Thursday, September 30, 2010

Oberheim family of products - The System, Keyboard 1982

Oberheim family of products aka 'The System', including the OB-Xa and OB-SX synthesizers, the DSX digital sequencer and the DMX digital drum machine from page 7 of Keyboard Magazine June 1982.

My recent blog posts have been about "The System" - but those posts were all about the Oberheim 1983 System which included the OB-8 synthesizer.

Here is an ad featuring the older version of "The Oberheim Performance System" circa 1982. *THIS* is the system I dream about at night. I drool every time I look at it.

I not only drool because of the gear-nerd that I am, but also because the marketing guy in me knows a good thing when he sees it. This ad documents the point in time that Oberheim's marketing department finally started to push the concept that "the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts".

Oberheim knew these pieces looked good together. Oberheim knew they sounded great together. They just needed to be tied together into one... cool... slick... package...

And The System is born!

I also dig these earlier Oberheim ads because they feature these particular pieces of gear. And knowing when the OB-Xa, DMX and DSX started showing up in ads helps give us a good idea of just how long the tech *behind* the Oberheim system had been around before MIDI made it's commercial breakthrough.

Before doing research, I was thinking ---> This ad started showing up in June 1982? The first MIDI synth came along shortly after in 1983. Bah!

True. But as it turns out the the actual technology behind "The System" was available long before this first ad.

I started looking back at old issues of Keyboard to see just how far back the technology went, and, even more interesting to me, how Oberheim positioned these pieces before "The System" as a whole made an appearance.

I found one of the earlier direct mentions of the multi-pin connector back in the June 1981 Keyboard review for the OB-Xa. The interface is mentioned very briefly in the description of the rear panel, where Dominic Milano writes that the owner's manual explains it "is for interfacing the instrument with future Oberheim products".

Not only is "The System" not mentioned yet, but there isn't even a brief mention of the DSX or DMX, which is strange because....

Just a month later in the July 1981 issue, Oberheim began running a two-page advertisement for the DSX Digital Polyphonic Sequencer and DMX Programmable Digital Drum Machine. The photo in the ad has the two featured products up front, and shaded out in the background is the OB-Xa synthesizer. This is the first sighting I've found of the three pieces together.

There is a lot of ad-copy in this two-pager, including one brief bullet point on the DSX's side mentioning that the DSX sequencer "interfaces directly with the OB-X, OB-SX and OB-Xa and the new DMX".

The ad-copy still doesn't mention "The System", but it does end the ad by mentioning how great the three separate pieces of gear work with each other
"The OB-Xa, DSX and DMX are amazing by themselves, but together... watch out!"
The next month in the August 1981 issue, the DMX and DSX show up in the Spec Sheet section of Keyboard. Again, there is only a brief mention that with the DSX, "direct interface is possible with the Oberheim OB-X, OB-SX, and OB-Xa synthesizers and DMX drum machine". (I'll save the full text of the Spec Sheet for another day - another ad :o)

But, still no direct mention of "The System". Come on, Oberheim marketing guys - MIDI is getting closer and closer to launch!

And in the January and February 1982 issues, Oberheim runs another two-page ad featuring the the updated OB-Xa with 120 programs. Again - only a brief mention that "The OB-Xa is interfaceable with Oberheim's DMX Digital Drum machine and DSX Digital Polyphonic Sequencer".

Is 'interfaceable' even a word? I guess I've used worse...

But, gah! It's been almost a year since Oberheim started putting these three pieces together in ads, and the Marketing Department still hasn't turned it into "System" gold!

And then, a few months later... BAM!

In the June 1982 issue of Keyboard ("The New Synthesizer Rock" issue with Michael MacNeil of Simple Minds playing an Oberheim OB-Xa on the cover - sweeeeet!), we finally have this first "The System" ad on page 7, directly across from the "Letters to the Editor" section. Great real estate!

And what a beauty it is. These three pieces of gear look great together, all wrapped up snuggly in their "System" marketing package. Seriously.

So, although it took until June 1982 to finally call this 'The System' in advertisements, Oberheim obviously had the system in mind since at least June 1981. And if you take into account that I probably didn't catch the first documented instance of the tech, and the fact that the development of the OB-Xa started much earlier... then Oberheim probably beat out MIDI by more that two years.

Nice work, Oberheim.

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