Oberheim Electronics

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Oberheim Electronics
IndustryElectronic musical instruments
Founded1969 in Los Angeles, United States
FounderTom Oberheim
United States
ProductsSynthesizers, Sequencers, Signal processing, Drum machines

Oberheim is an American synthesizer manufacturer founded in 1969 by Tom Oberheim.[1][2]

History and products[edit]

SEM (1974)
4-Voice (1975)

Tom Oberheim founded the company in 1969, originally as a designer and contract manufacturer of electronic effects devices for Maestro (most notably the Maestro PS-1A Phase Shifter),[3], and briefly a retail dealer for ARP Instruments,[3] eventually designing the company's first Oberheim-branded product, the Oberheim DS-2, one of the first digital music sequencers.

In 1975 Oberheim introduced the Synthesizer Expander Module (SEM) to complement the DS-2 sequencer and enable a user to play one synthesizer while the DS-2 played a sequence on another. The SEM featured a two-pole filter that could operate as a low-pass, high-pass, band-pass, or band-reject filter, giving it a different sound than the Moog and ARP filters popular at the time.

The company later combined multiple SEM modules with a digitally-scanned keyboard and a 2-channel voltage-controlled sequencer to create a series of polyphonic synthesizers, beginning with the 2-Voice, followed by the 4-Voice,[1] and, in 1977, the 8-Voice[4] which combined a 4-Voice with an external module of four additional SEMs. An optional programmer module, capable of storing and recalling 16 instances of some of the sound settings, was available for the 4-Voice and 8-Voice. These were among the first commercially-available polyphonic synthesizers.

OB-1 (1978/1979)
OB-X (1979)

In 1977, Oberheim introduced the OB-1, the first completely programmable synthesizer. The OB-1 was later replaced by the OB-X and OB-Xa, which replaced the relatively bulky SEMs with individual or compact voice cards, and utilized common cabinetry and power supplies.

Xpander (1984)
Matrix-6 (1985)

Oberheim introduced the Xpander in 1984, further expanding that product series with the Matrix-6 and the Matrix-12. The Matrix-1000, though bearing the Matrix name, was marketed after Oberheim was acquired by Gibson.[5][6]

Oberheim drum machines[edit]

Oberheim's DMX drum machine, a staple of early hip-hop music,[7] lent its name to the Producer Davy DMX, electro musician DMX Krew, and is still used in dancehall reggae music.

Prommer (1984)


Oberheim / Gibson
    Echoplex Digital Pro
OB-Mx (1994)

Oberheim Electronics declared bankruptcy in 1985 and was acquired by a group of lawyers who changed the name to Oberheim ECC. Following the acquisition, Tom Oberheim was creatively still at the helm of the company for a couple of years, before leaving to found Marion Systems. After a second bankruptcy in early 1988, Gibson Guitar Corporation, a larger musical instrument manufacturer (who, incidentally, also owned the Maestro brand), acquired Oberheim. Gibson, under the direction of Keith McMillen (who was Gibson's Vice President and Chief of R&D at the time), produced the Oberheim OB-Mx[9] in collaboration with D.N. "Lynx" Crowe and Don Buchla; the Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro in collaboration with Aurisis Research (Matthias Grob, Kim Flint, Eric Obermühlner); and re-released the Oberheim Strummer and Matrix 1000.


OB*12 (2000)

The Oberheim trademark was later licensed to Viscount International, an Italian digital-organ producer. Viscount developed various instruments that were very innovative for the time and are still in demand: the Oberheim OB*12 analog modeling synthesizer,[10] the GM-1000 guitar multi-effects unit,[11] the MC series of master keyboards,[12] and the OB32, a virtual tonewheel organ.[13]

Tom Oberheim returns to the synthesizer market[edit]

In 2009, Tom Oberheim announced that he was manufacturing a new version of his classic analog SEM.[14][15][16][17]

In 2011–2012, Tom Oberheim announced a four-voice SEM called "Son Of 4 Voice" (SO4V),[18] as well as an updated version of the classic Two-Voice known as the Two-Voice Pro.[19] The "Son Of 4 Voice" and the Two Voice Pro started shipping in 2014.[20]

MIDI-to-CV converter panel for the SEM
EuroModular SEM (2015)

At the NAMM show of January 2016, Tom Oberheim announced the Dave Smith Instruments OB-6, a collaboration with Dave Smith resulting in Tom Oberheim's first voltage-controlled multi-voiced polyphonic synth since the mid-1980s; Tom Oberheim designed the VCO/VCF part replicating his SEM module, while control features, arpeggiator/step sequencer and effects processing were designed by Smith using his Prophet platform.[21]

Oberheim trademark returned[edit]

In July 2019, JC Curleigh, CEO of Gibson, returned the Oberheim trademark and IP back to Tom Oberheim as "a gesture of goodwill to the musical instrument industry."[22]

In May of 2022, the new Oberheim released the OB-X8, the company's first synthesizer in decades. As with the Sequential-made OB6, the OB-X8 was designed and built in collaboration with longtime friend Dave Smith, and it combines the original Oberheim's three signature OB polysynths-the OB-X, the OB-Xa and the OB-8-in a single unit.


Both Marcus Ryle and Michel Doidic worked for Oberheim as instrument designers before helping develop the ADAT multitrack digital tape recorder for Alesis, (a 'prosumer' grade digital recording multitrack deck designed to compete with the Tascam DA series of digital multitracks) and then moving on to found Line 6 together.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Session Transcript: Tom Oberheim". Red Bull Music Academy, Barcelona 2008. Archived from the original on 2018-05-07. Retrieved 2016-11-27.
  2. ^ Susan Caust Farrell (1981). Directory of contemporary American musical instrument makers. University of Missouri Press. pp. 101. ISBN 978-0-8262-0322-9. Oberheim Electronics 1973 -wikipedia -wapedia.
  3. ^ a b Pinch, Trevor; Trocco, Frank (2002). Analog Days. Harvard University Press. p. 270. ISBN 0-674-01617-3.
  4. ^ "Oberheim Eight Voice". Vintage Synth Explorer.
  5. ^ "Oberheim Matrix 1000". Sound on Sound (June 1994).
  6. ^ "Access Oberheim Matrix 1000 Programmer". Sound on Sound (September 1996).
  7. ^ "Oberheim DMX". Vintage Synth Explorer.
  8. ^ Matthias Grob. "How the Gibson / Oberheim Echoplex Came Together". Loopers-Delight.com.
  9. ^ "Oberheim OBMx". Sound on Sound (September 1994).
  10. ^ "The Synth Sequel - Oberheim/Viscount OB12 Analogue Modelling Synth". Sound on Sound (September 2000).
  11. ^ Oberheim GM-1000 - 24bit Digital Signal Processor - Operating Manual (PDF). Oberheim (Viscount joint venture).
  12. ^ "Stereo MCS - Oberheim/Viscount MC3000 & MC2000 Controller Keyboard". Sound on Sound (November 1999).
  13. ^ "Oberheim/Viscount OB3-squared". Sound on Sound (September 1997).
  14. ^ "Tom Oberheim Introduces New Oberheim SEM Synthesizer". Synthtopia.com. June 4, 2009.
  15. ^ "Tom Oberheim". TomOberheim.com. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-08-09. — Tom Oberheim reissued SEM in 2009.
  16. ^ "Tom Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module with MIDI to CV Panel". audioMIDI.com. Archived from the original on 2009-08-15.
  17. ^ "Tom Oberheim SEMs Shipping - First Impression". MATRIXSYNTH. September 30, 2009.
  18. ^ "Son Of 4 Voice Polyphonic Synthesizer: "SO4V"". TomOberheim.com. 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-02-07. — Tom Oberheim announces Oberheim 4 Voice in 2011.
  19. ^ "New! Two Voice Pro Synthesizer". TomOberheim.com. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-03-24. — Tom Oberheim announces Oberheim Two Voice Pro in 2012.
  20. ^ "Tom Oberheim". TomOberheim.com. 2013.
  21. ^ "Dave Smith and Tom Oberheim OB-6 - A Historic Collaboration". YouTube, DaveSmith Instruments. 21 January 2016. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  22. ^ "Gibson Returns Oberheim Trademark to Namesake Founder As "Gesture of Goodwill"". Guitar.com. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  23. ^ Mark Vail (1993). Vintage Synthesizers. Miller Freeman Books. p. 21. ISBN 0-87930-603-3.

External links[edit]