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Analog adventures - part IV


marino

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No big news this time, and no direct comparisons; only, a friend recently asked me for a survey of the Oberheim Matrix-12, which I have since the eighties. I am often surprised to see how many young electronic musicians aren't familiar with this piece of work, so I thought a few people from the Corner could also benefit from a little review.

To be sure, my Andromeda lust hasn't diminished; the two instruments have a very different sound. Full and creamy, with emphasis on lows and highs, the Andy; noble and spacious, strong on the low-mids the Matrix. In fact, I often wonder how wonderful would be to own both. :)

Maybe this should belong to the 're-appreciation' thread...

 

OBERHEIM MATRIX-12

 

(I'll make little comparisons with the Andromeda along the road)

 

Keyboard

 

The keys on this instrument are nothing special, frankly - but much better, IMO, than a lot of today's keybeds. It's not as good as a DX7II keyboard (to me, one of the best synth keyboards), but much better than the XP-80, for example, and on another planet if compared to the AN1x, Ion, Karma, Triton LE. It has initial and release velocity; aftertouch is optional. I never installed it because I heard it had problems.

Personally, I like the Andromeda keybed better.

 

User interface

 

The physical interface is very well laid out, IMO. Only six knobs, but several buttons and two linear displays. It may sound rough, but everything is so clearly laid out that I can say for sure that there isn't one function on this synth that I haven't used often because it's hidden somewhere. It's probably the only synth on which I don't miss not having one knob per function too much. I could say, "If you have to do it with just six knobs, that's the way to do it." :) The OS on the AN1x, which has eight knobs and much less parameters to tweak, is a nightmare in comparison.

The only things I dislike in the physical layout are the pitch and mod levers - I much prefer wheels.

The Matrix-12 display is the only one from my old synths that's still totally readable - no dimming at all. Nine main 'pages', with functions and block diagrams printed on the front panel. Shortcuts to see and modify modulation routings.

Of course, Andromeda has the edge here, with its army of knobs and buttons.

 

Voice channel

 

Two oscillators, with triangle, saw, and variable pulse waves, plus noise source. The sound of the oscillators is... very personal. NOT huge like a SEM or OB-8, but still very fat and warm. They really performed miracles in order to get this sound out of the cheap Curtis chips used here. There's also variable hard sync.

The filter is multimode with 15 modes (this is real analog!), cutoff, resonance. Among the 15 filter modes: Lowpass (1,2,3,4 poles!), highpass, high+low, notch+low, phase, bandpass... Bon appetit!! You can really get lost trying all filter types on your sounds. It's programming heaven – and it sounds good too!

Oscillator and filter FM from VCO 2. This FM sound wonderful - rich yet stable. I've done great electric pianos with it.

The overall sound you get from this voice channel is sweet, a bit otherwordly, but not at all thin. It has a strange, 'airy', quality. The Andy sound, by comparison, is just the opposite: Down-to-earth, firm and aggressive.

 

FIVE envelopes per voice. These are the most complete analog envelopes I've ever seen. Five stages: Delay, Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, plus a separate Amp parameter. No envelope is hardwired to anything. Envs can be put in freerun mode, forced to reset at keystart, told to skip the sustain portion, put in single trigger or multi-trigger mode, triggered or gated from external signals. Every envelope segment is separately modulable, multiple times if you like. It's very easy to obtain customized curves.

Just one downer: The envs don't snap. They're first-generation digital envelopes, and while quite sophisticated, if you want dance-tight basses, you have to invert the response, or advance the track in your sequencer. The response is not really sluggish – just a bit 'late'. Usually not a problem, for me at least. By comparison, Andy's envelopes are a bit quicker, though still not Mini-quick. Their flexibility is quite similar: Andy has preset curves, but you can obtain every type of response from the Matrix by modulating the individual segments. And of course, five envelopes are better than three. :)

 

Five envelopes not enough? (Maybe you're Morton Subotnick, who knows… :) ) OK, there are also FOUR ramp generators. They're simple envelopes, but needless to say, if you patch them into a track generator (see below), they can become quite complex. And they enjoy all triggering modes of the 'regular' envelopes.

 

FIVE LFOs per voice. This is just too much fun. This thing actually has 61 LFOs inside! (5 per voice + 1 global) Not only triangle, square and two saw waves; there is random, sample and hold, noise, all of which are easily reshaped with modulations, track generators, lag, etc.

I'll stop here: It will suffice to say that the LFOs have all the trigger, delay and reset modes you could ever need. Andy is left in the dust here... Playing with five of these at a time is just the biggest legal fun a programmer can experience. I often modulate rates between LFOs even so slightly, to avoid that that 'sameness' in cyclic modulations.

 

The lag processor is usually used for portamento, but you can process just about anything with it, including reshaping velocity response, LFO waveforms, envelope curves, and so on. Lag can be linear, exponential, or equal time. There are a bunch of them: Every LFO has its own, for example.

 

The tracking generators (3 of them) are four-stage, bipolar envelopes, which are used to reshape a modulation source before it reaches its destination. An obvious use would be to program a customized keyboard response to the filter, resonance, FM, loudness, envelope segments, or just anything else. But if you feel like giving your levers a personalized response curve, for example, or creating absurd LFO waves, you're welcome. :) Andy's designers copied the Matrix trackers almost literally.

 

Matrix modulation

 

Ready? EVERY parameter is modulable from multiple sources (a maximum of six), in variable amounts per source. Of course, a source can modulate multiple destinations. If you need to modulate a destination from the same source multiple times, you can do it. There are a few hardwired modulations, like keyboard to VCOs, VCF and VCA, and so on, but after that, the fun starts. Many modulation sources (Envs, LFOs, ramps…) are modulable from other sources, or from themselves if you like. The track generators can shape any signal in almost anything else.

The only big limitation: You're limited to 20 modulations per voice. That's 240 simultaneous modulations to handle, so maybe I shouldn't complain – but I found myself hitting that roof many times.

I'm not aware of a limit for number of modulations in the Andromeda… Maybe Dave can shed some light?

 

OK that's it. It's curious how the lust for an Andromeda made me remember that I already own an instrument of similar depth, if with a totally different sound. I enjoyed a few programming sessions on the Matrix, and while having my fun, I silently thanked the designers for being so generous with features.

 

A couple of final praises from other people…

Cesare Bernardini, keyboard tech extraordinaire: "I'm glad every time I open a Matrix-12, just to look inside and enjoy. This machine was really designed using people's brains!"

My girlfriend, after a brief demonstration of the Matrix-12, compared to the AN1x: "The real analog sound is like pulling the cotton out of one's ears."

 

I wouldn't know how to say it better.

 

Carlo

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Hey Marino!

 

"a DX7II keyboard (to me, one of the best synth keyboards)"

 

Agreed!

 

"These are the most complete analog envelopes I've ever seen."

 

Both the A6 and Xpander/M12 have digital envelopes. Andromeda's are a tad more complete (owing to the ground the Xpander broke).

 

"OK, there are also FOUR ramp generators."

 

IIRC, one output of the Portamento found in the Andromeda mod matrix acts as a descending ramp upon each keystrike. It of course responds to the Portamento time knob. I believe that the multiple slopes are applicable as is external modulation of slope (start at linear, as with the envelopes).

 

Going from memory; I haven't tried the above but it should work.

 

"Andy's designers copied the Matrix trackers almost literally."

 

There is some similarity in both :-)

 

If you set the A6 to Key Mono mode, the Sequencer can be used as a 16-stage, multiple-row tracking generator. You have to set one of the parameters to Analog, IIRC (it's been a looong time, but this comes from the analog addressing of the Buchla 200 sequencers, allowing an input parameter to select the sequencer stage). Only voice-level parameters are applicable (again, IIRC).

 

"I'm not aware of a limit for number of modulations in the Andromeda Maybe Dave can shed some light?"

 

It appears that I'm here first so apologies for stepping in.

 

Every modulation on the front panel of the A6 is always live, as are each of their level modulations.

Give me the ANALOG and no one gets HURT
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I am often surprised to see how many young electronic musicians aren't familiar with this piece of work, so I thought a few people from the Corner could also benefit from a little review.

And old ones too! :eek:

 

I thought about getting one of these back when they were on the market but had no idea of its capabilities until reading your post. IIRC they were first going for around $4000 when they came out and then increased to around $6000 (maybe mid 5K) at some point after adding seperate outputs and maybe MIDI??? This was out of my budget as I was big into the DX7 stuff at this point. I was also concerned as I was for the OB8 that it would too closely duplicate the sound of my Memmoog also with Curtis chips. After reading your description Carlo,I sure wish I saw thing differently back then. It sounds like a blast to program and play. Thanks - great topic.

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Mike, thanks a lot for your contribution.

 

Originally posted by peake@pacificnet.net:

Both the A6 and Xpander/M12 have digital envelopes.

I know, and I wrote it a few sentences later... :o I guess I meant "Best envelopes on an analog synth" or something like that... sorry.

 

If you set the A6 to Key Mono mode, the Sequencer can be used as a 16-stage, multiple-row tracking generator. You have to set one of the parameters to Analog, IIRC (it's been a looong time, but this comes from the analog addressing of the Buchla 200 sequencers, allowing an input parameter to select the sequencer stage). Only voice-level parameters are applicable (again, IIRC).

Wow!!! :D

 

Every modulation on the front panel of the A6 is always live, as are each of their level modulations.

 

OK. I'm pretty sure to have read of a total limit of modulations per voice (52, maybe?). I don't know - it could be that they just counted the total number of modulation inputs... Anyway, I would really like to know for sure!

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Originally posted by Rabid:

I have a question Carlo. If you had a computer editor so that all three could be programmed with equal ease, which would you choose; Matrix 12, Andromeda or Chroma? Why?

 

Robert

A nasty question if there ever was one!! :D So, you have three children, and you can only save one... :D;):D

 

OK let's see: The Chroma has a wonderful feel, and a thick sound. But I sold my Chroma, and I kept the Matrix-12, although it sounds a bit thinner. I found that the Chroma didn't blend well with my digital synths. Both the Matrix and the Andy, on the contrary, seem to layer and combine very well.

 

Between the Matrix and Andromeda, it would be a tough fight... But if forced to choose, perhaps I would take the Andy, just because it has more of a Moog/Prophet sound; lately, I'm more inclined to like that kind of quality.

 

But you know what... None of those polyphonic synths has really the sound of a Mini, much less of a Moog Modular. They all use cheaper components in order to reduce costs (understandably; $25,000 for a synth, anyone?). Memorymoog, Chroma, Matrix12/Xpander, they all use Curtis chips... but they all lack that *bigness*. The Memorymoog itself is far from being six Minis in a pack.

It's not casual that the CS80 is still revered... it's a good candidate for "biggest-sounding analog polyphonic ever"!

 

Coming soon: Arturia Modular V :D

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The CS80 was also a very "musical" synth, not only a "programmer's" synth. Its layout mimicked that of an electric organ so many regular keyboard players would fell right at home with it.

 

In my opinion the biggest competitor to the CS 80 was the Synthex, and both machines are also heavyweights in terms of sheer bulk.

Max Ventura, Italy.
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Originally posted by Max Ventura:

In my opinion the biggest competitor to the CS 80 was the Synthex, and both machines are also heavyweights in terms of sheer bulk.

Well, the Synthex is heavy, but the CS80 is ridiculous - it weights almost as an upright piano!

But you're right, the Synthex is a wonderful synth. There was an era when you could find an used Synthex for about 500 bucks in Italy... try that now. It's become a cult instrument.

Mario Maggi, the Synthex designer, is really an unsung hero. If you think a genius designer of analog synths used to have a difficult life in the USA (see Buchla, Oberheim, etc.), well, in Italy it was even worse. BTW, I've heard that Mario is at work on something new, and I'm *very* curious. :)

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The sound of the CS-80 doesn't kill me, but its playability does. Poly AT, weighted keys, etc. The GX-1 as well, with the wacky knee controller is a pleasure to play.

 

Combine that with the Moog or Oberheim SEM oscillators and filters and it'd be hog heaven for me at least.

Give me the ANALOG and no one gets HURT
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i don't have an 'andy', but am starting to consider it.

i recently got an Ion, and am wondering how many functions it is lacking compared to andy?

 

there is one non-functional knob on the ion and i am probably going to return it (i still can highlight the parameter and change it with the main data knob).

 

i know andy has an analog structure, but really, i'm satisfied with the sound of the ion.

 

specifically, what i'd like to know is, what are the differences in the mod matrix, number of tracking generators, sample and hold functions, envelope triggering options, and 'live-playing' performance options?

 

if anyone has experience with both, do you think the andy is worth the considerable price difference?

 

i'm not an 'analog fanatic'.

 

BTW: the ion is the only one of many boards i've gone thru in the last several years that i've felt immediately comfortable with. i've had it 2 weeks and it seems like an old familiar friend already - i really don't want to bring it back, but the non-functioning knob lays heavy on me.

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Originally posted by mildbill:

if anyone has experience with both, do you think the andy is worth the considerable price difference?

I have both. I vastly prefer the Andromeda.

 

The main spec reasons for me are the one knob per function layout and the seven stage envelopes. I also love the multiple slope choices for the envelope stages.

 

The Ion's main advantages to me are the third oscillator and the multiple filter types; however, I still prefer the sound and interface of the Andromeda.

 

Two things, though:

 

1) As one of Andromeda's daddies, I'm hardly objective. ;)

 

2) If you feel that comfortable with the Ion and are satisfied with the sound, I don't see any reason for you to part with it.

 

Bottom line - if you play Andromeda, and it grabs you by the back of the neck and won't let you go, then you should get it. If it doesn't, then you shouldn't, no matter what the specs say.

 

dB

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2) If you feel that comfortable with the Ion and are satisfied with the sound, I don't see any reason for you to part with it.

when i said i'm going to return it, i meant for an exchange - there's no way i'm going to be without one of these.

the andy is something i 'might' look into later.

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I find that when creating a patch on any of my current synths, at some point I think "cool sound - thats a keeper". It's when you can return the next day, and the days after and love it just as much as the first day without wanting to screw with it thats it's something special. With Andromeda, that happens more often and easily then with the others.
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My girlfriend, after a brief demonstration of the Matrix-12, compared to the AN1x: "The real analog sound is like pulling the cotton out of one's ears."

isn't it funny how perceptions differ?

 

my oberheim matrix 6 (hybrid, i know), always sounded 'thick, warm, buttery, smooth, etc., etc.'

these adjectives almost define the oberheim sound - check out any 'ob-pad' sound on current stuff.

 

when i heard some of the sharp edged, harsh, cutting, chain-saw sounds i could get out of the AN section in my EX5R, it was like 'pulling the cotton out of my ears'.

 

the real strength of the ob stuff is in the mod matrix, tracking and ramp generators, envelope options, lfo's, release velocity, and control pedals.

 

i just read an interesting review of the matrix 12 over at sonic state by someone who sounded like he knew what he's talking about in the hardware area. (i don't know jacks**t about chips and stuff).

anyways, he sounded absolutely flabbergasted at what ob pulled off with meager resources - well worth a read.

 

my thanks also to all in this 'predictable, game-like thread'.

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Originally posted by mildbill:

my oberheim matrix 6 (hybrid, i know), always sounded 'thick, warm, buttery, smooth, etc., etc.'

these adjectives almost define the oberheim sound - check out any 'ob-pad' sound on current stuff.

 

when i heard some of the sharp edged, harsh, cutting, chain-saw sounds i could get out of the AN section in my EX5R, it was like 'pulling the cotton out of my ears'.

 

the real strength of the ob stuff is in the mod matrix, tracking and ramp generators, envelope options, lfo's, release velocity, and control pedals.

 

i just read an interesting review of the matrix 12 over at sonic state by someone who sounded like he knew what he's talking about in the hardware area. (i don't know jacks**t about chips and stuff).

anyways, he sounded absolutely flabbergasted at what ob pulled off with meager resources - well worth a read.

 

my thanks also to all in this 'predictable, game-like thread'.

I see what you're talking about. However, in this case , I think she referred to the overall 'smoothness' of the analog sound. The AN1x has more high end for sure, but for this test I had stripped away all the onboard effects and EQ, so a certain digital gritness became exposed when compared to the Matrix - as would be the case with any VA, I tend to believe.

 

The beauty of the Matrix sound is not only in the modulations and stuff - the sound itself, though not big as in a SEM, has a real personality, and an evident smoothness. The Matrix 6 doesn't have it.

 

I am familiar with that review at Sonic State - I believe it came from Xpansions, the former newsletter for Matrix 12 and Xpander users. In fact, it gave me a couple of perverse ideas for modifying the beast... :)

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Originally posted by mildbill:

My girlfriend, after a brief demonstration of the Matrix-12, compared to the AN1x: "The real analog sound is like pulling the cotton out of one's ears."

isn't it funny how perceptions differ?

 

my oberheim matrix 6 (hybrid, i know), always sounded 'thick, warm, buttery, smooth, etc., etc.'

these adjectives almost define the oberheim sound - check out any 'ob-pad' sound on current stuff.

 

when i heard some of the sharp edged, harsh, cutting, chain-saw sounds i could get out of the AN section in my EX5R, it was like 'pulling the cotton out of my ears'.

Hi Bill... I've owned both the Matrix 12 and Matrix 6.. The M6 is no comparison to the Matrix12/Xpander. The Matrix 6 comes up way short in sound quality, im(very)ho. Of course, everyone has their own perceptions, but to my ears, the M12/Xpander is top notch. In a big way. :thu:
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of course - they're in a different league altogether as far as features go - no comparison. i didn't mean to imply they were the same.

they do share some features, a somewhat similar architecture, (much stripped down in the 6), and i would still maintain, a somewhat 'smooth' analog sound.

i did have the matrix 6 for 14 years tho, so i was quite familiar with its sound and features.

 

after following this thread and reading some reviews about the 12/xpander, i realized there are some things i didn't know about it. like the fact that they have 15 different filter types.

 

stuff like that, plus all the features marino mentioned are what led me to say 'they don't make 'em like that anymore'.

 

i've never had a 12/xpander, but i always thought they were just about the coolest synths ever made. i can't think of anthing currently made that comes close.

 

peake:

i don't have an 'andy', but am starting to consider it.
this was 'my way' of acknowledging/thanking for your advice about gear i don't own.

 

as to general manners, the overall decline on forums is no worse than what i see in the real world. sometimes a little 'low-life' is more palatable than overly rigid, bottoned-down formalities. at any rate, i don't see the current situation as cause for concern.

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Originally posted by Odyssian:

I've owned both the Matrix 12 and Matrix 6.. The M6 is no comparison to the Matrix12/Xpander. The Matrix 6 comes up way short in sound quality, im(very)ho. Of course, everyone has their own perceptions, but to my ears, the M12/Xpander is top notch. In a big way. :thu:

Odyssian -

 

How much (if any) of the difference do you chalk up to the Xpander/Matrix 12 having VCOs and the Matrix 6 having DCOs?

 

dB

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I bought the Matrix 6 used maybe 10 years ago and was VERY disappointed. It was thin and sterile compared to the Matrix 12 or most any other true analog. You had to really work with the effects to get a good sound. Part of this was due to the perfect pitch of the DCO's, but even a single note with a single oscillator seemed very thin. A year later it fell off of my keyboard stand and took some damage. After being on a few minutes the sound starts to mess up. The MIDI control continues to work and it would make a nice controller if the resolution was better, but any pitch bend is very stair stepped so using it as a controller is out. I never bothered to fix it and it now sits in my parents basement. After 8 years or more in the basement I am not sure if it will even turn on. It is there to remind me to always listen before I buy.

 

Robert

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