ARP’s 4-in-one synth gets recreated and improved in software. Who better to appreciate it than John McJunkin, who’s owned the original since it came out?
ARP made about 4000 Quadras. And what’s not to love about this instrument?
It essentially consists of a Solina, an Omni II, an Odyssey, and a bass synth, all brought together in one package – with arpeggiation and a marvelous phase shifter capable of creating goosebumps.
The Quadra is quirky but cool, and it can make some big, beautiful sounds by combining these sections together. But stuffing four synthesizers into a single case and making it all work together is complicated, and the Quadra is an instrument that’s not renowned for its reliability or longevity.
As in numerous other synths of its era (late ’70s), leaking storage batteries can do tremendous damage. Also, its keys protrude a substantial distance from the front of the case, prone to fracture. So we start to see why there aren’t many still around – in fact rumor has it that there are fewer than 100 fully functional Quadras remaining in the world.
So what’s the obvious solution for a market in which demand far outstrips supply? Create a virtual instrument version of the thing… and that’s exactly what Cherry Audio, who are known for some pretty accurate emulations of vintage synths, have done.
Not literal: A zillion technological advances have come along since the Quadra’s introduction in 1978. So while remaining true to the original vibe and feel, Cherry Audio made the very welcome decision to include some revisions, rather than creating a literal reproduction.
For example, this version has proper patch storage. The original could “store” 16 patches, but its slider positions weren’t recalled. Cherry developed a powerful patch browser system for all their emulations – all the parameters are stored, and patches are divided into user-definable categories, with searchable keywords.
In the original synth, certain sections were limited to certain zones of the keyboard. Now you just set the four sections’ key ranges using MIDI learning.
The poly and strings sections of the original synth shared oscillators. Cherry’s version improves on this with separate ones that are completely independent of each other.
The poly synth now has multiple waveforms vs. the originals use of the same “spike” and/or “hollow” oscillators that created the string sound as well. This one’s poly synth also offers ramp, sine, triangle, and pulse with variable width that can be controlled manually or modulated by LFO or envelope.
Obviously this opens up many new options, but you can still create timbres true to the original Quadra sound.
Cherry even includes a Drift button that introduces a bit of random pitch inconsistency to emulate the way our sweet old analog beasts really sounded.
Phase: The original Quadra’s phase shifter was integral to its sound. Cherry added some additional effects: a chorus/flanger, echo, and reverb.
The original Quadra allowed routing of each of its four sections to the phase shifter in any combination. Cherry have maintained that topology, not only with the phase shifter but with all the effects. In addition to the standard stereo plug-in, a 4-output version lets you route effected signals to individual DAW faders.
Aftertouch: The original Quadra offers aftertouch, and it can be assigned to either VCO or VCF (or turned off altogether for the benefit of those of us who are known to occasionally “lean” on the keys). This version has separate aftertouch controls for poly and lead sections, with sliders to adjust the amount of aftertouch on a continuously variable basis.
Arpeggiator: The vintage Quadra had a “sequencer,” which is actually an arpeggiator with up, down, or up-and-down options. This version adds a random option, and of course it can synchronize with the host DAW.
Sample and hold: Cherry’s version of the Quadra’s sample-and-hold circuit is a big improvement, allowing the noise generator to be used its sample source.
External input: The original had the remarkable capacity in its mixer section to blend in an external signal. This makes less sense in the modern DAW-oriented world, so Cherry did not bother with it.
Still, I have always dreamt of being able to run external signal through the Quadra’s phase shifter. Perhaps Cherry will facilitate this in a future revision – or carve the phase shifter out to become its own plug-in.
UI: As the owner of a Quadra from 1979, I felt right at home sitting down to play with the virtual buttons and sliders of the plug-in. It has ARP’s famous black and orange color scheme, with the added blue and green buttons of the original Quadra.
One of the charms of the original synth is its lack of sophistication in certain ways – the things that forced us to dig deep and find creative ways to arrive at unique, inspirational sounds. The Cherry Audio version allows us to work within those confines, but also opens up infinite new possibilities with novel features that we didn’t have before.
I really like that it can be used either way – a late-’70s paraphonic/divide-down synth with comparatively limited capabilities, or a more modern synth that feels and sounds like the original, one with substantial additional possibilities.
Sound: Starting with the bass section, ARP had originally sought to support the keyboard player’s God-given right to replace a bassist with their left hand. The Quadra bass section actually does deliver a decent electric bass sound, with decay and filter resonance controls.
This instrument gets pretty close to the ARP’s sound, and it can create more sophisticated bass sounds with the addition of the poly or even lead sections, just like the original. The bass end of the string synth truly captures the low end of the ARP string synths, and adds low and high EQ faders for additional sound sculpting.
That string section may be where the plug-in shines most, perhaps even like a crazy diamond (har har). The raspy bite of the ARP Solina and Omni is well represented here. It’s such a classic and popular sound that it’s been emulated many times by many developers, but Cherry captured it as accurately as any emulation I’ve heard.
And when the phase shifter is brought to bear, we get Pink Floyd/Gary Wright/Joy Division strings that are so close that no one in the audience could possibly distinguish them from the genuine article. I have owned an ARP String Ensemble IV (aka Solina) and I also dive into the string section of my own Quadra from time to time, and I’m well pleased with the strings delivered by the Cherry Audio plug-in.
The poly section also captures that late-’70s ARP feel quite remarkably. And with additional waveforms in its VCO, new horizons are now available. It delivers the divide-down organ feel, and also facilitates some big, full pads. It has that saturated ’70s poly synth feel that some other emulations simply don’t.
Finally, the lead section produces excellent, true-to-the original tone that I believe would probably fool my ears in a blind A/B comparison. It has a ton of the original Odyssey character, and just truly sounds fantastic.
In my opinion, this challenges the string section of the emulation in terms of which is most accurate. For me it’s about a toss-up. The Pink Floyd-esque leads, in particular, are nice and warm and round. And w hen combined with the built in echo and reverb, they really deliver the goods.
Bottom line on the lead section – it’s truly inspiring, and I’ve caught myself noodling away for long periods of time.
Accuracy? Does the Cherry Audio Quadra plug-in sound identical to the original Quadra? Not exactly, but it’s very close. And unless you’re a dazzlingly wealthy collector, the acquisition of the genuine article would be difficult if not impossible.
This emulation gets very close, and adds substantive new functions that make it worth well more than its price.
There are purists who will never be satisfied with software emulations of any kind, and they’re not wrong – it’s nearly impossible to force computer code to behave precisely like physical circuitry. But when that circuitry is made from unobtanium and the software comes very close, the nay-sayers start to sound a bit whiny, in my humble opinion.
Yes, I’ll still fire up my real Quadra from time to time. The process of tweaking and developing sounds is great fun, and it may yield results that are eminently useful. But when I don’t have hours to kill and I need to get things done quickly for a client, it’s a pretty safe bet I’ll get what I need from the Cherry plug-in – and have a reliable and precise way to recall it.
Ultimately, this plug-in is almost certainly the closest you’ll ever get to owning an ARP Quadra Take it from me: owning an ARP Quadra is wonderful. And that’s why the Cherry Audio Quadra is a no-brainer. Go buy it right away.