The Oberheim SEM is one of the most recent analogue synthesisers to be resurrected by Arturia. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Arturia they are renowned for their ‘True Analogue Emulation’ technology designed for true replication of analogue circuitry and have already re-created software versions of the mini moog and Jupiter 8. The original Oberheim synthesiser is recognised for its rich tone and unique features. Over the decades it has been used by many established artists and producers including Goldfrap, Herbie Hancock and John Carpenter.
Now being a relatively young audio geek and not living through the days of analogue synthesisers I would be lying if I tried to draw any comparisons to the sound of its three dimensional counter-part. However, I am a software instrument fiend and I certainly can describe and compare the Oberheim through my experiences when working with other software synthesisers.
To put it bluntly the Oberheim is one phat-ass un-dead motherbeast.
The Oberheim SEM comes packed with all of the features found in the original hardware version with the addition of some complimentary upgrades introduced by Arturia. To play with you have two oscillators with independent saw tooth, pulse width, modulation, and LFO controls. On the keyboard strip you will find an arpeggiator, tune control and portamento control. The master strip on the right hand side includes newly introduced effects (Overdrive, Chorus and Delay) not present in the original hardware version. The sub-oscillator is also a great new addition, especially for modern bass heavy music. All in all it’s a splendid spread with lot of parameters to engineer your sound.
The visual aspect of Oberheim is relatively straight forward and if you’re no stranger to the synthesiser then you will immediately become familiarised. The interface has been designed so that it replicates the original hardware Oberheim. What I find most appealing about the interface is its simplicity, despite the complexity of sounds which it is capable of reproducing. Software synthesisers have become incredibly complex since the dawn of application windows and your monitor can quickly become flooded with envelopes, graphic controls, EQs and effects. Although this may in some cases open the door for more flexibility it can also be frustrating and hinder the creative process of actually writing music. It’s refreshing to re-visit a classic synthesiser interface that all fits on one panel and this makes it appealing for the newbie wanting to explore without getting lost or intimidated.
I’ve played on a variety of analogue synthesisers and I really am impressed with the true analogue emulation – You really do get that classic rich, warm sound. In particular the synthesiser is very responsive but not harsh or aggressive like you might expect from a synth with such body and weight. When writing music I’m particularly drawn to dark and ambient sounds so I found myself straight away looking to access this. The Oberheim is quite clearly a happy sounding synthesiser whatever setting you apply or chord you play making it a great addition to any pop or rock writers’ software instrument collection. That said, you can apply it to modern genres with the added sub oscilator, especially chunky bass orientated music such as drum and bass, dub-step or grime. For players who want to quickly get stuck in you will find an enormous selection of presets to keep busy with created by Ian Boddy, Erik Norlander, Richard Courtel, Kevin Lamb and Drew Newmann.
My only negative, and this is purely subjective to my own personal usage is that the Oberheim is such a happy synthesiser but then maybe I’m just a miserable git!
The Oberheim really packs a punch. If you are looking to get the sound of the good old days using a midi keyboard then your next stop should definitely be at Arturia’s website www.arturia.com The Oberheim’s interface is easy to use and provides lots of control for sound manipulation making it a good purchase for a first time synth player. Additionally you’ve got an array of presets to play with and keep you busy for weeks.
James Mazur is a freelance producer, engineer, sound designer and composer situated in West Yorkshire operating as Refinery Audio Production Services. His journey began during his time at university studying Music & Sound Technology where he joined Factory Street Studios and was privileged to work alongside engineer and producer Alex Eden. James has established himself as a dedicated, versatile sound engineer and continues to develop and expand his skills and knowledge in the audio industry. His portfolio includes working with clients such as The National Media Museum, The Northern Film School, The Northern Guitar Show and Visual Artist Micah Harbon orchestrating a range of projects such as experimental sound design, recording and producing artists and audio post-production.