I chose to review this synth first, because I simply love it to death and
have used it on practically every track I've ever done. Most people
know it as the synth that Rush used on the intro to Tom Sawyer.
But it was also one of the main synths
Richard Barbieri used to make
the wonderful exotic synth textures in the group Japan. Peter
Forrest in his
A-Z of Analogue Synthesisers says that Richard used an
OB-Xa, but every book, picture, and video I've ever seen shows
him playing an OBX. It was also the synth used by Killing Joke
to make those great shimmering string
sounds on practically every song on their NightTime release (1985), and of course
Rush used it all over Moving Pictures among others.
Oberheim synths are known for having a huge sound, but a poor maintenance
record. The more stable they got, the worse they sounded. I personally think the instability of the OB-X is the
reason it sounds so good. My Rev. 2 OB-X has had its share of problems,
that's for sure, but ever since I had mine overhauled by Tony
Clark, who runs a nice web page about the OB-X
here, it's been perfect.
Tony replaced the pots on every voice card with high-res pots
making the tuning procedure a lot easier. My OB-X rarely
goes out of tune now since Tony worked his magic on it. I've probably
sunk more money into this one synth than any of my other synths,
but it was worth the money, and I'll never sell it.
I've owned quite a few Oberheim synthesizers over the past 12 years,
from the standalone SEM, to the 4-voice, OB-8, Xpander, and Matrix-12.
But my favorite for sound and ease-of-use is the OB-X. It sounds huge, wonderful, and very much alive. I
find as time goes by that I prefer the sound of the synths from the 70's to those of any other era. This is certainly
true of the OB-X. Whether it's the discreet components that were
used, or the slightly out-of-tune VCO's that thicken up the sound,
or a combination of these factors, all I know is it sounds beautiful. Tom Oberheim said he
prefers the sound of the earlier Oberheims, the SEM and OB-X, to the later models. I would have
to agree. The OB-X blows away every single virtual analog or modern digital
synth ever made. It has so much more life, character, and sonic power than any
of the modern synths I've owned or heard, I swear it's got a life of its
own! I can just mess with it for hours, totally captivated by
the sounds it can make.
Encore MIDI kit
If you own an OB-X, I highly recommend getting the Encore
MIDI kit installed in it. It's very reasonably priced, easy to install, & works great.
And there's no telling how much longer they will be made. The OB-X was the synth
that inspired John Kenton Price
of Kenton Electronics to start
making MIDI kits for dozens of vintage analogue synthesisers. However, Kenton discontinued most of their
MIDI kits, including the one for the OB-X, about a year ago. One thing I really like about
the Encore kit is that the CV/GATE inputs still function with
the kit installed, and the OB-X sounds awesome triggered by an
analog sequencer (or digital sequencer like the Roland MC-4 MicroComposer).
Need a manual? No need to pay those outrageous eBay prices:
OB-X Owner's Manual (1,578k pdf file)
OB-X Service Manual (2,907k pdf file)
OB-X Encore MIDI kit manual (129k pdf file)
Here are a few soundclips of a real OB-X in action (more to come):
*OB-X THX (218k MP3 file)
*OB-X Sweep (115k MP3 file)
*OB-X Tom Sawyer (94k MP3 file)
There are more sounds and samples on
Tony Clark's web site.
OP-X Softsynth Plugin for Reaktor
For those of you who haven't been able to track down a real OB-X, or just don't want to deal
with the hassles of repairing and maintaining one of these vintage beasts, I recommend
checking out the OP-X plug-in for Reaktor by Sonicprojects.
I'm normally not a big fan of softsynths because I believe that a synth is more than just the sounds, and all of
the sonic subtleties of the OB-X simply cannot be emulated. But this plug-in is a pretty good attempt.
And it takes the softsynth idea one step further by slightly detuning a number of variables (VCO'S, VCF'S, ENV'S)
on powerup to emulate a real OB-X. It sounds remarkably close to a real OB-X, but the
filters still sound a bit thin to my ears, and it still sounds a little too perfect.
It would be nice if Sonicprojects took the idea one step
further and allowed the synth engine to evolve, emulating the gradual degradation of components over time, and
incorporating the temperature changes that result in slight detuning issues, so that no two OP-X softsynths would be alike.
There could be an aging component that can be sped up to emulate years of misuse and abuse and temperature changes, so that
the softsynth eventually sounds like most OB-X's out there! :-) If you could then save these settings as different OP-X's,
that would be pretty amazing. I've suggested it to Peter at Sonicprojects
and he's going to see if he can do it.
In the meantime,
if you want to check out what an OB-X can do before tracking down the real deal, or if you prefer to work with softsynths
and computers and actually like tweaking sounds with a mouse, then the OP-X may be your answer. There are side-by-side
comparisons of sounds on their site, but they also attempted to recreate the above sounds using their plug-in. You
be the judge.
Sonicprojects OP-X THX
Sonicprojects OP-X Sweep
Sonicprojects OP-X Tom Sawyer
(to be added)
Who Used the OB-X?
Roxy Music (Avalon)
Richard Barbieri (Quiet Life, Gentlemen Take Polaroids)
Rush (Moving Pictures)
Killing Joke (NightTime)
*Thanks to Mark Henley for the soundclips.
View a list of other equipment I SATELLITE will be reviewing in the near future.
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