A-110-4 Thru Zero Quadrature VCO

A-110-4 sound example by one of our customers: https://soundcloud.com/knobsandleds/sets/one-man-one-vco

click to enlarge

Standard Edition Special Edition

A-110-4 is a so-called Thru Zero Quadrature VCO. The term "quadrature" means in this connection that the oscillator outputs sine and cosine waveforms simultaneously. The term "Thru-Zero" means that even "negative" frequencies are generated. But this a bit a misleading term as negative frequencies do not really exist. "Negative" means in this connection simply that the sine/cosine waves will stop when the linear control voltage reaches 0V and continue with the opposite direction as the linear control voltage becomes negative and vice versa.

The module has two control sections: linear and a exponential. The exponential section consists of the XTune control, the 1V/Oct input and the XFM input with the corresponding attenuator XFM. The exponential control voltage is the sum of these three voltages. The linear section consists of the LFrq control and the LFM input with the corresponding attenuator LFM. The linear control voltage is the sum of these two voltages. A dual color LED is used to display the polarity of the linear control voltage (red = positive, yellow = negative). The pitch of the sine/cosine outputs is determined by the control voltages of both sections. The linear section is used to control the pitch in a linear manner. When the LFrq control (LFrq means Linear Frequency Control) is fully CW the module works like a normal Quadrature VCO (e.g. like the A-143-9) and the LED lights red (red = positive). The pitch is then controlled by the exponential section with the manual Tune control XTune and the exponential frequency control inputs 1V/Oct and XFM. 1V/Oct is used to control the pitch by a 1V/Oct CV source (e.g. sequencer or Midi/USB-to-CV interface). XFM is used to apply an exponential frequency modulation with adjustable depth (e.g. from an LFO or another VCO). As the LFrq control is turned counterclockwise starting from the fully CW position the frequency is lowered in a linear manner until the sine/cosine waves (nearly) stops at the center position of LFrq (provided that no LFM signal is present). As the LFrq control is moved from the center towards the CCW position the wave starts again but into reverse direction and the LED turns yellow. When the fully CCW position of LFrq is reached the module works again like a normal Quadrature VCO. But much more exciting is the usage of the LFM input to modify the linear control voltage by an external control voltage (typically another sine VCO like a second A-110-4 - but even normal VCOs can be used). Linear modulation by another oscillator using the thru zero feature generates audio spectra than cannot be obtained from an oscillator without the thru zero function. The reason is that a "normal" VCO will simply stop as the linear control voltage becomes zero or negative. But a thru zero VCO will start again with "negative" frequencies as the the linear control voltage becomes negative.

The main advantage of the A-110-4 compared to other Thru Zero VCOs is that the design uses a sine/cosine core. The sine/cosine waves are not derived from other waveforms (e.g. sawtooth or triangle) by means of waveshaping. Rather the sine and cosine waves are the core of the VCO which results in very pure waves with a minimum of distortion and overtones.

The output level is about 10Vpp (please refer to the note at the bottom for the output level of older versions).

Important note: Please remove the bus jumper (JP3 "BUS CV") if no CV transmitter is installed on the same bus (e.g. a Midi/USB-to-CV interface A-190-x or a bus access module A-185-x). The A-110-4 applies a small voltage with high impedance (100k) to the CV line of the bus when the bus CV jumper is installed. This may affect other modules that pick-up CV from the bus (e.g. other VCOs). As soon as a CV transmitter is installed on the same bus the high impedance voltage of the A-110-4 is overwritten and no problem occurs !

Additional technical notes:

The document A110_4_trimming_potentiometers.pdf explains the functions of the trimming potentiometers. The document is planned only for experienced users ! Please do not change the settings of the trimming potentiometers unless you are sure that you want to change certain settings. Modules which are returned with (mis-)adjusted trimming potentiometers cannot be treated as case of warranty !

In the factory the module is ajusted for these frequencies (with LFrq fully CW and XTune in the according position so that an external 5.00V control voltage generates 1024 Hz, i.e. the +5V CV is the reference setting with 0Hz error):

  • 0.00V: 32 Hz ± 0.2Hz

  • 1.00V: 64 Hz ± 0.5 Hz

  • 2.00V: 128 Hz ± 1Hz

  • 3.00V: 256 Hz ± 1Hz

  • 4.00V: 512 Hz ± 2Hz5

  • 5.00V: 1024 Hz ± 0Hz

Socket 1V/Oct is normalled to the internal control voltage coming from the bus (interruptible by removing the jumper JP3). Plugging a patch cable into the socket 1V/Oct does interrupt the internal bus CV connection ! Other VCO modules may behave different in this regard (e.g. adding the internal bus CV to the CV applied to the socket at the front panel).

The control voltage applied to the socket 1V/Oct is added to the control voltage coming from the bus (interruptible by removing the jumper JP3). Connecting a cable to the socket 1V/Oct does not interrupt the bus CV connection !

It is also possible to convert the A-110-4 into a Thru Zero Quadrature VCLFO by adding two capacitors to the frequency determining capacitors (C1 and C2). For details please refer to the document A110_4_trimming_potentiometers.pdf.

Additional note regarding linear FM: The LFM CV input is DC coupled. If the input is used for linear FM in audio range and the signal applied to this input has a DC offset it will cause a small pitch shift that depends upon the value of the DC voltage. Especially when a VCA is used to change dynamically the level of the modulation signal this may generate a pitch shift caused by the control voltage feedthrough of the VCA. The control voltage feedthrough adds a DC voltage at the output which depends upon the control voltage of the VCA. For this application VCAs with a very low CV feedthough should be used or the signal output of the VCA should be AC coupled to the LFM input of the A-110-4 (e.g. by inserting a capacitor).

The A-110-4 is also a meaningful addition for the Frequency Shifter module A-126-2. It enables frequency shifting below 20 Hz generating these mellow beat sounds with a few Hz frequency shifting only. Also Thru-Zero frequency shifting effects can be realized.

Note: The first version of the A-110-4 manufactured until about October 2015 had a lower outout level (about 3Vss). All modules manufactured later than October 2015 are equipped with internal amplifiers that increase the output level to about 10Vss. All A-1104SE (i.e. with blue front panels and white knobs) are already equipped with the amplifiers. For the standard version with grey front panel it depends upon the production date if the output level is ~10Vss (manufactured later than October 2015) or ~ 3Vss (manufactured until October 2015). A small test label at the rear side of the front panel or at the pc board tells the manufacturing date (MMYY with MM = month and YY = year of production). The new version with the amplifiers can be identified also by an additional circuit TL082 at the bottom of the pcb behind the cosine socket. The picture of the above link still shows the old version (without TL082).
We offer an amplifier kit that can be used to increase the output level for the first version of the A-110-4. A bit of soldering is required to install the kit. Details in the user manual of the amplifier kit.

The circuitry of the module is based on a design idea by Henry Walmsley published in December 2003 in the EDN magazine. The basic design idea has been comprehensively modified, improved and expanded by several features (e.g. a temperature controlled linear and exponential current source, control voltage full wave rectifier/comparator/switches for thru-zero FM, thru-zero current fine adjustment).

Trigonometric notes:

  • Sine and cosine sound the same because one cannot hear the 90 degrees phase shift between sine and cosine. Cosine is nothing but a sine with 90 degrees phase shift according to the formula: cos(x) = sin(x + pi/2)
    "pi" is the mathematical constant which expresses the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter and is about 3.14159...

  • Mixing sine and cosine results also in a sine shaped signal according to the formula: sin(x) + cos(x) = SQRT(2) * sin (x + pi/4), i.e. one obtains also a sine wave with pi/4 (45 degrees) phase shift and a little higher level (sqrt(2) = square root of 2 = 1.41)

  • Even on a one channel oscilloscope both signals look the same ! One needs a two-channel scope to see the phase shift !


Breite/Width: 8 TE / 8 HP / 40.3 mm
Tiefe/Depth: 60 mm (gemessen ab der Rückseite der Frontplatte / measured from the rear side of the front panel)
Strombedarf/Current: +90mA (+12V) / -30mA (-12V)

Standard-Version A-110-4 / standard version A-110-4: Euro 150.00
blau/weiße Sonderedition A-110-4SE / blue/white special edition A-110-4SE: Euro 150.00
Amplifier Kit (this option is required only for standard versions manufactured before October 2015 if the output levels have to be increased): Euro 30.00
The price in US$ depends upon the exchange rate between Euro and US$ at the payment day.