Monday, September 27, 2010

Oberheim 'The System' rebate advertisement, Keyboard 1984

Oberheim 'The System' rebate advertisement, including OB-8 synthesizer, DSX sequencer, DMX drum machine, and Model 700 amplifier from page 22 of Keyboard Magazine January 1984.

What a great ad. What a great font with "REBATE" spanning to width of the page!

At a time when most of the big synthesizer companies were churning out full-colour ditties with fantastic photography, Oberheim gets reader's attention with a full-on black and white all-text ad. Including '$500 cash' in big bold letters doesn't hurt either.

My last blog post featured Oberheim's first 'The System' advertisement. It started running in keyboard in late 1983 through to early 1984 - and this rebate advertisement started running along with it for a few issues during the holidays. Oberheim even had the two ads appearing across from each other in the February issue (last page and back-inside cover page). This stark, clean rebate ad on one side, and that gorgeous photography of 'The System' on the other.

And, you gotta admit, Oberheim gear *is* gorgeous. Along with being relatively easy to learn and use ('clear and logical' was how Jim Aikin described it - more on Jim's views below...). And every Oberheim synthesizer I've come across has been built like a tank.

As stated in this advertisement, " we all know, the best tools are never cheap".

So, $500 off a full Oberheim system is a nice little holiday treat. Considering that together, the OB-8, DSX and DMX cost a little over $9,000 at the time, that's a good five or six per cent discount.

I have to keep reminding myself that I can't think of this $500-off deal in today's terms, where five or six percent wouldn't even make it into that coupon book your little sister is selling for her school fund-raiser. Back then, synthesizer price-points were much higher and there were far fewer bedroom musicians around expecting a great deal every time they walked into their local music store. Plus, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say if you were buying $9,000 worth of gear back in 1984, you were probably doing okay as a musician, or were seriously thinking you were going to be doing okay in the near future. So, $500 off is icing on an already really delicious cake.

Jim Aikin reviewed all three pieces of the Oberheim system - the OB-8, DSX, and DMX - in the April 1983 issue of Keyboard, interestingly, months and months before any of 'The System' advertisements started to appear.

Right at the beginning of the article, Jim makes a great observation, comparing this new breed of synthesizers, drum machines and sequencers to individual modules of a modular synthesizer of old:
"A number of manufacturers are getting into the business of building whole lines of "modules" that are designed to be electronically compatible, and that are hooked together with patch cords. The difference is that the "modules" are no longer simple things like oscillators or filters; they 're complete musical instruments and accessories, each with its own complex internal structure. "
I know I sound like a parrot, but let's remember, back before MIDI, it was hard to get everything to work together nicely (hence the existence of the Doctor Click :o)

And this historical reality is also reflected in Jim's review:
"You might be able to cobble together similar units by three different manufacturers and get them to talk to one another, but there might be a lot of headaches involved in getting them all operating smoothly and predictably. The people at Oberheim have gone to a lot of trouble to eliminate the headaches... the advantages of having an integrated setup should be obvious."
And apparently the $9000 price tag was worth it at the time. You can't get half-way through the intro without realizing that Jim was very impressed with the system, and in the conclusion of the article states as much:
"The System is in many ways a remarkable set of equipment. It's materially more advanced in design than the kind of hardware we were dealing with only a couple of years ago, and the musical potential is correspondingly great."
But, here's the thing. Well, two things.

1. The article doesn't mention MIDI. Not even once. Companies have already agreed on the MIDI specs and the Prophet-600 advertisements have been out for a couple of months already. I guess I have to keep reminding myself that MIDI still wasn't a 'sure thing' at this point, and history has shown that there has been a a lot of good 'universal' technology that had missed the boat and not taken up by the masses. Maybe Jim was just trying to keep the article from getting even more complicated than it already was.

2. Could that rebate offer be partly due to the pressure Oberheim must have been feeling as MIDI inched it's way forward? As pointed out in the previous blog post, certain individuals at Oberheim were apparently a little on the anti-MIDI side earlier in MIDI's development phase. They had spent a lot of money and time coming up with their own proprietary technology.

I better stop before the conspiracist in me starts rambling.

And, for the record, I *heart* Oberheim.

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