Oberheim Electronics

Oberheim Electronics is an American manufacturer of audio synthesizers and a variety of other electronic musical instruments. Founded in 1969[1][2] by Tom Oberheim (a former designer and contract manufacturer for Maestro).[3]

Oberheim Electronics
HeadquartersLos Angeles, California
Key people
Tom Oberheim, founder
ProductsSignal processing, synthesizers, sequencers, drum machines

History and productsEdit

Originally a manufacturer of electronic effects devices (most notably the Maestro phase shifter),[3] and briefly an ARP Instruments dealer,[3] Oberheim went on to create several ground-breaking products in the early days of synthesizers and electronic music including the DS-2 (one of the first digital music sequencers).

SEM (1974-1979)
Four Voice (1975-1979)

Oberheim introduced the Synthesizer Expander Module (SEM) in 1975 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 lowpass, high-pass, bandpass, or band-reject filter, giving it a different sound than the filters of the Moog or ARP filters popular at the time. By combining multiple SEM modules with a digitally scanned keyboard and two-channel voltage-controlled sequencer, the company next introduced the Two-voice TVS-1. The Four-voice FVS-1,[1] was available with a rudimentary programmer module, capable of storing and recalling sound settings and, in 1977, the Eight-voice EVS-1[4] combined a Four-voice with an external module of 4 additional SEMs. 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 abandoned the relatively bulky SEMs in favor of individual or compact voice cards, and common cabinetry and power supplies.

Xpander (1984)
Matrix-6 (1985)

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

Oberheim drum machinesEdit

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.


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

Oberheim went bankrupt and was acquired in 1985 by a group of lawyers who changed the name to Oberheim ECC. Tom was creatively still at the helm, although he left the company within a couple of years to start a new venture called 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, at the direction of Keith McMillen (Gibson's vice president and chief of R&D), then 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.

Gibson had split from its parent company, Norlin, in 1986. Norlin handled distribution for Oberheim's major competitor, Moog Music.


OB*12 (2000)

The 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 digital synth Oberheim OB*12,[10] the guitar DSP GM-1000 with many effects,[11] the MC series of master keyboards,[12] and the OB32, a portable and inexpensive imitation of the popular Hammond series of organs.[13]

Tom Oberheim returns to the synthesizer marketEdit

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 returnedEdit

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]


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 alsoEdit


  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 c Trevor Pinch & Frank Trocco (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 linksEdit