Tom Oberheim and Dave Smith collaborating on a synth? That’s got to be interesting to any synth nerd. The kind folks at Dave Smith Instruments sent me over a pre-production machine to check out. Here’s my thoughts…
The OB6 6 voice fully analog Dave Smith synth with a Tom Oberheim designed filter. It’s got two discrete SEM clone, continuously-variable oscillators capable of sawtooth and variable-width pulse (plus triangle on oscillator 2). There’s a sub-oscillator (slaved to osc 1) and a noise source. The filter will sweep through low pass, notch and high pass and can be switched to a band pass mode. For modulation, there’s a single LFO (the second oscillator will go into low mode if you need another) and filter and amp envelopes. You also get an arpeggiator, 101-style sequencer, unison, chord memory and there’s even two digital multi-effects engines offering chorus, flangers, phasers, ring modulation, delays and reverb. Lastly, there’s an analog distortion.
Modulation routing is limited to dedicated controls on the front panel. There’s no modulation matrix like you’d find in the Evolver, Prophet 12, Prophet 08, Tetra etc. Mod wheel is limited to increasing LFO depth. You can choose from any combination of 6 destinations for the LFO, but they all share the same Amount control. Aftertouch is also a choice of 6 destinations (again sharing one Amount control). There’s also an “X-Mod” section which allows you to route either filter envelope or oscillator 2 also to 6 locations. A lot of the destinations for these mod sources are shared: oscillator pitches, filter frequency, filter mode and a couple of others.
In comparison to a lot of modern synths, including many previous DSI offerings, the modulation does seem a tad limited. But limitations can be good. I had the pleasure of programming the Prophet 12 a lot in last few years and in comparison to that the OB6 is very fast and easy to program. It’s “sweet spot” is wide, meaning it doesn’t take long to find a nice sound. With the Prophet 12 it could take a lot longer to find those sounds worth saving purely because there was more to experiment with, more to discover, more sonic meandering paths to push the synth down. Of course it doesn’t mean all those paths will result in something worth saving. Dave has clearly been inspired by the immediacy of old analogs where there was physical control for everything.
So let’s discuss the sound. If you know Dave Smith synths at all, you’ll really hear the difference that the Oberheim collaboration makes. The filter has a delicious resonance that can be clean and pure or really squelchy (it does a very respectable acid bassline for example). It doesn’t suffer from that most annoying of characteristics, the bass dropping when you crank up the resonance. It’s full of low end, even with resonance at maximum. Combine that with the Oberheim discreet oscillators and you have a very unique addition to the DSI stable.
So what else is there? One nice touch is the “Manual” mode. This puts the synth into an “old skool” state where presets are ignored all the current positions of the front panel controls dictate the sound. This is a really nice way to please both people who need presets, and the purists who just want the direct simplicy of vintage synths that never had presets. The best part is you can easily switch between the two states: best of both worlds.
The sequencer is also worth a mention. It’s really immediate and full of fun. Sequences can be up to 64 steps. Rests can be programmed as well as chords and there’s a input jack on the back which you can use to clock the sequencer using an external clock signal. Great for modular synth integration.
Lastly, I want to make a special mention of Chord Memory because it’s one of my favourite features. If you’ve not come across such a function before, you hit a chord, press the Chord Memory button (it’s actually a submenu under the Unison button) and then you can transpose that single chord using the keyboard. It’s immense fun and every poly synth should have it. Instant Detroit techno!
Whilst the unit was here, I spent a little time away from patch making to see how it would fit into a tune. I’m happy to report that it sits very nicely in a mix, managing to sound ballsy without completely taking over. The raw sound has definitely won me over. It’s also very easy to program. Sure, it would be nice to have some additional modulation routings but that’s being picky and would no doubt make the synth slower to use. There’s barely any menu diving apart from a couple of hidden features (analog distortion and chord memory if anyone’s curious). Everything is laid out in front of you and with the “Manual” mode you can get the genuine feel of a vintage synth.
Even if you’ve shied away from DSI synths in the past, you should investigate this one. It’s different and it’s got a great deal going for it, the sound being top of the list. There’s loads of fun stuff too like the sequencer, chord memory, effects and analog distortion. I found it excelled at basses, leads, pads, techno stabs and sequences and I definitely wouldn’t kick it out of the studio. All in all, it’s an excellent addition to the Dave Smith line up.