Oberheim Xpander

Released in 1984 this is still considered one of the ultimate analogue synth modules, if not the ultimate.

Why?

It could be the fact that the Oscillators are genuine VCOs. It could be the 6 voice polyphony. It could be because it has fifteen VCF modes. It coul... hold on... FIFTEEN VCF Modes?

Yep - check these out:

  • 1/2/3/4-pole low-pass (6bB to 24dB per octave)
  • 1/2/3-pole high-pass
  • 2- and 4-pole band-pass
  • 2-pole notch
  • 3-pole phase shifter
  • 3-pole phase + 1-pole low-pass
  • 3-pole high-pass + 1-pole low-pass
  • 3-pole notch + 1-pole low-pass
  • 2-pole high-pass + 1-pole low-pass

 

It could also be the amazing modulation routing from the five LFOs which includes sources such as:

  • 5 envelopes
  • 4 ramp generators
  • 3 tracking generators
  • 1 lag processor
  • MIDI velocity
  • MIDI release velocity
  • MIDI pressure
  • 2 MIDI levers

 

And destinations including:

  • Oscillator 1 frequency, PWM
  • Oscillator 2 Frequency, PWM
  • 15 VCAs
  • VCF frequency & resonance
  • FM gain
  • Envelope parameters
  • LFO frequency & amount

 

Or it could be the Split and Zone options? Or it could be that this was the first Oberheim instrument to be designed with MIDI in mind? Or it could be the Multiple outputs? Or maybe the continuous controller knobs? Or maybe a combination of all of the above?

Phew and we haven’t even mentioned the VCO waveforms yet which number a whopping... er... three - Sawtooth, Triangle & Pulse.

Still, you can’t have everything and this leads us neatly on to the instruments’ drawbacks of which we can only really think of one significant issue. That’s basically that it’s somewhat uninspiring to program. Sure, it’s easy enough to find your way around thanks to the front panel diagrams but if you’ve just come from tweaking a SEM or/and an OB8, it just feels a little flat.

Of course, if you really want to test your mettle then you could always go for the Matrix 12 which is two Xpanders and a keyboard in one giant case. GForce’s Chris Macleod took one of these on the road with Keith Emerson and comments.

“It’s so deep it takes six months to learn but unless you keep on top of it, you’ll forget how to program it in two days”.

Well known Xpander users include Sascha (who evidently liked it so much he named an album after it), Vince Clarke, Josh Wink, Astral Projection, Meat Beat Manifesto, Nine Inch Nails, Yello, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Propaganda, Joe Zawinul & Keith Emerson.