domingo, 21 de octubre de 2007

Oberheim OB-12 (english)

Although a vast majority of users said this synthesizer is a poor imitation of the classics created by Oberheim Electronics in the 70's and 80's, many others, including me , have praised the quality of this blue beast.

One of the reasons claimed by those who dislike it is that "it is not a true Oberheim". That's mostly true because it seems that no one of those who worked At Oberheim Electronics was involved in the creation of this synth, but that doesn't means it's a bad synth at all.

Tom Oberheim (founder of the brand and creator of numerous advances in the field) left his company in 1986 to pass it at the hands of Gibson and subsequently to an Italian company called Viscount specialized in the production of organs.
Viscount manufactured in 1999 this physical modeling synthesizer using the name Oberheim (under license from Gibson), probably to increase sales. Anyway, despite the fact that possibly the synthesis is not the strong side of Viscount, the result is quite impressive.

With an massive blue metal look and a high end quality, this instrument of almost 15 kilos weight offers a good bunch of extras that, for its time, was very innovative, such as its huge graphical display or a SPDIF digital output. The control that offers is great, having a big number of knobs, faders and buttons that allow a flexible and edition. This also can be seen in real time on the LCD screen, often in graphical mode, what makes it been pointed as an ideal synthesizer for learning.

However let's check what is really important: the sound. Although it comes loaded with presets that are unattractive at begining, most of them are easily enhanced with some editing, others with a little patience and others are so spectacular that manipulate them should be a crime. There are sounds that are simply useless and very ill too, but just like in every machine that have fallen into my hands, and it is something that mostly depends on the value you bring to each. In my case, for example, synths that imitates trumpets, guitars and bagpipes are completely dispensable to me. Being in this case a virtual-analogic synthesizer, I find more practical the range of possibilitiesit offers to me, especially to create pads, leads or strange sounds, and in this field the OB-12 operates at ease. Other facilities offered are the thickness and the cleaning of their sounds, it's easy to obtain dense and warm pads, and also fairly fat bass sounds.

Regarding to specifications: 4-octave keyboard with 12 voices of polyphony in 4 parts, 256 programs and 256 presets to be shared among two oscillators (which can take up to three waves simultaneously: saw, triangle and square), noise, ring modulator and FM for the second oscillator. It includes 4 effects (Overdrive, Chorus, Delay and Reverb) and also a 5-band graphic and parametric equalizer. Furthermore it has two LFO and two filters (Lowpass , Hipass & Bandpass) serial or parallel configurable. Finally the presence of a small phrase recorder of 196 sequences or 16000 notes and morphing function between presets that can be associated with the modulation wheel or the ribbon controller.

In short, and to end this first analysis,
I feel the Oberheim OB-12 as a pretty versatile synthesizer for its rank, both for the quality of his sound and for the edition ease and flexibility. I like the feeling of the keyboard and its retro look with so many knobs and buttons and the blue color that does not allow him to go unnoticed in any studio or performance. All this without forgetting that it has nearly eight years and that its last days prices at shops was around 800 euros (in Europe). Today you can find it in the second-hand market rounding the 500 euros.

jueves, 18 de octubre de 2007

Yamaha TG 33 (english)

Based on vectorial synth success by Korg Wavestation, Yamaha were encouraged to build a synthesizer on that side (starting from Prophet VS too), working with waveforms (AWM ) and their famous FM sounds (only with 2 OPs).

TG-33 emerged as a rack version of the SY-22 and as a cheap vector synth option in front of the pro Wavestation. With a 32 voices polyphony (double as SY-22) and 8 parts, TG-33 weak point was their 12 bits AWM samples and the leak of filters, making it pretty noisy and lo-fi sounding that limits it for electronic or industrial oriented artists. It does not have even arpegiator o r sequencer but it can record vector movements in real time as phrases (some like OB-12 and JP 8000/8080 does). Edition is also pretty limited while you can access to hidden parameters from software editors.

It looks very retro and, as you can see on pics, it is more a desktop oriented synth than a rack one. Anyway it can rack mounted with ears, but not in the traditional way but, as it pics the manual, in horizontal position to allow watching the screen.

I personally don't dislike those dirty AWM sounds that, along with FM posibilities, gives me a practical way to build dark sounds, pads or bells. As interesting links I've found the complete (english) manual from Yamaha website: manual part 1 manual part 2 >and some audio demos here and here , and also a software editor and some more stuff.

Yamaha TG 33

Basado en el éxito de la síntesis vectorial aportada por el Korg Wavestation, Yamaha se animó (partiendo también del Prophet VS) a construir un sintetizador que trabajase este aspecto sobre formas de onda (AWM en este caso) y, por qué no, incluir de paso su famoso sonido FM en el paquete, aunque sólo con 2 osciladores.

El TG-33 surgió como una versión en rack del SY-22 y como la opción asequible a la síntesis vectorial frente a la que ofrecía el Wavestation, que se vendía como la profesional. Con una polifonía de 32 voces (el doble que el SY-22) y 8 partes, su punto más débil son sus samples AWM lo-fi de 12 bits y la carencia de filtros, aspectos que le confieren a su sonido un caracter cacharrero, ruidista y según opiniones, de pobre calidad, lo que lo limita a un público casi exclusivamente orientado a la música electrónica o industrial. Tampoco dispone de arpegiador ni secuanciador pero es capaz de registrar los movimientos del joystick como frases en tiempo real (de forma similar al OB-12 y al JP8000/8080). La edición resulta bastante limitada desde el propio aparato siendo más que interesante el uso de un editor software para acceder a parámetros ocultos.

Su aspecto es de lo más retro y, como podréis apreciar por las fotos, está bastante orientado a ser una versión de sobremesa más que un rack. Pese a admitir orejeras, por lo que pone en el manual, su posición enrackado es horizontal para así favorecer la visibilidad de su pantalla.

A mi personalmente no me disgusta la suciedad de sus sonidos AWM que, junto con las posibilidades FM me resulta práctico para construir ruidos oscuros, pads o campanas. Como enlaces de interés os dejo aquí el acceso al manual (en inglés) desde la propia web de Yamaha: manual parte 1 manual parte 2 Y algunos sonidos de ejemplo aquí y aquí , editores software y otros

domingo, 14 de octubre de 2007

Ensoniq Fizmo (english)

This purple artifact is the strange Ensoniq Fizmo, one of the synthesizers that more track have left on me of whatever has passed through my hands.

Keyboard version came out to the market in 1998 (99 for the rack) and, as soon as it counted a year of life, the Ensoniq company was absorbed by EMU (that later ate Creative). Fizmo received very bad critics after many expectations by its look: in the heat of VA (Virtual Analogics) synths, everybody expected an aggressive vintage tone when, in fact, it had a pure digital character, even lo-fi. Another one of its weak points was an operating system full of errors, reflection (I suspect) of the haste and the final days of a company that left it without completing. To make it worse, it came wrapped by a very small display with very cryptic details from the editable parameters, many of which, in addition, were not accessible without a software editor produced later. So it was not a big hit, and its production is expected around 500 units for the keyboard version and 50 for the rack unit.

The worse fact is that the synth counted on a big serious technical failure. Apparently it has a voltage regulator that could fail which can burn the motherboard, thing that happened to some users, which makes people think that less than half which were produced still working nowadays. With Ensoniq disappeared, while EMU and Creative keep away from that problem, were users in last instance that have found a solution.

Even with that,
Fizmo has reached a cult synthesizers state (at least for an eclectic minority of users), not only by the challenge to find one, but by the sound that is able to produce and the high skills needed to fully dominate it because the parameters hidden on strange acronyms or simply being not accessible without a software editor. That kind of things that could be fun for some of us...

About the sound, nothing that relates it to VA or workstations, that is to say, not useful neither to imitate vintage sounds nor realistic pianos nor trumpets. Neither useful to design great bass sounds or drums
, so, what is it useful then? I remember somebody in a forum once said he used this instrument not to make music, but like inspiration source machine. And it has his logic. Away from pure electronic, most of the sounds that are able to produce this synth are atmospheric or noisy, leaning in an evolutionary process based on transwaves (wave tables, some very strange), making it working like the Korg Wavestation or the Waldorf Wave, which is wonderful to create impossible sounds and to generate strange pads and textures.

In addition, one of the most interesting things of this synth are the mysterious five F, I, Z, M, O knobs that respond to who_knows_what parameters depending on preset selected, which confers additional fun when it gives a deep element of random touch to each sound.

Some sounds of example here

Other interesting links here, here and here

Technical specifications:

  • Polyphony - 48 voices
  • Oscilators - 4 MB of 16-bit internal wave ROM, featuring Transwaves (created through digital synthesis and resynthesis technologies); 2 osc for each of 4 presets - total of 8 simultaneous - 58 waveforms
  • LFO Time - 8 LFO's (7 waveform choices, can sync to Arpeggiator or external MIDI clock)
  • Filters - Resonant LP & BP 4 pole filters. Non-Resonant 2LP+2HP, 3LP+1HP, 2LP+2LP, 3LP+1HP filters.
  • Efects - 41 digital VLSI 24-bit effects (8 Global Reverbs, Chorus, Flanger, DDL, Distortion, Tunable Speaker, Chatter Box, Vocal Morph, Auto-Wah, Vocoder); Processes incoming audio
  • Keyboard - 61 semi-weighted keys (velocity and channel pressure sensitive, 4 programmable key ranges, 4 possible zones)
  • Memory - 128 ROM sounds, Up to 128 RAM, 64 Presets
  • Control - MIDI (up to 4 polyphonic channels)
  • Production data - 1998

Ensoniq Fizmo: fotos y videos

El pasado mes de agosto me hice con un Fizmo de segunda mano que viajó desde Italia para instalarse en mi pequeño estudio. Aunque no me salió demasiado caro, el paso de los años es apreciable. Nunca me gustó demasiado ese color de su panel frontal de manera que, dado que también necesita la reparación del regulador, he pensado en hacer una personalización más intensa e incluir un esquema de color distinto, nuevos knobs y tal vez paneles laterales de madera.

Nunca he hecho una personalización de un sintetizador por lo que probablemente iré incluyendo información sobre el proceso y sobre distinto diseños previos según los termine (sobretodo porque no he encontrado mucha información sobre algo tan especifico por ahí).

Mientras tanto, quiero compartir aquí algunos videos que he grabado de él este fin de semana para que quien nunca haya oido un bicho de estos se haga una idea del tipo de sonidos que es capaz de hacer. Mayormente manipulo los misteriosos parámetros de los knobs F-I-Z-M-O, que altera parámetros distintos dependiendo del preset.

Ensoniq Fizmo video demo #1

Ensoniq Fizmo video demo #2

Ensoniq Fizmo video demo #3