle. The Sync function will put the LFO in ‘sync’ with the host’s timing. Fade and Delay controls are also here, and they work in the standard way as most other LFOs do. The waveforms for the LFO include a triangle, saw up, saw down, square, and random. The “Bass Cut” control adjusts the amount of filter modulation for the Bass instrument.  The “Tremolo” control adjusts the amount of modulation for the amplitude, and the “Vibrato” control will change the amount of pitch modulation.

In the Bass section, we have the filter and an arpeggiator. This might be obvious – but just to be clear, these two features only affect the bass instrument and not the upper instrument.  Standard cutoff and resonance controls are here, as well as an envelope amount control. The filter envelope is simple, having just attack and release sliders to adjust the amounts of each. The “Bass Sus” (bass sustain) controls the amount of sustain of the bass instrument; with higher values, it will take longer to fade out after playing a note.

The original Arp/Eminent didn’t have an arpeggiator, but Arturia has been kind enough to add one for the Solina V. It is a simple, easy to use arp that lends itself well to this type of synth. It has the usual rate and sync to host controls, and the patterns included are Up, Down, Random, and Excl (Exclusive).  The first three patterns aren’t tough to figure out, but the “Exclusive” setting is different than the others. It combines both the Up and Down modes, but as it goes through the repeating cycle, it won’t repeat the highest and lowest notes.

The Upper Resonator is one of my favorite parts of the Solina V, and like the arp, it wasn’t included in the original. The Arturia description for the Solina says it is modeled after the Moog resonator section that was from their 1970s polysynth. My guess is that they’re talking about the Polymoog. It acts like a 3-band formant filter, letting you adjust cutoff, resonance, and the gain amount for each frequency range. Those ranges are 60-300 Hz, 300-1.5 kHz, and 1.5k-7.5 kHz. In addition, there are three filter modes: Low pass, Band pass, and High pass, letting you get a huge amount of sonic variation from the Solina V.  Along with the resonator section, another hidden function is the “Humana” instrument type, made famous by the “Vox Humana” preset in the Polymoog.  Using it along with the many controls that are at your disposal in the resonator section gives you some powerful options. All of these sliders and knobs for this section can be easily assigned (like the other controls in the Solina V) to your MIDI controller.

There are four effects included in the Solina V: Phaser, Chorus, Delay, and Convolution Reverb. Actually, there are just three that can be used at once, so you have to choose between either the Phaser or the Chorus. I think it would be a bit much with four effects all at once anyway. The Effect Send controls to the right of the keyboard control how much of each effect is applied to the sound. There are 25 different convolution settings to choose from, but unlike the other types of effects, the reverb settings can’t be adjusted. Of course there is one other effect which I already touched on earlier; the Ensemble, which uses the classic “bucket brigade” circuit emulation.

 

Conclusion

The Solina V is like a trip down memory lane, with that unique sound which happens to get very close to the original. I really like what they’ve done with this recreation, and the added functionality that they’ve included is more than welcome. I do wish it had one more LFO, but it can easily get a large variety of sounds as is. The included presets for the Solina V sound great, and the CPU usage wasn’t too bad. The effects work really well, except I was hoping to edit the reverb settings. On the other hand, they do give you a lot of reverb presets.

The Solina V retails for $99 USD, and is also part of the V Collection 4, which retails for $399 USD. That collection also includes many other Arturia products, so it really is a good deal when you add it all up. Occasionally it can be found for $199 USD (if you shop around), or if Arturia has one of their sales. You can get more information about the Solina V here:

https://www.arturia.com/products/analog-classics/solina-v/overview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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