June 21, 2013

Hit That Perfect Beat, Boy...

by Chris Randall

Analog Beatz. #RT60

As anyone that follows me on Twitter knows, I'm currently in Hood River, Oregon at my family reunion. I spent a chunk of time earlier in the week at J-Hi's studio recording the rhythm parts for what will be the next RT60 release (which, as it happens, will be a double A-side 7" only, no digital. Sue me.)

While there, I became a convert vis-a-vis the SEM module. While I appreciate the power of Oberheim synths, their general sound has never done anything for me. I had not, however, ever used a real SEM. The original one in the picture above (run via CV/Gate outs from the A4) changed my mind in a hurry. I don't know how close the new ones sound to this vintage one, but jesus fuck, what a cool sounding synth. I think I'd need to do a side-by-each comparison, but I may break my moratorium on GAS if the new ones are even in the ballpark.

Speaking of GAS-moratorium-breaking, I recently got a Craigslist score in the form of a like-new DK Synergy II+ with all the Wendy Carlos cartridges, which will get a video and "review" as soon as I get back. Suffice it to say, mind: blown by this thing. I've been trying to coax an emulated Kaypro II in to being able to program it, and I feel I'm not far from success in that regard, but honestly, there are only so many hours I can dedicate to that task that would be better spent doing, you know, my job and stuff.

Anyhow, that's it for now from the Great White North(west). Back to our favorite family sport, trying to belittle each other to the point of tears.


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Jun.23.2013 @ 1:45 PM
I've never seen anyone here link to xkcd, but I just couldn't resist after CR's comment:
link [xkcd.com]

Jun.23.2013 @ 11:45 PM
@MikeF It does sound good, and distinctive. Could be different to a real one from a specific month in 1963 or whatever, but fuck it, it sounds good.

Jun.24.2013 @ 10:16 AM
Joe Zawinul established the cred of these for me back in the late 70s (old guy reference) ... I think he had a Four Voice ... Never did buy any Oberheims myself because the SEMs were a few years before my time, and once you missed the boat on the SEM, the reputation of the later Oberheims was generally "not quite an SEM sound-quality wise".

It's like tube amps - surface mount vs. through-hole may not be a decisive issue, but with circuits this simple, the actual layout of components on the circuit board and particular batches of components can make considerable differences in sound (not a problem in DSP land.) Four Voices were notorious for each of the four SEM units sounding a little different from the others.

Jun.24.2013 @ 10:44 AM
I too love the SEM. I have had old ones (with problems) and the new one.
As for VSTi, well I tried the arturia, and it sucked (of course) but surprisingly, this doesn't suck: link [music.service-1.d...]

no, I don't work for them.

Jun.24.2013 @ 1:30 PM
Adam Schabtach
Argh. Like someone else said, I'd managed to talk myself out of wanting an SEM, and you had to go pick at that scab.

I will accept that through-hole components can produce a circuit that sounds _different_ than one produced with SMT. I will not accept that through-hole components sound inherently better. Ever take the cover off an Apogee converter, or a high-end Eventide? They use SMT. Good enough for them, good enough for me.

Comparing an old SEM and a new one is a tricky proposition because of their relative ages, for starters. There are almost certainly capacitors in that box that behave differently now than they did when the box was built. Also, the old ones were probably built with components that had a wider tolerance than those used in contemporary units. That would explain the differences observed in Four Voices mentioned by ToneHead. So in short I'd expect to hear as much variation between any two old SEMs as between an old one and a new one.

Me, I'd buy a new one simply because it's easier to find, more likely to work for longer, and probably less expensive.


Jun.24.2013 @ 2:47 PM
Duke Fame
@CR: My fav threads on here are the geek shop talk, so thank you for posting this. This through-hole-vs-SMT is damned interesting to me as I am a DIY synth guy and like things I can modify with my Weller if need be, and so trying to find an original seems to be the way to go. But at the end of the day, the SMT reissue can come with a ready-to-go plug-n-play CV patch panel, so how can you top that?

Thank you all for the great insight.

Jun.24.2013 @ 4:03 PM
I'm totally not an EE, but I did do enough EE and (more importantly) physics coursework to be aware that PCB traces can definitely act as capacitors, inductors, and antennas when designed (im)properly.

So the issue is more likely that the PCB designs are different, component tolerances are different, and the fresh new components are different from the aged originals. One of William Gibson's manic otakus could probably perfectly replicate the sound of this, or any other, vintage device. But it would be impossible to recover the cost of that kind of deep research commercially. So we get the best reasonable approximation that can be engineered.

If Paul Allen was a synth-nerd instead of a rocker, then there would probably be a half dozen shops in Seattle building him perfect bespoke replicas of classic synths at $300k a pop.

Jun.24.2013 @ 5:55 PM
I just realized why I had that Die Antwoord song stuck in my head for the last few days. Thanks for that, Chris.

Jun.25.2013 @ 4:32 AM
@soundsubs just recommended the superior sound of a Synthedit VSTi, the world is upside down, people walk on their hands, trees are growing into seeds.

(Actually, ta, I will have a look. I've just NEVER seen anyone dare to do that before. On KVR they even have a filter to hide Synthedit plug ins).

Jun.25.2013 @ 6:27 AM
Chris Randall
Yeah, I'm not going to bother to check the veracity of that claim. If it isn't cross-platform, 32/64, it could sound like the heavens cracking open, angels singing hosannas on high, and the voice of god telling me I've won Powerball and I won't even get as far as downloading it.


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