DIY Roland System 700 – stripboarding the 703b/c VCF

System 700 703b VCF stripboard from above

For the stripboard perverts, here is a version of the System 700 703a/b/c/d 12db state variable voltage controlled filter, which has high-pass, band-pass, and low-pass modes. It should use matched CA3080s, although I haven’t got round to that yet.

According to analogue-heaven lore, it was the only type of VCF included with the first System 700 models, with the 703e/f/g/h 24db low-pass added later.

I spent a fair while wondering why it was so horribly distorted, before I realised that R33 in the feedback loop should be 1K rather than 10K. Here’s a detail from Yves Usson’s photo of the board:

703VCF R33 resistor

…yes, I have spent a fair amount of time staring at pixels wondering if they’re red or brown, how exciting for me.

The other problem was the orientation of the stereo resonance pot. Having built it up as suggested by the schematic, the level into the filter gets boosted as you turned the resonance up, which makes sense, but it amplifies the input so much that the resonance struggles to be heard over the original signal. The System 100 VCF has a similar arrangement but boosts in a rather more subtle manner. Here’s the relevant bit of the schematic re-arranged a bit to fit into the page.

Resonance level boost

Flipping the wires round boosts signal as the resonance is turned down and lights the overdrive LED for a 10v peak-to-peak input; not the correct behaviour according to the manual, which states that the red LED should light for an input of 13v p-p.

For now I’ve just bridged the wires going to the boost side of the resonance pot. It’s possible there’s something wrong in another part of the circuit, given that I’ve laid the board out manually in DIYLC, but I’ve been over it several times and been unable to find anything different.

Before I do a PCB for this I’ll experiment to see if it’s worth adding a resistor across the boost side of the pot to tame the amplification somewhat. I’ve stared at Yves’ photo of the 703 trying to work out if there’s anything extra going on but to no avail.

When listening to the first demos for this on headphones I noticed some familiar fizzy distortion on the lowpass output, which turned out to be caused by the connected LED level indicator circuit, just as with the 704 VCA. I re-recorded the demo with the LED disconnected, but fixing this should just be a matter of adding the 1.5nF capacitor from BL+ (the positive supply to the U8) to ground, marked as C17 in the track layout in the service manual.

There are a couple of versions of the 12db 703, one with LM301s and (according to the schematic) 1.5nF mylar capacitors, and another with CA3140s and 470pF polystyrene caps. The 301s need compensation capacitors, and the 3140s don’t. I started out intending to build the LM301 version, but in the course of debugging the distortion I ended up swapping to the CA3140s (The LM301s should work fine, it wasn’t their fault).

Here’s a quick demo of the System 100 square wave into the 703 VCF – first is the bandpass, second is the lowpass, all sequenced by the MC-4, no VCA – these were done using 1.5nF mylar caps.

And here’s the sound of the different modes using the sawtooth from a different oscillator into the 703 VCF, with cutoff initially modulated by a dubious MFB Dual LFO and increasing amounts of resonance, and then some fiddling about with the CV from the MC-4 and the clone System 100 envelope, all with no VCA. They’re hardly the most musical of demos (all in the key of predictability) but it’s more to get an idea of the character of the filter. Warning: nasty high pitched resonant sounds!

First lowpass:

Possibly unpleasant highpass:

And the bandpass:

…not really your classic fruity Roland sound, but then you should expect that from the 12db-iness of it, and to my mind that’s a good thing to have a different flavour to the usual 24db sound. It sounds slower to react to the envelope than the 5-stage (30db?) System 100 VCF.

Here’s the layout out of DIYLC, including the C17 LED noise fix, but with the resonance pot boost as described in the schematic – should you build it you might need to experiment with this. I’ve been over it a few times checking for errors but it’s always possible I’ve missed something, let me know in the comments below if you spot anything.

Roland System 700 703b stripboard front

Roland System 700 703b VCF stripboard - back cuts only

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