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Oberheim OB-12

Remarkable for being: The vintage-nerd crowd's whipping boy.

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Be careful with: updating the OS - might freeze the synth.



I must admit that to write a review about this model has been the most mind-boggling task any of my synths has ever challenged me with. I have many things to say about the OB-12, but they are so hazy and ambivalent that I feel unable to present a coherent overall vision and conclusion. This synth is as great as it is bad. It really stands out from the crowd, but not in the sense of an albino in a remote African village. More in a sense of a controversial leader who paved new roads in a land of mud and eradicated unemployment, but trampled over five hundred thousand human beings on the way. OK, let's go.

If you're a player and wish to play some classic & juicy & warm sounds (let alone the massive ones from genuine '80s Oberheims), sitting comfortable in an armchair, with your thumb caressing the modwheel to add some sweet vibrato, while the synth perfectly blends with your studio environment through its interface and professional sound, you might already start looking at other models. Yet if you love to spend time tweaking and getting unconventional & ambiguous or freakazoid sounds unheard before, or tear some innocent ears apart with some wild & dirty electronica (or should I say experience a synthetic orgy) - then welcome to the realm; OB-12, like a magical key, opens the sesame door.

Don't let your habit compare it to all the other synths - it would be unproductive in this instance. Like many synths it's unique, maybe not so much soundwise, but surely experience-wise. I myself don't really give a rat's ass if this is a "real" Oberheim or "only a Viscount" (being Italian, whatever the fuck is wrong with being Italian), because either way it's an uber-cool synth. The sounds it produces make me feel intrigued & contemplative. And I love sounds that make me feel intrigued & contemplative. After you taste the nice flavor of its regular sweep pads fried in its gurgling filter and strings braised in its endemic effects section, this synth will beg you to tweak twisted, screaming, inhumane, raw FX patches. You can just sit for hours tweaking this thing and through a single push of a single slider the sound changes drastically. This wild nature automatically makes the synth uncooperative in song-building and placing-in-the-mix process, unlike the Virus TI for example, which is a tamed animal meant to help you improve your farm. OB12 is more like a Tasmanian Devil or an angry Badger.


Yet the FX sounds is not what this synth is about, even if they are so convincing and easy to make. For me, this synth is about a very specific kind of organic-ness. Imagine you walk into a room that is covered all over with spiderwebs that are attached and interconnected with everything else, with all the objects inside the room. The threads are very fragile yet supple. Pull one and you'll knock down a vase from a shelf. Pull another one and it will fall and wrap all over your face. Whatever you do, you'll end up with something dirty or noisy. So this is the kind of organic system I have in mind. I almost feel like this synth's interface is leaving specks of spiderwebs on my fingers whenever I  touch its sky-blue panel covered with white, web-like diagrams.

As far as the looks go, the OB-12 epitomizes what a real bad-ass synth design should look like. I couldn't have designed the panel better myself even in my most unrestrained dreams. The OB gives the impression of being a mechanical part that broke off and fell from something big and gloomy and ominously hovering out there in the black of the night. You feel you have the real thing in your arms, the ultimate weapon. It inspires you and invites you to cross borders and venture for the unknown. The neat LCD displays everything in real time, even changes in wave shapes. Now think: did you happen, as a child, to dream about a device which is an amalgam of military, extraterrestrial, computer and music equipment? Well, when you play this synth that dream comes true and that mood comes around. Fantastic overall tweaking experience. If it's not the best advanced UI [User Interface], then it's surely in the top3.

So far so good. But if I was the engineer I would improve things like reaction lags, Ring Mod and FM (what the heck is wrong with this volume blare?), Unison and Overdrive, plus the behavior of oscillators at extreme frequencies (hissing) and stuff like that. I mean, quite basic & embarrassing stuff. It seems as if the team has abandoned this project in an inexplicable hurry... leaving us with one of the most half-baked synths out there. Also the multitimbral / layering gets limited weirdly fast with the 12 voices of polyphony and after setting longer >AMP Release< values. But the overall sound, however limited in scope / plasticity, is definitely allright. I feel it in my guts and I am pleased by its specific flavor. And as far as analogueness goes, OB-12 sounds definitely more analog-ish than other VAs out there (actually the best way to describe its sound would be "analog FM / DX7").

This is one of the most peculiar and thus interesting synths. Just remember that it has its quirks and downsides - glitchy sound, no sequencer, etc. It's not polished and impeccable like, say, the revered AN1x, but hey - the AN1x is not able to make sounds like the OB-12 and its interface is a joke compared to OB. Nobody and nothing is perfect in this realm. Choose your destiny. Or live both. The OB-12 provides fantastic input into the history of VA synths and you should definitely try it before worms try you.


Update: After months spent with this synth, I can stick my neck out and say that it sounds very analog & organic, gives you one of the best interfaces, and despite its many shortcomings is one of my top-5 beloved synths ever (I guess that's what love is all about, to love despite the shortcomings, because you can discern THAT something, right?). Why this synth has been so bashed and unhyped is beyond me. Maybe some hard-line guru-dick said it's not worthy because it doesn't sound like OB-XA.

Oh, and don't bother updating the OS. First of all I don't think there is any version that kills the notorious bugs. Secondly, you can freeze (or fry) the synth for good and cry until the end of your days.



Watch the video demo part 1:


Watch the video demo part 2:


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