17th September 2012
The original Jennings Univox was played by The Beatles during their early sets at the Cavern in Liverpool, and by the Tornadoes, who used it to create the signature synth sound of their 1962 synth-pop hit Telstar.
It was designed by Tom Jennings who went on to form Vox amplifiers, and comprised a valve-based oscillator which could be run through a series of wave shapers, filters and EQs controlled by tab switches on its front panel, capable of creating over 2000 variations on the basic waveform. Vibrato added movement to the sound, while a knee lever controlling volume allowed the player to manage swells and tremolo wobbles in real time. The sound was output through a dedicated speaker cabinet into which the keyboard packed for transportation, making it a real alternative to other more cumbersome valve-based synthesisers like the Hammond Novachord for gigging bands.
The Jennings Univox was similar to the Clavioline, another valve-based portable synth, but differed in its use of a sawtooth variant as its source waveform where the Clavioline used a square-wave variant. It is this valve-based sawtooth, rich in harmonic overtones and minor valve instabilities, that gave the Univox its uniquely warm analogue sound.
The Rhythmic Robot software version of Jennings starts with a meticulous recreation of the original instrument based around 24-bit, 20-second chromatic samples of a professionally restored Univox and using a combination of multiple sample sets and convolved IR maps to simulate the behaviour of all of the Univox's control tabs. Key click samples and a full sample set of the "Sub Octave" tab can be trimmed in level relative to the main wave forms, allowing more comprehensive balancing of the Univox's tone.
For musicians wanting to explore the start of the synth era with complete authenticity, a "compliance mode" can be enabled to allow the user quickly and easily to dial in patches which conform exactly to the standards of the 1946 original. Patches designed in "compliance mode" sound indistinguishable from the original hardware Univox. However, for anyone wanting to go beyond the limitations of the original, Jennings extends the capabilities of the Univox considerably, adding polyphony, dual oscillators (drawing on different sample sets for a richer tone), a multi-mode resonant filter with LFO, precise control over envelopes (including attack curves) and a comprehensive effects section incorporating Chorus, Phaser, Echo, Rotary Speaker simulation and Amp Cab modelling.
Accessing these effects and additional controls allows the user to create patches using a familiar subtractive synthesis model, but drawing on Jennings's front-panel tabs to create a base palette of over 2000 "oscillators". Any tab combination can be used as the starting point for a patch and then doubled up, detuned, filtered, effected and so forth. The result of this versatility is that Jennings is capable of creating both authentic, 1946-accurate tones in "compliance mode", and modern synthetic patches with a signature valve character, all from one clearly laid-out graphic UI.
Jennings is available now from www.rhythmicrobot.com priced at £59.95.
- 24-bit, 20-second samples of a professionally-restored Jennings Univox.
- All-valve waveforms.
- Convolved IR maps and multiple sample sets combine to recreate all front-panel tabs.
- One or two oscillators, with detune and Osc Spread control for stereo width.
- Multi-mode resonant filter switchable between 2-pole (12dB/octave) and 4-pole (24dB/octave), high or low pass.
- Filter and Amplitude envelopes; Amplitude envelope with specific attack-curve control (for "sucky" or "snappy" attacks).
- Filter LFO and switchable Amplitude (tremolo) / Pitch (vibrato) LFO, with adjustable ramp time.
- Full effects section with Chorus, Phaser, Delay, Rotary Speaker and Amp Cab simulator.
- Stereo Widening in combination with Osc Spread maps keys across the stereo sound field.
- "Compliance Mode" makes creating authentic 1946-style patches simple.
Jennings requires Kontakt version 4.2.3 or later (including Kontakt 5). Not compatible with Kontakt player.