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The success of Sequential Circuits' Prophet-5 shook the synth industry. Monosynths were declared dead almost overnight, and if your synth couldn't store sounds, you might as well have scrapped it for parts.
Every manufacturer that could afford to do so began pumping out competitive products. Some attempted to bring the cost of programmable polyphonic synthesizers down, while others, like Oberheim, attempted to put their own stamp on 'em.
Oberheim had, in reality, been there before Sequential. It offered polyphony in the form of its OB Four and Eight Voice instruments, achieved by strapping a handful of its S.E.M. modules into a case, attaching a keyboard and expecting the user to identically tweak each individual S.E.M. There was even a rudimentary programmer available that could store some (but not all) of the parameters for later recall. They sounded immense, but they were difficult to manage, to say the least.
Oberheim had a bit of a re-think after the Prophet-5 whizzed by, and took the best of its previous designs and combined them into the huge OB-X. It worked a treat and begat a number of follow-ups, each with its own specific qualities and refinements, and each with its own loyal following.
We could have picked the OB-X or OB-8 for our list, but we chose the one smack dab in the middle, the OB-Xa.
Like the OB-X that preceded it, the OB-Xa was available in four-, six- or eight-voice versions and sported a somewhat simplified dual oscillator signal path. The OB-Xa, however, added a 24 dB filter to the OB-X's 12 dB job and, in fact, you could create layered sounds that combined both for a more complex and engaging sound.
And what a sound it was. The OB-Xa may be the single phattest sounding instrument we have ever heard. Users who dare to click that Unison button may have to have their teeth re-enamelled. Yeah. It's big.
As with all Oberheim instruments of the time, the OB-Xa could be lashed together with a DMX or DX drum machine and a DSX sequencer to form a complete Oberheim 'System'. Such a System in full swing was a sight to behold in those pre-MIDI days, a technological wet dream that was far out of reach of all but the most successful musicians of the day.