Thursday, April 12, 2012

Oberheim OB-Xa and OB-SX "Oberheim Updates" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1982

Oberheim OB-Xa and OB-SX "Oberheim Updates" 2-page colour advertisement from pages 46 and 47 in the January 1982 issue of Contemporary Keyboard.

If you have been keeping up with my Oberheim obsession, then you might be wondering - why the big time jump between that gorgeous 2-page OB-Xa introductory advertisement from February 1981 I just blogged about on Monday and this also-gorgeous OB-Xa and OB-SX advertisement from January 1982?

Well - Oberheim took a bit of break in advertising their OB-series for most of 1981. That doesn't mean that readers of CK couldn't find a lick of information on Oberheim gear, but as far as ads go, the OB-series was out. As luck (or strategy) would have it, even without ads, Oberheim and the OB-Xa still managed to wiggle in a few guest appearances in the mag.

For example in February 1981, Oberheim announced a new publication for dealers and owners in the "Keyboard News" section of CK:
"Oberheim Electronics Inc. (1455 Nineteenth St., Santa Monica, CA 90404) is now putting out a free company newsletter to dealers, advertising carriers, Oberheim equipment owners, and other interested parties. The newsletter will appear quarterly and will include a small Q&A section...."
Oberheim also went through a bit of a tough patch when the June 1981 Contemporary Keyboard review of the OB-Xa didn't exactly go as planned. The two-page review, written by the most excellent Dominic Milano, begins well enough with a small introduction to Oberheim's polyphonic synthesizer history starting with the 1975 Chicago NAMM show and those two SEMs and keyboard that showed up there. But it is the end of the introduction that provides one little piece of juicy historical info:
"Oberheim tells us that they're selling mainly 8-voice instruments, since in split mode a 6-voice instrument would have only three voices on each half of the keyboard, while in double mode it would only sound three notes overall."
 I love documented history of buyers' behaviour - and is one of many reasons I collect CK and other music mags. A little nugget of gold. Seriously!

After this introduction, Dominic then quickly turned his attention to the synth itself, with numerous detailed sections dedicated to the keyboard, the programs, edit mode, left-hand controls, panel controls, manual section, control section, modulation section, oscillator section, filter section, envelopes, rear panel, and even inner controls.

On that rear panel section, Dominic mentions my favorite - the computer connector! And why not - it is kinda sticking out like a sore thumb.
"Then there's the multipin connector for interfacing the OB-Xa with a computer. This jack, the owner's manual explains, is for interfacing the instrument with future Oberheim products."
Interfacing? Computer? Future Oberheim products? Would CK readers at the time be as intrigued as I am about this? And did those readers realize it was only a month or two later that these "future" products would be launched?

Okay - I'm getting ahead of myself. First I have to explain why this review didn't really go as planned for Oberheim...

Dominic starts the rather long conclusion (almost a full column of text!) of the review with:
"When you've got a piece of high-tech gear, it's pretty much a certainty that at some time it will break down. The question is not whether, but when..."
Aaaaah... obviously Dominic is just about to reinforce the rock-solid reputation of Oberheim instruments. Right? RIGHT? Reading on...
"Reliability is one factor that people consider when they're looking into a programmable polyphonic synthesizer, but reliability will vary as much or more from one machine to another as from one manufacturer to another..."
Yes, of course. But what does that have to do with Oberheim...?
"The reason we're bringing this up is to stress that you shouldn't draw too strong a conclusion from our experience with the OB-Xa, even though in good conscience we have to let you know about it..."
Wait? WHAT? What's he talking about?!?
"We had the opportunity to look at two OB-Xas over a span of two months. the first unit that came had a wrong-valued resistor in its LFO, which affected modulation. In addition, after we'd had it for a a few days the memory started malfunctioning, so that some patches were showing up with wrong values. Needless to say, this affected their sound. On the second instrument we received, four of the eight voices were noticeably lower in volume than the other four on the mono output in normal mode, and there was no way to adjust them so that they were balanced in volume."

But the fine editor at Keyboard also points out that the second OB-Xa was sent on to a retailer who couldn't find anything wrong with it.

I include this info not to rag on Oberheim. The exact opposite. Bad luck hits every company at some point. Having it happen *twice* during a CK review sux total bum. But Dominic, the true professional, handles this situation well, using it as a lead-in to why it is important to fill out warranty cards (Yes. It still is...). And going back and reading the review again, there is NOT AN OUNCE of frustration in his writing tone. It remained a very fair and accurate review. And kudos to Oberheim for weathering this relatively small storm extremely well  - no doubt due to their already rock-solid reputation for quality and professionalism, that still exists today.

(I did not get paid to say that  :)  

After that review appeared in June 1981, Oberheim spent the second half of 1981 switching their focus from the OB-Xa to the two newest members of the family -the DSX digital polyphonic sequencer and DMX programmable digital drum machine.

I've already posted and blogged about these and other "System" related advertisements when I had originally obsessed about Oberheim's pre-MIDI interface.

[Pauses to think back fondly]

The two ads in particular that took up most of the second half of 1981 - this DSX/DMX 2-page introductory ad and a creatively titled DSX "Xtra hands" 1-pager sure do fit in well with the previous OB-series ads I've been blogging about recently, eh?

Oh - before I forget - the OB-Xa actually managed to squeeze in one more appearance in the December 1981 issue of CK.  And it is directly related to this ad that started in January 1982.

In the December issue's question and answer section, Dominic Milano answered this question related to the OB-Xa's expanded memory - which again - includes a wack of historical information both about Oberheim personnel, as well as information on modding up older OB-Xa's:
"I've heard rumors that Oberheim is now shipping OB-Xa polyphonic synthesizers with expanded memories. Is this true, and if so, can owners of OB-Xas without expanded memories get them?

Russ Jones, vice president of marketing for Oberheim, tells us that beginning in mid-September 1981, OB-Xas were indeed given expanded memories. Where they had 32 memory positions for storage of patches, they now have 120. In addition to that, memory space for split and double combinations was doubled from 8 to 16. Cost of the parts for the modification is $120.00. Owners of OB-Xas that are still under warranty can have the work done by any authorized Oberheim service center with no charge for labor. The modification shouldn't take more than 30 minutes to add onto an instrument. The memory expansion kit also includes a cassette tape with the new preset sounds, with space for the user to write his or her own sounds onto the tape."
Awesome info!

This blog post is already tipping 1000 words, and between my online and offline research on the OB-Xa and OB-SX, as well as info coming in from a few old and new friends of the blog, I could go on for another 1000 word at least.

But that will have to wait. Time to enjoy the rest of my extra-long Easter weekend - which when you read this is long over. Boooo!

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