The BeatStep is much more than a pad controller–it’s a groove sequencer that features analog CV-gate as well as MIDI out. We saw one driving a vintage Oberheim SEM and grooving hard!
Vintage synthesizer track featuring the classic Oberheim OB-X
all synthesizer sounds: Oberheim OB-X Analog Synthesizer (1979)
recording: multi-tracking without midi
fx: reverb and delay
All synthesizer sounds: Oberheim OB-Xa Analog Synthesizer (1981)
drums: Roland TR-808
fx: reverb and delay
The Oberheim OB-Xa was Oberheim’s overhaul of their first compact synthesizer, the OB-X. The OB-Xa was released in December 1980, a year after the OB-X was released. Instead of discrete circuits for oscillators and filters, the OB-Xa (and the Oberheim synths to follow) switched to Curtis integrated circuits. This made the inside of the synth less cluttered, reducing the labor required to replace bad parts, and reducing the cost of manufacture. However, today it’s much easier to fix an OB-X than an OB-Xa, as Curtis parts are getting scarcer, whereas discrete parts used in the OB-X are almost always readily available.
Aside from hardware changes, the OB-Xa had better interface features than the OB-X. These included being able to split the keyboard into two halves with different voices and the ability to layer voices to create thicker sound (essentially making two notes sound for every key pressed). Polyphony stayed the same – again 4,6 and 8-voice models were offered.
One function that did disappear from the OB-X voice architecture was cross modulation, or frequency modulation of the first VCO with the second VCO. When done with analogue circuits, it’s a unique sound made famous by the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and its poly-mod section. The lack of this feature somewhat reduced the range of sounds possible on the OB-Xa.
This video shows an Oberheim Four Voice Synthesizer with a NEA Modular Expander Cabinet and Pyxis Aftertouch.
“In this clip, all filter, pitch and volume modulation is being done with the aftertouch controller. When the aftertouch is engaged, vibrato is added to the VCOs, and the speed of the vibrato is proportional to the pressure applied. The VCF is also set to open up a little when the aftertouch is engaged. For more info on the aftertouch or the modular cabinet, check out our website www.NewEnglandAnalog.com or give our shop a call.”
A big step forward after the initial Oberheim SEM and Two Voice synthesizers came from the bigger and better Four Voice. Four dual-oscillator SEM modules each with its own filters and envelopes are joined together along with a simple analog mixer and 49-note keyboard to give you a polyphonic/polytonal Obie-beast!
This combination gives you eight oscillators and four voices of polyphony because there are basically four discrete mono-synths all connected together. This has its pros and cons. What is cool is that this was a lot of simultaneous voices for the mid-seventies. And the ability to craft a different sound on each voice led to some diverse and complex sounds. However, it also meant you have to program each voice independently. Each voice also has its own independent audio output.
The Polyphonic Synthesizer Programmer, released in 1976 and added to the Four Voice stores 16 patches per voice (all of which can be different). The Four Voice could accommodate an additional four SEMs, making it just like the Eight Voice model which officially appeared in 1977.
Unfortunately the Four Voice was blown out of the competition by the release of the polyphonic Sequential Prophet-5, which offered true polyphony with a single set of sound shaping controls and comprehensive patch memory.
A few multi patches on the Oberheim Matrix-12
Oberheim’s Matrix 12 is a legendary analog synthesizer from the mid-eighties that is still the king of analog sounds. One of the fattest, roundest, pleasantly analog synthesizers around! It’s long been known for creating some of the thickest and best analog pads, sweeps, buzzes, basses and textures. It features Matrix Modulation for extremely wild virtual patching for almost unlimited range of sounds and modulation capabilities!
The Matrix 12 is similar to the Xpander and the lighter Matrix 6. But the Matrix 12 is much fatter and more programmable than either. Every control can have an effect on some other parameter thanks to Oberheim’s flexible design. For example, there are 15 types of LFOs and VCAs per voice! And there’s plenty of diagrams drawn out on the front panel of the synth to help you figure out some signal routing. This is not a synth for the beginner.
How to play with Polyphonic Aftertouch on Channel Pressure “only” synths. You need a synth with multi patch support like the Oberheim Xpander, Studio Electronics Code 8 and Alesis Andromeda.
Arturia has announced availability of iSEM, its second subtractive synthesizer recreation for Apple’s iPad. Here’s the story in their own words…
Like Arturia’s Oberheim SEM V desktop (or laptop) software solution before it, iSEM uses proprietary TAE (True Analog Emulation) technology to faithfully reproduce the analogue warmth and ingenious interface of the vintage Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module (SEM) to which it also owes its inspiration and name, but brings it all kicking and screaming to this day and age in the most musical and ingeniously interactive ways possible by making the most of the latest developments available to its iPad host. Helpfully, Arturia has seen fit to take advantage of iOS 7’s inbuilt Inter-App Audio, allowing iSEM users to send MIDI commands and stream audio between apps on the same device. And that’s just for starters!
But first, a little history: hatched by legendary synth designer Tom Oberheim back in 1974, the dual-oscillator SEM was originally conceived as a way of beefing up weaker-sounding compatible analogue monosynths of the time before becoming a sought-after sound in its own right — so much so that its American creator came up with a series of successive SEM-based instruments, first pairing up two SEMs with a 37-note keyboard and a simple analogue step sequencer to form the Two Voice, Oberheim’s first self-contained compact, duophonic synthesizer in 1975, thereby beating rivals to the polyphonic punch. Programmability came courtesy of Oberheim’s breakthrough Polyphonic Synthesizer Programmer which — when hardwired into the fair-sized Four Voice (featuring four SEMs and a 49-note keyboard) in 1976 and enormous Eight Voice (eight SEMs set across two tiers) in 1977 — enabled the control voltages of many parameters for up to eight SEMs to be memorised for the first time. Though these instruments were undeniably groundbreaking, quickly finding favour with the likes of popular prog-rockers Rush and electronic music trailblazers Tangerine Dream, polyphony was, after all, achieved with multiple SEMs so each voice/module had to be programmed independently, which was quite a daunting task — even by somewhat shaky Seventies standards!
Fast forward, then, to 2013 and the truly 21st Century musical landscape has changed considerably, as has music technology itself. Today, of course, we take polyphony and programmability for granted, though not necessarily that still-sought-after Oberheim sound. Ingeniously, iSEM quite literally taps into all of this and then some, putting more musicality at anyone’s fingertips than its analogue namesake designer dared dream possible back in Oberheim’s Seventies salad days!
On the surface, anyone in any way familiar with the original Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module® will immediately feel right at home when launching iSEM since the majority of its MAIN screen graphically mirrors the VCO 1, VCO 2, VCF, ENV 1, ENV 2, and LFO 1 layout and all associated controls to a tee — right down to the old Oberheim logo within the VCF section! Speaking of recognition, recreating that still- sought-after Oberheim sound is a challenge that iSEM readily rises to meet from deeper within thanks to that TAE® technology. This allows accurate modelling of analogue circuitry behaviour — in this case, an original Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module®. Meaty, Seventies- sounding sounds stream forth from iSEM with over 600 highly-usable presets always accessible from its eye-catching browser — a quantum leap forward from Oberheim’s Polyphonic Synthesizer Programmer of way back when, surely?
Of course, communicating with the outside world in the pre-MIDI age was always a testing time back in the Oberheim SEM-launching Seventies. Not so today with iSEM… simply tap CONNECT and the iPad world is your musical oyster, thanks to Core MIDI, WISTTM, and Audiobus support — not forgetting the aforementioned Inter-App Audio.
But that’s not all iSEM has to offer. Far from it, in fact! Pressing the VOICE PROG button brings into play a voice programmer that makes simulating a huge polyphonic sound similar to Oberheim’s original Eight Voice hardware heavyweight a breeze — albeit without having to wrestle with eight monosynth modules hardwired together to create complex tones. Tellingly, MOD MATRIX makes creating complex modulation routings equally easy while the FX page brings built-in chorus, delay, and overdrive effects into the musical mix. Meanwhile, multiple performance parameters are accessible from the PERF page boasting ARPEGGIATOR controls, assignable sliders, and effects mix controls.
Amazingly, all of this is available in iSEM as an ear-opening iPad app for a tiny fraction of what its notable namesake analogue ancestor cost almost 40 years ago. The times they are a-changin’ here for sure! And admit it. Will you miss having to haul heavyweight hardware around? That’s progress. Portability pluses apart, iSEM is a supreme software recreation of a supreme subtractive synthesizer, pure and simple. So surely Apple’s App Store should be your next port of call? Get iSEM today and get back to the future of that still-sought-after Oberheim sound with Arturia!
Appropriate iPad owners can purchase and directly download iSEM from Apple’s App Store for $9.99 USD/€8.99 EURO/£6.99 GBP
This is an in-your-face review of the Oberheim Drumulator Audio Synthesizer (Waldorf Micro Q + Novation X-Station 25).
This was the first Gluten Free iPad Synthesizer App from 1977.
Background video description:
A fellow VSE’r was wanting to know how to sync his JP-8’s arpeggiator to his DMX. I don’t know of any way to do that directly without another piece of gear in between to convert clock pulses.
The Garfield Electronics Modulator can program trigger pulse rhythms up to 2 measures synched to 24ppq DIN, 24, 48 or 96ppq phone jack.
Checking out the Oberheim SEM Pro, background video description below:
“Just had it for a day or two, so I’m still a bit hunt-and-peck when it comes to the controls. Sounds delightful though. No effects, straight into a mixer and out to the camera’s input.”
SEM-PRO. SEM with MIDI to CV Converter and integrated Patchpanel. This version combines the features of the MIDI to CV version with a 21-jack patchpanel and is personally autographed by Tom Oberheim.
- Select MIDI channel, controller number and bend range
- Select note assignment modes: latest, high note and low note priorities
- Select note re-trigger, filter track, LFO reset
- A second independent control bus allows velocity, controller data, or channel pressure to modulate either or both VCOs, the filter and the VCA
- Transpose function allows different keyboard controllers to utilize the complete MIDI note range
- Analog portamento
- Input preamp gain control – allows an external audio input to be processed thru the SEM
- High precision A-440 Hz tune signal
- Control voltages and gate are bought out to rear panel connectors so MIDI to CV function can be used with other CV/Gate gear.