Back in the ’70s and early ’80s, string machines were an absolutely integral part of every keyboardist’s arsenal, and the ARP Solina String Ensemble was arguably the most popular of the lot. Based on the Eminent 310 electronic organ, its sound was so distinctive and ubiquitous that it transcended genres. Hits ranging from Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” to The Buggles’ new-wave anthem “Video Killed the Radio Star” featured its ethereal, orchestral sound. Even progressive rock legends like Yes and Pink Floyd embraced the Solina’s unmistakable shimmer on seminal albums like Tormato and Wish You Were Here (respectively).
With the introduction of programmable polyphonic synths such as the Sequential Prophet-5 and Roland Jupiter-8, the relatively limited string machine quickly fell out of favor, compounded by the fact that its sound had become associated with countless disco tracks. But now that vintage technology is all the rage, string synths are making a comeback in a big way. Even hardware manufacturers like Waldorf are getting into the game, with their recently released Streichfett desktop module (reviewed Nov. ’14).
Arturia’s new Solina V is a lovingly crafted reproduction that includes several new features, giving it a much wider array of textures than the original without venturing too far off course.
For purists, the original front panel of the Solina is identical, with just a few parameters governing the sound. As with its predecessor, the keyboard is pseudo-splittable with contra bass and cello emulations in the lower half and viola, violin, trumpet, and horn in the upper half. Granted, the cello and bass sounds are essentially identical to the upper instruments, with different filtering being the real distinction.
Like the lower half of the keyboard, the four upper instruments are all based on the same frequency-divided oscillators, so again, any significant sonic differences between the two boil down to filtering. The viola and violin are the source of the legendary string sound, with the viola being an octave lower than the violin. These can be combined by activating both switches, but as with the original ARP hardware, there’s no mix adjustment.
You can add the trumpet or horn instruments to the strings for a slightly different character, imparting a bit more midrange. On their own, they’re not really horn-like—at all—but we’re talking about an instrument that arrived in 1974, so that’s not the point.
As with the original, there are only two envelope parameters, “crescendo” and “sustain length,” which are simple attack and release controls. That’s it, but that’s fine, because the real star of the Solina show is its ensemble effect, which is arguably one of the most influential innovations in synthesizer history.
The Solina ensemble was far more than a simple chorus and while there were many imitators during this era, the Solina’s implementation was the definitive version. For trivia buffs, the effect was created via three “bucket brigade” delays being simultaneously modulated by two LFOs at different speeds, with each delay’s phase being offset by approximately 120 degrees. The end result was an incredibly deep, shimmering effect that gave the notoriously thin frequency-divided oscillators a lushness that made the Solina sound remarkably realistic for its time—especially if you then drenched it in plate reverb. Last but not least, Solina V includes the ensemble effects from the Mk. 1 (monaural) and Mk. 2 (stereo) units.
Now that we’ve covered the original’s features—which Solina V captures perfectly—let’s delve into Arturia’s updates to the Solina engine. For starters, there are adjustable pitch-bend and modulation wheels. The modulation wheel works in conjunction with a new LFO that offers tremolo and vibrato for the upper instruments and cutoff modulation for the contra bass. There are five waveform options for the LFO: triangle, upward and downward saws, square, and random. Of course, the LFO rate can sync to your host tempo.
Speaking of the contra bass, Arturia added some customization there as well. There’s a lowpass filter (modeled on a classic 24dB-per-octave ladder filter) with cutoff, resonance, and a simple envelope with attack, decay and sustain parameters. Despite these features, the filter retains the overall character of the Solina, so don’t expect any TB-303-like tricks here. It’s much more subtle than that and the result integrates nicely with the overall vibe of the software.
Interestingly, there’s also a basic arpeggiator for the bass section that’s does all of the standard tricks, in case you’re using the stand-alone version of the software in a live stage rig.
For the upper instruments, there’s a new resonator section that’s a little like a three-band EQ that’s based on filtering instead of equalization. This feature is based more on the Polymoog than the original Solina, but the end result gives allows for authentic-sounding customization of the basic tone generators. That is, the results of these filters are completely in line with overall tonality of a real Solina. The three filters can be switched (globally) between lowpass, highpass, and bandpass modes, creating a distinctive sound that’s also well-suited to vocal formant effects.
Finally, the Solina V includes three additional effects: a chorus/phaser, two types of delay, and a convolution reverb with models of vintage plates and such. The reverbs here are really quite lovely and, combined with the phaser, really up the ante on the Solina’s vintage character.
Priced at an affordable $99, Arturia Solina V is a lovingly crafted reproduction of the original. Frankly, they nailed it. The resonators and convolution reverb are intelligently implemented additions that add flexibility while remaining faithful to the sound of that era. If you’ve never heard a proper string machine, much less a Solina, you owe it to yourself to download the demo version from Arturia’s site. You’ll immediately recognize its ethereal, shimmering sound from countless hits, and more than likely summon a little inspiration for your next track.
Gorgeous recreation of the Solina sound. Shimmering ensemble effect. Three-band resonator for sculpting your own variations. Convolution reverb includes a collection of vintage plate models.
New filter and envelope tools in bass section could be a bit more flexible.
The most authentic Solina string synth recreation available.
$129 list | $99 street | arturia.com