Another unusual instrument from our friends in the East comes in the form of the Elta Music Solar-50 - Big Ambient Machine.
This is a FIFTY OSCILLATOR - yes (50!) instrument with 10 voice groups each with 5 oscillators (sawtooth) per voice.
The Solar-50 is a large unit, desktop I guess, but it will take up a reasonable amount of room on that desk. It features a touch pad to trigger each voice group which is split into 1-5 and 6-10 via the mixer, which has discrete levels for each voice (oscillators are fixed amplitude) then a submix for 1-5 and 6-10 voice groups.
There's also a filter which we understand is based on the Polivoks design, 2xLFOs and an envelope generator and 2 additional trigger pads which can be used to trigger the envelope.
Each of the 10 voices has 5 sawtooth only oscillators, each with their own pitch range - manually tuned, unquantized with each oscillator offering a fixed range - eg: osc 1 low, osc 2 low mid, osc 3 mid etc.. Each oscillator can be switched in or out, but that is the extent of the level setting for each.
There is also a modulation button for each oscillator which then can be dialed in via the CV depth knob. This can be affected either by the external CV input jack - or by the light sensitive done sensor on each voice.
In practice this is rather arbitrary as there is no scaling making it incompatible with v/Oct or similar.
It is also possible to offset all the oscillators via the Pitch knob - this would have been and ideal candidate for CV control and V/oct scaling, but sadly not. The pitch knob also cross modulates oscillators when dialed past 12 o'clock, but again it's rather unpredictable.
Tuning - it's hard. Getting everything to tune up and be usable in pitched composition is not an easy task, I also found it to be a little inconsistent, so setting up a few voices to tune to some kind of chord sequence, and then triggering via the pads or with an external gate input was difficult.
Oscillators also seem to drift, so you will often find something that worked 10 minutes ago, is now slightly, or majorly out.
I would also like to have seen some oscillator wave variants, perhaps a couple of voices with alternative waves?
Each voice has a gate input - or can be triggered by one of the corresponding touch pads, and has a simple ASR (attack, sustain, release) envelope. So you can trigger from external sources for timed sequences, the envelope out for Attack and Release means you can cascade voices as well, by triggering another voice from the ENV out jacks into another voices Env In
Based on the Polivoks design, it's pretty pleasant and can get highly resonant with some nice harmonics, plus a CV input can be modulated from external sources, or indeed from one of the 2 LFOs or any of the envelopes.
The LFO's offer a morphable waveform from Triangle to Square, but are quite limited in their range of speed, particularly they don't go all that slowly which is a shame, especially in something like this which would be suited for slowly morphing sounds in the dronescape.
A contact mic can be used to trigger a modulation envelope - say routed to the filter or any of the voice CV inputs, and also the mic can be mixed into the signal path for a thump if you need it, there's also an external input which can be driven quite hard and indeed for creating self distortion.
Additionally there are two trigger pads which have their own output jacks and can be patched to any of the modulation inputs via the 1/8th inch jack sockets.
The optical sensors on each voice also have some use, but in practice I found it quite hard to implement any meaningful modulation using these, they do look nice when they glow red though!
This is an interesting part of the Solar-50, it's a cartridge based system with multiple algorithms stored on the supplied cartridges - each with three presets and three modulatable parameters - this is where things can get most interesting.
There are up to 12 available cartridges - the base option comes with 3, we got the full 12 and there are some great ones in there, though sadly they are all mono,
If you are feeling brave you can buy a cartridge programming kit and roll your own, though this is pretty nerdy.
The Solar-50 has Left and Right and Wet outputs, voices 1-5 go to Left, 6-10 to right and all go to the Wet output which has the FX + Filter applied, so it is possible to have a stereo-ness (is that a word?) but it's limited then to dry sawtooth voices if you use L+R outs.
Who's it for?
If you want to explore the world of microtonal and oscillator stacking with a multitude of ambient options and interesting FX, then this could be for you, however, if you want to integrate this into a more traditional tuned instrument environment, then I feel you may find the constant tuning and checking somewhat frustrating.
You may say "but the Lyra 8 is the same!" and to a degree you'd be right, but tuning 8 oscillators is very different to tuning 50.
But, you can make some great sounds and soundscapes with this, but for me it's hard to make it play nice with other instruments.
More information on the Elta-music site https://www.eltamusic.com/solar-50
Pricing (paypal only)
SOLAR 50 delivery + 3 cartridges=1050 euros
SOLAR 50 + delivery + 3 cartridges + bag = 1155 euros
SOLAR 50 + delivery + 12 cartridges = 1135 euros
SOLAR 50+ delivery + 12 cartridges + bag = 1240 euros
DIY kit for programming cartridge = 40 euros