In his latest video, synthesist Alex Ball takes an in-depth look at the Oberheim Xpander, considered to be one of the most capable non-modular synthesizers ever created.
38 years after it was originally introduced, the Xpander is still one of the most flexible synth designs ever created. Why?
The Xpander paired digital control with analog circuits and extremely flexible patching and modulation.While some synths offer 1 LFO per voice, the Xpander featured 5 LFOs per voice. Where many modern synths offer a low-pass filter, the Xpander features very flexible multi-mode filters. Patching options are flexible enough that many users think of it as a modular synthesizer, without the patch cables.
The Xpander is also 6-part multitimbral, which means that you treat the Xpander as 6 separate monophonic synthesizers, letting you create complete arrangements on a single synthesizer.
Check out the video and share your thoughts on the Xpander in the comments!
17 thoughts on “Why Is The Oberheim Xpander, A 38 Year-Old Design, Still One Of The Most Respected Synths Ever?”
Xpander is THE modbox auh deepbeast if u may. I mean 5LFO’s, multi-mode filter,…etc, basically ONE powerful digitally controlled analog synth legend init’s own time & into the future-forerunner of things that have somewhat come tooo fruition but not quite as the sound of this desktop (1 of the 1st!) lends to the longevity of this machine that persistently executes and demonstrates accordingly, hence it’s continued high-end sonic presence that’s still evident today folks
does it even have to be said? Matrix 12 still clobbers anything out there for richness in modulation. scraping the barrel here.
the newer sequantials continue this (not pro5/6 ob6) with huge matrixes most don’t care about, i guess it was the same with this one
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Most people don’t care about synths. Those who do tend to appreciate being able to shape the sound according to their needs. That being said, the xpndr/m12 would sound just as tantalizing and unique if they had only 1 lfo, 2 envelopes and no mod matrix.
It’s a nice review. However owning or purchasing vintage gear is imo more like owning a 70’s car for its looks or sentimental value.
If I look at how modern synthesizers sound nowadays…they beat most of the old gear.
But I’m not discouraging Alex Ball to make these nice vids.
I agree with you on most of your post. Many time people will deify old synths that in modern times are vastly surpassed by far more superior synths in sound, quality, feel, and depth in terms of options.
I owned an Xpander and its accompanying XK MIDI Keyboard controller back in the mid to late 80’s. Even by todays standards it is an excellent synth. It sounds good. Its modulation matrix was far ahead of it’s time. Nothing back then could compare with it.
The only problem I ever had was an output jack that was cutting in and out and I had that repaired. Other than that, there were no issues.
check the matrix-1000
Arturia makes a nice Matrix-12 emulation, but it can eat a lot of CPU cycles, processing the many parameters involved. That’s as close as most of us will get to the real thing. Take comfort; its an impressive synth to demo, but its as big as (bleep) and will heat a large room nicely in the winter.
I had Solaris and have Modal 008. Both have some similarities to Xpander. While I give to George that its filter design is novel (it’s more general solution to filter output mixing, giving it exactly same filter responses) and here similarities end, it gives some of that sounds. I mean: more like in the ballpark, but PS+LP is there.
The Solaris on the other hand is inspired on many fronts. From front panel design, to modulation possibilities and modules available (like lag processor). It’s not 100% there, but closest, I guess. I got rid of it, because it was too much for me. Even Jexus, when playing with my unit, called it – I will paraphrase – „like Andromeda, it’s a fucking laboratory”. And I agree with that notion. Synth like that requires mind capable of restraining itself to not apply too much of goods accessible. (I’m sure he would do decent demo with my unit, but he was coming back to game at that time and was looking for something less complex… thinking about it now, it seems weird that he reached for my JD-XA instead).
I will come back to Modal 008. I must say that while it has discreet VCOs, they are very precise. Jexus called them „like Nord Lead 3” and I disagree with that statement, but I get, where he comes from. It needs some xmod to gain some weight next to Prologue 16, Modal 002 or OB-6. Even Prophet X cuts more easily among those mentioned. So that’s that about oscillators. And while filters have exactly same response types as Xpander, they have very own sound, that I learned to recognise. It has this cosmic and novel, not heard anywhere else, vibe to it. 008’s filters somehow remind me of cosmic vibe of Jupiter 6, but… exagerated? I would have to think about it.
Anyway, that’s my take on modern equivalents of Xpander. As usual: both are their own things, but from all new gear – they seem to have most similarities from everything that I am acustomed with.
Thing with xpndr/m12 is you can’t put it down to specs. On paper it may seem tempting to compare it to other synths like a6 or 008. But the xpndr tone and feel is *completely* different. It has a distinct ob-sound, yet it’s tuned to complement its ob-series forerunners. Big, soft, airy yet substantial, and sublime is how I’d describe it, and the tone perfectly “envelopes” its older siblings; more top and bottom, subtle and mystical sounding. Incredible bass. A universe of luxury pillows and duvets. It can even scream like a madman if you want it to. But it does not have that caricature analog sound. It is much more refined than your p5s and obxa’s. Extremely organic, with a perfect phasing even though it never goes out of tune. It was made in a time when people used synths in jazz and other “adult” and “serious” music. If you want rowdy underground techno analog, look elsewhere. The xpndr/m12 is all about elegance and subtlety. They are not synths for kids, rather for uncomprising, professional musicians.
Yeah, your statement about being its own thing is what I came with in my text. I always say that there are no synths replacing 100% the others for even most silly reasons, but the reasons are there. Some people might even like some idiosyncracies and that’s also not possible to derail, because subjective things are just that. I am talking in general, not calling Xpander or Matrix 12 any of that, but looking at most silly examples it’s easier to see subjective qualities in more unique designs.
Analog synth technology hasn’t really advanced much in the years since the Xpander was developed. These days, we use surface mount copies of Curtis and SSM chips and circuit designs that are similar to the past. A modern Xpander would be expensive to design and software (or a digital synth if you want a physical front panel) makes more sense for wickedly complicated modulation routing and high polyphony.
How far do you think the technology need to advance before we can define it as “much”?
I think example Moog and DSI has take some interesting steps, trying to adapt into more advanced technology with their latest devices, which can hybrid-wise both appeal to modern but also “vintage sound”.
If your idea of an analog synth is cliche’d, you won’t necessarily “get” the xpander and the m12. They’re not very “raw”, “gnarly”, whatever. HOWEVER. Nothing can sound as soft and huge and sublime, elegant, regal… The modulation possibilities are simply the icing on a totally unique and extremely musical cake.
Why did I sell my Xpander and get an Ensoniq ESQ-1!?!