With 1,000 on-board analog sounds and a budget price, this rackmount subtractive synth offers plenty of bang for the box.
By Steve Oppenheimer
The Matrix-1000, Oberheim’s new six-voice, 1U rackmount analog synthesizer, sounds good and fat. Though it has limitations, especially for users without computers, it’s easy to understand (given a knowledge of analog-synthesizer fundamentals) and has flexible programming features and a reasonable price tag ($595).
The newest Matrix synthesizer doesn’t have quite the sound of such Oberheim classics as the OB-8, Xpander, or Matrix-12. Part of this is because the Matrix-1000 has digitally controlled, as opposed to voltage-controlled, oscillators, and its VCF has just one mode-4-pole, lowpass-as opposed to the Matrix-12’s 15 filter modes. Nonetheless, it’s close enough to “classic Oberheim” for most purposes. It has a clear sound, courtesy of new technology, and to my ears sounds much richer than either L/A or FM synths.
The unit comes with 800 programs in ROM and 200 in user-accessible RAM; the programs in ROM can be copied to RAM and edited. Many of the imitative sounds (jazz guitar, trumpet, oboe) are disappointing, but the Electric Bass is string-pickin’ percussive, the strings are lush, and the bass section of the piano-a difficult sound to program with analog synthesis-is a pleasant surprise. Serious programmers will undoubtedly take advantage of the 1000’s programming capabilities to create more accurate imitative sounds.
The synthy sounds are much better than the imitative ones and demonstrate the sonic strengths of analog, subtractive synthesis. At first, I found the factory programs did not use continuous controllers very creatively: Mod Wheel 1, for example, brings in frequency modulation (vibrato) at the same amplitude for most of the patches. However, Mod Wheel 3 triggered more creative modulation effects. (MIDI continuous controllers are unipolar but are often inverted within a synthesizer to produce “negative” modulation. The Matrix-1000 can take signals from a modulation wheel and split it into two ”virtual wheels,” Mod Wheels 2 and 3, with one responding positively and one negatively to continuous controller messages.)
If you enjoy programming, you’ll want to modify what’s there or create your own programs; even if you want to use only the factory sounds, you should experiment with the MIDI controller assignments for best results.
The LED readout shows three digits and no names, so unless you have a computer, you’ll need to keep the program list handy.
Bank Lock lets you select a program from the current bank by entering only the two-digit program number (00 to 99); otherwise you must enter both program and bank number each time you select a program. The manual claims that when changing banks or programs for a MIDI master controller that has no program 00, the master’s program 01 calls up the Matrix’s program 00. This didn’t work for me (I used a Rhodes Chroma as a controller), but Oberheim assures me it worked on the controllers they used, including the Yamaha DX7 and Roland D-50.
In addition to the global controls marked on the front panel, such as Fine Tune (± I semitone in 31 increments) and MIDI Channel Select (1 through 16, plus 9 groups of 6 Channels in Mono mode), there are eight modes under the Extended Function label.
Transpose changes the pitch of all programs ±3 octaves in semitone increments.
In Unison mode, all six voices play the same note. Although this means you can’t play chords, you do get a rich, fat sound that really comes to life with MIDI bass, woodwind, lead guitar, or other single-note lines.
Invert MIDI Volume is very useful for (among other applications) MIDI guitar: the ”whammy bar” on a MIDI guitar typically transmits zero MIDI Volume in the rest position, forcing the player to push the bar down to increase the level. By inverting MIDI Volume, the audio signal normally stays at maximum amplitude and decreases as you push the bar. When the Matrix is used with a pair of synths that respond normally to MIDI Volume commands, Invert makes the volume pedal a useful cross-fader between the two synths.
Regarding extended functions, MIDI Echo turns the MIDI Out into a software MIDI Thru that, among other applications, allows layering of daisy-chained synths. Of even more interest is the Group function, where between two and six daisy-chained Matrixes (including Matrix6/6Rs) are summed to act like a single synth. From 12 to 36 voices are allocated alternately, on a rotating basis, to each unit. A non-Matrix MIDI synth can be used as the last unit in the group, but will play no more than six voices.
When MIDI Channel select is set to Mono modes G1 through G9, each of the Matrix’s six notes is assigned to a separate MIDI channel; this is vitally important for MIDI guitar applications. Each of the controller’s strings is assigned its own voice, albeit with the same sound and a common, monophonic audio out.
You can access the instrument’s programming features either through the front panel of a linked Matrix-6/6R, or with a software editor. The Matrix-1000 is largely compatible with existing Matrix-6 editors by Opcode (Mac, Atari, and Amiga) and Dr. T’s (Commodore 64, Atari, Amiga), but both companies have released Matrix-1000 editor/librarians that should be completely compatible, including onscreen lists of all factory program names. (Unfortunately, Dr. T’s no longer supports the C64 for newer programs, so users of this computer must rely on the Matrix-6 software.)
Given the potential benefits of modifying the 1000’s factory programs, having to do all voice editing via computer or a Matrix-6/6R is a limitation, although this approach does keep the cost down.
Programming flexibility in the form of Matrix modulation is the most powerful feature of the Oberheim Matrix series. In addition to providing ”hard-wired” control and audio signal paths, Matrix modulation in the 1000 allows any one, or several, of the 20 modulation sources (envelope generators, LFOs, velocity, levers, etc.) to modulate any one, or several, of 32 destinations (including DCOs, the VCF, VCAs, and other modulation sources), providing a profusion of possible audio and control paths.
Each voice is generated from two DCOs that are capable of variable pulse waves, mixable sawtooth and triangle waves, variably filtered noise (DCO2 only), a low-frequency spike or “click” for percussive attacks (DCO2), or a mixture of the above. The DCOs are summed into one VCF for each voice.
Other major modules include two VCAs, three envelope generators, portamento, and two LFOs that can be modulated by both the Matrix modulation sources and ramp generators for tremolo and other effects. The VCF can be driven into oscillation (maximum resonance) and frequency modulated with DCO1; this is labeled “FM Effects.”
The Matrix-1000 has some limitations: it is unitimbral (plays only one program at a time) and cannot be “zoned” (Oberheim’s term for telling the unit to play only a specified range of notes). There are hardware and software solutions to this (including the new Oberheim Systemizer), and this is not a problem with sequencers or master keyboards like the Yamaha KX88 that can send on a separate MIDI channel for each slave.
A nice feature would have been a cassette interface. Non-computer users could load the many available third-party Matrix-6 programs (except those using splits), and computer users could load special sets without lugging “Big Mac” everywhere. This might have raised the price, but it would make the box more attractive to the many non-computerized electronic musicians. Still, Oberheim feels that 1,000 programs should satisfy most users, especially with 200 as available in RAM, and they may be right.
The manual is clear and explains the front panel well, but says nothing about programming or the subtleties of the 1000; the Matrix-6 editor/librarian manuals tell you how to access features, not how to use them. If you don’t know Matrix programming, pick up a copy of Oberheim Matrix-6, Getting the Most out of Yours by Jeff Burger. The MIDI implementation chart should be included in the manual; if yours is missing, Oberheim will supply one.
The Matrix-1000 is not just for keyboard players and MIDI guitarists. The richness of the layered sounds, the smooth operation of the analog VCF and VCAs, and the unit’s flexible responsiveness to MIDI controllers make the 1000 a good match for MIDI wind controllers.
You don’t need a computer or a Matrix6/6R to use the Matrix-1000; having 1,000 plug-and-play programs is nifty. But editing and storage capabilities make the difference between a nice-sounding box and an all-around professional tool. As it is, the sound quality, special features such as Group mode, and the programming potential make the Matrix-1000 an excellent, cost-effective add-on for studios and computer-equipped electronic musicians.
Rack-mount analog synthesizer
1,000 factory programs, including 200 user-accessible; Group mode; programmable via MIDI; optimized for MIDI guitar controllers
2015 Davie Avenue
Commerce, CA 90040
tel. (213) 725-7870