Is The Oberheim OB-Xa The Sweet Spot’ Of Oberheim Synths?

In this video, synthesist and sound designer Julian Pollack (J3PO) shares his thoughts on the Oberheim OB-Xa, a vintage analog polypohonic synth design from 1981.

In the video, Pollack dives into the OB-Xa’s strengths and limitation, discussing why its old-school design gives it a unique sound that holds up well, even if the synth doesn’t offer the flexibility of some modern synths.

“The Oberheim OB-Xa is my personal favorite vintage poly synth of all time,” notes Pollack. “In this video, I tell you – and show you – why.”

Topics covered:

00:00 Introduction
00:51 My personal introduction to the OB-Xa
02:45 Brief history of the OB-Xa and Tom Oberheim
06:04 The beauty & quirks of the OB-Xa
17:33 Patch creation
31:33 Final Thoughts
32:14 Outro

Check out the video and share your thoughts on the OB-Xa in the comments!

13 thoughts on “Is The Oberheim OB-Xa The Sweet Spot’ Of Oberheim Synths?

  1. I loved this video, and always dig J3PO’s playing.

    I have an OB-8 and I have zero issues regarding its sound. I have heard that there is a mod which can make it sound exactly like the Xa, though I elected not to get this done. As I understand it, there is some component that acts like a very subtle hi pass filter which can be disabled or bypassed in some way. I believe this was done to make the 8 sit better in a mix, though at the expense of some of the beefy bottom end compared to its ancestors.

    Personally, I love the sound and additional flexibility of the 8. I have other synths that crush bottom end, and the 8 to me was so beautiful as it was that I didn’t want to mess with it in any way. Again, the difference in sound between the two units is not that drastic, but I appreciate some of the extra features of the newer model, like expanded modulation, and being able to program the volume of each patch individually.

    These are great synthesizers. I hope that since Tom now has his name back, that he will do something with these as he did with the Two Voice Pro, or for that matter, what Sequential did with the Prophet 5/10. The original OB series ARE aging, and it would be nice to see their beautiful sound not be lost to time.

  2. Great video, but makes me wonder…
    I have a great recreation of it as Vst/au plug-in.
    Can’t notice difference in sound between original and plug-in and any nuances between the two will be lost in the mix regardless

  3. Yes, it is. Could it be improved on, almost certainly, with the addition of modern (digital) modulation management and recall and signal routing. Modern manufacturing methods could also get costs down without sacrificing character. Let’s hope Tom (or any other synth manufacturers who are in this game) does more than reissue the original.

  4. Since he officially owns his own name again, I expect a pricey purist model like the Prophet-5 reissue. I’d prefer it with effects, but people who are keen on the original aroma can also afford several Strymons above it on a rack.

    Character-wise, there are several main synth voices that define the instrument, one of which is Oberheim’s. There are great side-roads like Arturia’s Pigments, but even that has several Matrix-12 filter options in it. That’s why you keep seeing Obies pop up in so many forms. It can certainly chest-bump hard against the Jupiter-8 for being Huge.

  5. No, Behringer’s recently announced knockoff sounds WAY better!
    And has (laughable) USB MIDI implementation.

    ….Runs away.

  6. It was interesting to me to learn that the OB-Xa doesn’t have very deep routing options. I always thought that Oberheims were known for having modular-like routing options. When did they start introducing the deep mod matrix patching?

    1. The Matrix-series is probably what you’re thinking of, @Chiara. Matrix 12 in particular is like a digitally-controlled modular polysynth.
      The earlier models from the first Oberheim SEM to the OB-series concluding with the OB-8 are famed for their “raw analog sound”, not their flexibility. Oberheim had one of the first analog polys ever witht the Four Voice (4 x SEMs), and until the OB-XA they were completely discrete (i.e. no integrated circuit chips) which usually translates to PHATTER sounds.

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