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.25.2013 @ 10:27 PM
Late to the dork-off party as usual, but...

I have a new SEM... actually I have the oldest new one. I wrote the owner's manual and Tom paid me by letting me keep his handbuilt prototype (try not to be too jealous of all he hot ass I must get as a result). Tom also "edited" the manual and added lots of of cool punctuation and grammatical errors, silly guy.

I've never played an original so I can't give you my two cents comparo opinion, but I discussed many things about the SEM at length with Tom, and he made every effort to keep the circuit identical. According to Tom, the ONLY audio path component changed in the entire box was the OTA, out of necessity. The other big change was the tuning pot configuration- he said he always hated the old geared pot. (He also hated the beige box and was gonna make the new one black, but everyone he asked, said to leave it, myself included.)

I grilled him at the time about SMT vs. thru-hole, and he pretty much laughed at me- in the "it makes no difference, you're being stupid" kind of way. Y'all can do whatever you like with that tidbit, but that was Tom's opinion. I'm with Adam- I believe any differences you'd hear from old to new have more to do with wonky 70's component tolerances (5%-10% resistors were the norm, as opposed to today's 1% resistors) and ailing 40-year-old caps. And I suspect the differences would be more of a "gee, it's a little different" variety than a "this old one sounds warmer/phatter/insert nebulous adjective of betterness here" thing.

Finally, I don't really have the hands-on in this particular case so maybe I'm talking out my ass, but I wouldn't get too excited about the sound differences between a synth with a discrete envelope generator circuit as opposed to an IC (unless it was an early, slow digitally controlled envelope, which CEM's are not). Though the slopes could be subtly different, an envelope generator isn't in the audio path, it simply controls the action of the VCA (which IS in the audio path).

If anyone's interested, I interviewed Tom when the new SEM was released, 'tis here:
link [www.youtube.com]

Jun.25.2013 @ 10:45 PM
Chris Randall
Let's back up to the "he hot ass" bit. I'm curious about that.

That aside, any of these old-school guys will say "oh, aren't you adorable" when you bring up SMT v. through-hole "sound" to them. Since the people that think that SMT somehow sounds "worse" than through-hole are overwhelmingly not Tom Oberheim, Dave Smith, Roger Linn, or Bob Moog, I'm gonna have to go ahead and say that they don't know what the fuck they're talking about.

The one difference I'll admit to is that every SMT synth I've played has generally worked, while every through-hole synth I've played has had problems ranging from "huh, that's weird" to "I bet this would be pretty cool if it worked" to "doorstop." So there's that.

(The single exception being this DK Synergy II+, which actually is 100%. The most complicated instrument I've ever purchased works perfectly. Go figure.)


Jun.26.2013 @ 11:50 AM
Adam Schabtach
@mitchell: Fun interview, thanks. I think I somehow missed part 2 back when those were first posted; it seems unfamiliar.

Nuts. Now I want one of the things, again.

I hope Mr. Oberheim has had good sales with the new SEM. He deserves it.


Jun.26.2013 @ 3:17 PM
I agree with what Adam said a few posts ago about stray capacitances mostly applying in the MHz range, but I've done enough DIY analog stuff in the 80s to know circuit layout is critical, but mostly because you can do it wrong and have power supply noise leakage, EM pickup, etc. But I did have excellent high frequency hearing and could often hear differences just from moving components slightly, but that mostly occurs in the presence of a high gain feedback loops typical of fuzzbox circuits, feedback based oscillators, and the like.

Jun.26.2013 @ 3:34 PM
The whole subject of how reductionistic (or not) one can be when dealing with physical circuits reminds me of a story of my dad trying to diagnose a problem in a Univac mainframe back in the day. He'd concluded the problem was in a certain subassembly, but after a day of failing to find the problem where it seemed to be, he traced the problem "upstream" and discovered that someone had used a wiring harness as a cigarette holder, where the cigarette had fused two wires together. The butt was still hanging there.

So my dad had made the reductionistic mistake of assuming nobody would be enough of a jackass to use a wiring harness in a computer destined for NASA as an ash tray. But it was the 60s, and people did stuff like that. It's a wonder those SOBs made it to the moon.

Jun.27.2013 @ 3:18 PM
beauty pill
I am an absolute pleb when it comes to synthesizers, especially compared to you guys, but I really like the Arturia model of this thing for bass.

I would like a real SEM, especially if it sounds twice as rich as the software, as poeple tell me.

But I'm also saving up for a new guitar and amp and you can't have everything in this world.

- c

Jun.27.2013 @ 4:45 PM
Without a doubt the band pass sweep on an Original SEM is one of the greatest of all time synth sounds!!!

Jun.27.2013 @ 6:09 PM
beauty pill
I think of this instrument as almost purely a bass thing.

But I've never played a real one and don't know that much about synths in general.

- c

Jun.27.2013 @ 6:41 PM
...you can't have everything in this world.

I don't think I've ever seen this sentiment expressed in the context of a synth discussion.

Jun.28.2013 @ 9:32 PM
>Let's back up to the "he hot ass" bit. I'm curious about that. <

I'm pretty sure he meant "Hee Haw ass". Auto correct, you know.

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