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Oberheim Electronics was founded by Tom Oberheim (or Thomas Elroy Oberheim), born in Kansas in 1936. In high school he was fond of electronics - he designed hi-fi amplifiers for his friends. At the age of 20 he moved to Los Angeles where he began his career from scratch relying only on his own experience. Working as an intern-designer at NCR Corporation, one of the first commercial enterprises to use computers, he wanted to become a computer engineer. In the 60s he changed about seven computer companies making the decision to go to the University of California to study computer engineering and physics.

The interest in acoustics and music from a technical point of view made him friends with trumpeter Don Ellis, Joseph Byrd and Dorothy Moskowitz from the music faculty. Oberheim helped his new friends with anything he could, for example, with amplifiers. For United States of America – the band fromed by Byrd and Moskowitz - he created guitar amplifiers, designed a ring modulator for Ellis, though it all started with the creation of a ring modulator based on Harald Bode's proprietary principles. Moskowitz asked him to do one for their band, after which the composer Leonard Rosenman got in contact with Tom, convincing him to do one for himself as well – he wanted to use the modulator to create a soundtrack for Beneath the Planet of the Apes movie. Oberheim exhaled, he didn’t turn into a components collecting conveyor, he would create equipment for the musicians and soon he would hear compliments from Herbie Hancock and Jan Hammer.

In 1969 Thomas was offered cooperation by CMI (Chicago Musical Instruments) company willing to get his ring modulators which, when the agreement was made, began to be launched as Maestro RM-1A. Oberheim liked the way the instruments could sound when connected to the Leslie cabinet which was usually paired with Hammond organs. In order to simulate the effect he built a digital phaser which was released as Maestro PS-1. It took 3 years to sell 25000 of these devices. Somehow having collected several thousand dollars Tom opened his own Oberheim Electronics company.

Oberheim is closely related to ARP brand. Tom had already cooperated with famous people and their brands before he started out his own company. Nevertheless, ARP shared secrets with Oberheim who fell in love with ARP 2600 and offered them to become a representative of their synthesizers at NAMM 1971. At that time hardly any synthesizer available could play 2 notes at once, and ARP 2500 could. Tom caught this feature among the abilities Pearlman’s instrument sported and added the same one to ARP 2600. Together with keyboardist Richard Grayson, whom he met thanks to picking new members for USA band, he managed somehow to achieve polyphonic sound during performances bringing two ARP 2600 units on stage.

The invention of DS-2 sequencer followed. DS-2 was represented by rather limited capabilities which didn’t supply anything but memory to the connected synthesizer. Tom solved this problem by creating a SEM (Synthesizer Expansion Module) which allowed you to record and play live simultaneously – the concept was based on the principle of multitrack audio recording, i.e. sound layering. SEM turned out to be a rather successful unit which was used not only with other synthesizers achieving interesting results but also as a basis for the design of new instruments. Oberheim presented his own work for the first time at Audio Engineering Society convention in Los Angeles in 1974.

Norlin, which was preceded by CMI and which also continued to distribute Oberheim's phasers and ring modulators, canceled several large orders for its products due to the crisis. Tom finally got some free time to implement the idea of the first commercial polyphonic synthesizer. In 1975 he released Two-Voice (TVS-1) keyboard which put two SEM modules to good use. The same year it was followed by a polyphonic synthesizer Four-Voice (FVS-1) which already contained 4 SEMs - two oscillators for each of 4 voices which sported their own filter, envelope and amplifier. At that time it was not only the first synthesizer capable of extracting chords, saving settings, programming presets (in the 4-voice model and 8-voice upgrade due to its merging with Polyphonic Synthesizer Programmer), and applying portamento, it was also quite practical, affordable instrument. It only got scarier when Eight Voice was expanded featuring two-storied keyboard and bringing the brand to the edge of disappointment in 1978: Dave Smith released a five-voice Prophet 5 which was cheaper and tuned voices with the help of a microprocessor.

Oberheim polyphonic was as popular among musicians as his other products: Tangerine Dream (which simply couldn’t be imagined without Moog and Oberheim), Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Chick Corea, 808 State, and others.

Oberheim managed to work with Dave Rossum of E-mu (the manufacturer of one of the best series of samplers called Emulator) with who they shared a patent and agreed to invest in the development of each other's ideas. Thus FVS-1 was equipped with E-mu keyboard featuring digital scan system technology. It also became part of Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, which used integrated circuits developed by E-mu and Solid State Micro as well.

Besides SSM, integrated circuits were also produced by Curtis Electromusic Specialties the inventions of which were considered to be more reliable and that’s why more attractive to Oberheim. In 1978 Oberheim OB-1 was released - monophonic and programmable, the first analog synthesizer storing patches. Only those parameters that make sense during performing live weren’t programmable. It also allowed you to set the range of pitch deviation. These subtleties including variability and depth of its voice compensated for being monophonic.

In 1979 OB-X was released, an analog polyphonic synthesizer, in which Oberheim used not SEM but "voice cards", although continued to base his works on discrete components (with the exception of Curtis chips for envelope generators). Its memory was designed to carry 32 programmable presets, and the tuning was controlled by the microprocessor Z-80. To the pitch/mod wheels of Prophet 5 Tom responded with a lever which principle reminded of a guitar string bending. The sounds of OB-X can be heard in the albums recorded by Queen, OMD, Roxy Music, Styx, Van Halen, and others.

Oberheim OB-Xa appeared in 1980. Discrete components were replaced by Curtis chips which made production less expensive and was to make a repair process easier. However, for the same reason, it appeared to be more difficult to repair OB-Xa than OB-X since discrete parts were always available, while with microchips supply you couldn’t be so sure. The second version got rid of the cross modulation between VCO 1 and VCO 2. But the work with programming and configuration was more convenient and thoughtful than in Prophet 5 or Jupiter 8. In 1982 it became possible to synchronize the synthesizer with other Oberheim equipment, although there was no point to do so after MIDI spread all over the world.

Then in 1983 Oberheim invented OB-8, a new logical step up from OB-Xa featuring both MIDI interface and its own – for the “just in case” matter. In 1985 it was discontinued, but the unit managed to merit the attention of The Police, KLF, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode and many others.

In 1984 Matrix-12 appeared (came out a year later), and OB-8, but without a keyboard - Oberheim Xpander built on Matrix Modulation technology. 2 oscillators per each of 6 analog independent voices, 5 digital low pass filters, 5 digital (+ Delay) ADSR envelope generators, 4 ramp generators.

Oberheim managed to put his name on a digital drum machine DMX which became quite popular among new wave, synthpop and hip hop performers: New Order, The Cure, Run-DMC, Mike Oldfield, DMX, Eurythmics, Dead or Alive, ELO, Madness, Rod Stewart – and it was used in their hit songs. Drum voices were represented by samples of real drums with the ability to apply synchronization and effects imitating the human performing. 8 voices of polyphony on eight "voice cards" had individual settings. DX (1983) was kind of a simplified and low-cost version of DMX.

The last thing which Tom did for his Oberheim company was Matrix-12 instrument creation - a 12-voice version of Xpander built on CEM oscillators with 61 dynamic keys. In 1985 Tom lost his brand. He wasn’t going to refuse from his brand because of bankruptcy but the fraud of his own lawyer led to the loss of his own name. And then, while someone else's ECC/Oberheim was issuing “matrices” (6 and 1000 modelswhether they belonged to Gibson or Viscount, Tom founded in California his new brand - Marion Systems, kept on consulting Roland and Akai. As a new founder he created MSR-2 - an eight-voice rack module.

Meanwhile Don Buchla, who worked for Gibson Guitar back then, was designing OB-Mx, a digitally controlled analog rackmount module. OB-Mx was sadly developed as a unit no one would need (though the owners of the company did need it to be launched). Soon after the release Don Buchla renounced his participation in company’s projects completely. The modular synthesizer made it possible to install additional voice cards for sound saturation, but the high cost as well as whistling filters didn’t even put the instrument in a row with competitors. Although NIN and U2 found it suitable.

Viscount (to help the “roaming” Oberheim) invented the Hammond imitation, shaping it as OB3, and virtual analog OB-12 the production of which ceased in 2005.

In 2000 Oberheim founded another company - SeaSound, an audio interface manufacturer.

In 2009 he personally revived the good old SEM, the sound of which was as close as possible to the original. In 2015 Tom announced his favorite and this time upgraded Two Voice Pro. And in 2016 NAMM show featured a collaboration project of Tom and Dave Smith - OB6, a voltage-controlled multi-voice synth where Oberheim was responsible for SEM replication while Smith focused on the sequencer and effects processing relying on his Prophet principles.

It may seem that the creator of Oberheim brand was the first among the pioneers, and that his collaborations affected all other eminent collaborations. The facts actually tell the same. Anyway Tom wouldn’t be the “first one” if there wasn’t someone who was the last one – if there was no one before him who would entrust his own designs or agree to accept the conditions for the sake of progress: a vivid example – worldwide MIDI standard support. Midi seemed to be a threat, but it couldn’t split manufacturers dividing them into the old ones and new ones.