Arturia iSEM Recreates Classic 1974 Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module

iSEM-oberheim-synthesizerArturia today introduced iSEM – a software recreation of the classic 1974 Oberheim SEM (Synthesizer Expander Module).

The Oberheim SEM was one of the world’s first self-contained synthesizer modules and the first to bear the “Oberheim Electronics” name. The SEM was made famous by artists and bands such as Lyle Mays, Jan Hammer, Joseph Zawinul, Supertramp, 808 State, Vince Clarke and Depeche Mode.

Here’s a video intro to iSEM:

Here’s what Arturia has to say about iSEM:

The iSEM is a powerful instrument capable of producing a wide range of warm analog sounds.

Reproducing the unique SEM architecture, with its oscillator sync, characteristic filter shape and specific envelope response, the iSEM is able to generate the fat basses that have made the Oberheim brand so popular. Thanks to its simple and clever PW and pitch modulations, it is also very easy to produce moving and lively leads.

Its remarkable 12 dB/oct multimode filter is a real blast from the past, becoming an awesome weapon in the context of current electronic music. This unique module can instantly tailor your sound to fat, crisp, or spectral textures with access to all the nuances in between.

iSEM comes with over 500 sounds that you can browse through and play. You can also easily create your own sounds with the easy to use interface.

Play iSEM’s numerous sounds from the iPad keyboard or control iSEM from a MIDI keyboard or other app via CoreMIDI and integrate it into your studio or live performance.

If you are an owner of of the Arturia SEM V software on your Mac or PC, you can even import and export sounds between your laptop or desktop SEM V and iSEM.


  • All the original parameters of the Oberheim SEM: two oscillators, each offering sawtooth wave and variable-width pulse wave with PWM, sine wave LFO, 12dB/oct multi-mode Filter with low-pass, high-pass, band-pass and notch, two ADS envelope generators.
  • Added functionalities: New LFO, Noise, Sub oscillator, Arpeggiator, Portamento.
  • Polyphonic playability
  • 8 Voice Programmer module allows each voice to have different settings
  • HOLD and CHORD modes.
  • Virtual Analog Chorus.
  • Virtual Analog Delay.
  • Full user MIDI mapping of panel controls.
  • Supports WIST sync to other iOS devices.
  • Supports AudioBus and Apple’s Inter-App Audio connectivity (requires iOS7).

This video offers a quick tutorial on using iSEM:

iSEM is available now in the App Store for US $9.99.

If you’ve used iSEM, let us know what you think of it!

41 thoughts on “Arturia iSEM Recreates Classic 1974 Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module

      1. Yes, i also have an iPad 1 with ios 5.1 : i tried several sounds (sequences, arpeggios,pads) and everything is fine also with chords (unlike on iMini where i can just play it in mono mode otherwise i will get annoying clicking in the audio …well, that ‘s my experience on my iPad 1).

        A good job, imho.

        1. Yes – just tested on an iPad 1 – runs fine. Haven’t stressed it to pop and crackle stage – but seems OK. Nice work Arturia. Unison would have been great to have too. Maybe in an update?

  1. Fantastic! Also love the ability to move patches back to the desktop like iMini. Would like to see more of this in lots of products.

  2. Wow, brilliant… Didn’t see that one coming.
    Looks like Arturia began porting all of their rather excellent virtual instruments to iPad 🙂

  3. Even better sounding than iMini! Really good stuff!! 🙂
    I’m an analog enthusiast, but I really like to have some fun with my iPad… this is just perfect.

  4. I mean no offense at all when I say that it is really odd to see something so strange and organic as the SEM attempted to be translated to a modern application… I hope it gets the word out about Oberheim! Playing the FVS/fiddling with it is like exploring a haunted space derelict underneath a frozen ocean: if some small part of its character comes through in emulation, then a lot of people will be made very happy with this! Here’s to hoping that Oberheim will get his new synths out there soon!

    1. I never got to lay my hands on a real SEM but I’ve been loving the ISEM since the day it showed up in the AppStore , it’s delicious!

  5. Great work indeed! Questions: Tabletop integration? Inter-App Audio capability? A record function? Data display for associated tweaking of parameters? Why aren’t these included?

  6. You put me in my place with those down votes…

    Anyway, I stand corrected with Inter-App Audio thing…Tabletop’s Inter-App host saw it

    You can let your dogs out again if you desire

  7. Well I find it hard to get excited over something like that.
    It’s like 10 years ago with all this pointless “analog emulation” plugins.
    They sounded all the same and not even close to the hardware they would emulate.

    1. I agree, to an extent. It’s nice to have software versions of these classic synths, but it’s hard to get as excited over them as for the designed-for-tablet pieces such as Nave or Samplr. Virtual ANS straddles the line nicely (I rather suspect that it’s more useable than the hardware synth upon which it is based), and Modular gives you the gratification of building your own system and patching it, but does this really offer anything that one of the various other iOS monosynths don’t? It would be great to see manufacturers taking a cue from Waldorf and using the software/touch-based environment to expand upon, rather than emulate, their legacy synths.

      And when will I be able to plug one of these monos into the audiobus effects slot and use the filter on other apps? This seems a major oversight, particularly in the case of iMS20 which lacks the original’s pitch-to-cv conversion.

      1. I agree with you that the more interesting apps are the ones that take an alternative approach to the UI like the ones you mention (TC-11 comes to mind). I sadly have a fair amount of app purchase regret from synths and other music apps that I bought that either sucked, did not stand up after a few plays, or I never learned took the time to learn. On the FB iPad Musicians group new apps are discussed in detail and because of the recent release of new apps, Cube, Modular, iSEM etc, we have concluded that many of us suffer from AAS – App Acquisition Syndrome. We have no need for new synths apps but we buy them anyway. Must be the dopamine rush that you get the first time you open the app up and start to hear the new and wondrous sounds. 🙂

        1. What a great post! And a great point. I have been afflicted with this; though I’m less inclined to buy apps like this now and have resisted the urge with more recent ones. Even if the app is GREAT and CHEAP, it doesn’t mean I have to buy it. I’m still feeling like the iPad is an overhyped technology– but it is staggeringly great for some things and day-ruiningly bad for others.

          My retina MBP? Winner.

          1. I do all of my production on the iPad in combination with hardware synths so I don’t feel that it is overhyped. I just never got into desktop DAWs and only fell into this world when I got my iPad. I don’t say this lightly, but honestly IOS production and how accessible the apps are has really changed my life for the better. I’m now a creator instead of only being a consumer and have made some rewarding connections online through the IOS community.

  8. The promo video is funny. I can see the pre-production meeting:

    “Ok. Looks like everyone is doing the make-music-while-waiting-for-the-subway–then-share-and-jam-with-other-hipsters-in-time-to-unveil-the-finished-work-at-a-club-type commercial. How about we set it in Paris?”

    1. Well, the company is French after all, so setting it in Paris is sort of a no-brainer. Although setting it in Santa Monica might have been pretty clever 🙂

  9. This app sounds great through my board in the studio…also thru Sennheiser headphones….okay so it was developed for the PC and now for the Ipad….virtual smirtual….it sounds like a SEM to me….

    Great work Arturia….

    1. Agreed! Definitely!

      And the Prophet 5 and the Jupiter 8.

      But it’d be hard to fit all the controls in on one screen – esp. for the CS80 and the Jupiter 8.

      BTW: Has anyone noticed a bug with iMini getting MIDI notes stuck on in the recent update? I guess not registering Note Off properly?

  10. As an aside – I think we’re also beginning to suffer from the iPad synth equivalent of G.A.S. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome – they say you have it when you have over 7 is it?)

    Perhaps – iSAAS ? 😀

    (iPad Synth App Acquisition Syndrome)

    We’ve had 5 great new synth apps in the space of about a week
    Arctic ProSynth
    Cube Synth
    Virtual ANS
    And now iSEM

    Wallet seems emptier somehow 😉

    (And I probably missed some too!)

      1. From – musicianstools at wordpress.

        “The term “GAS” was coined by Walter Becker in 1996 in his article G.A.S. in Guitar Player as “Guitar Acquisition Syndrome”. The term started to be frequently used by guitarists and spread out to other people of creative professions who were familiar with similar tendencies. As it no longer concerned guitars only, GAS became a backronym for “Gear Acquisition Syndrome”.

        End quote

        Here’s a link to a transcript of the original article too
        www dot steelydan dot com slash gas.html

  11. Nice to see that Arturia are developing iPad apps instead of supporting their existing users and getting the rest of their software updated to 64 bit. Excellent priorities.

    1. SEV V is already 64-bit.

      $10 to be able to run SEM on the iPad, make patches anywhere and share them with the desktop version is a fantastic new feature for a lot of existing users.

      1. True, some of their software has been updated but not all of it, like Analog Factory. They’ve been ‘working on it’ for over two years now. I appreciate that these companies are small operations but they have apparently decided to prioritize iOS development over keeping their existing products alive. I own a bunch of their software and use it often. I think that the Prophet V is one of the better VAs out there. But I stopped supported Steinberg because of their callous orphaning of software and would sadly do the same to Arturia.

        1. Both these products were actually developed by third parties using the core emulation code from Arturia, so they probably didn’t siphon off a lot of core dev talent inside of Arturia. So I don’t think it’s a case of re-prioritizing core talent, but more extending their reach through third party devs (Retronyms and Tempo Rubato’s Rolf Wöhrmann). As to why haven’t they updated to 64bit with a lot of their products I can’t say except that the emulation code is probably pretty optimized and maybe breaks some rules to get performance, so it might be difficult to make the transition.

  12. Ok, I’ve made a decent amount of iOS purchases, from music , photo and video apps, games and more and anyone saying the ipad is an over hyped technology is well! stuck behind in the past. As far as music apps an ipad gives you a hands on control you need, even if you chose not to use a midi keyboard you can still play an onscreen keyboard as you sit on a bus. iPads don’t have the processing power of a desktop or laptop yet but they are still young in comparison. So let me get to the topic of Arturia ISEM.

    This is one of the best synths I’ve purchased and I’ve got quiet a few, Imini, Thor, Sunrizer, Magellen, ims20, epic synth, Nlog pro, ad the ones that made the cut and remain on my ipad while other got deleted. My fav was the Imini until I spent a day playing with the ISEM.
    This app is an instant hit for me. For $10, even more so. Anyone complaining about it not sounding exactly like the original hardware go right ahead and spend a couple thousand on the hardware.
    For me this is easily $10 well spent. Sounds great, amazing features. Something I’ll use for Ipad only production, Studio studio production and live performance. Well done Arturia. Now let’s see the Jupiter 8 for ipad.

    1. If I didn’t also have iSEM, I’d suspect you of hyperbole. But I totally agree- out of all the (too many) synths I have on my iPad, this may well be my favorite purchase. And I wasn’t even waiting for an SEM emulation or anything….

  13. That woman in the video was a French pornstar who retird from porn and is now a high fee commandinng DJ. Saw her at Lve Parade a few years back but her name is elusive.

    Nicci Belucci I think – google her, she’s hot and I guess Arturia think so too. I find it hard to beieve they dont know who she is 🙂

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