If you were able to jump in a time machine and return to 1972 with a feisty interest in synthesis, you’d find yourself with two important questions to answer. The first would be: am I Moog, or am I Odyssey? And the second: where am I going to find two grand?
Designed and built for ARP by Alan R Pearlman (the company’s founder), the original Odyssey provided stiff competition for Bob Moog’s classic MiniMoog, largely on the strength of the weird and wacky sounds that would willingly squirt out of it. The Odyssey has retained a key following, and recent years have seen a number of soft synths attempt to recapture its distinctive sound.
Meanwhile, Creamware has been providing classic synth emulations in hardware boxes. Their burgeoning ASB range features the Prodyssey, a souped-up Odyssey for the here and now.
It’s important to know that Creamware hasn't simply re-made the Odyssey; it hasn't found one, opened it up and copied the design and build diode for diode. What it has done, however, is to study one very carefully, mimic the original fairly faithfully and then cram in all of the benefits of the last 30 years of synth design to produce something more up to date.
This might seem like a particularly bold move, but if you just want the sound of the Odyssey then the second hand pages are for you. So, what’s old and what’s new?
Well, the original Odyssey featured two sync’able oscillators, with variable pulse width. Then came the distinctive filter and amp sections with their envelopes. Also onboard was an LFO with a sample and hold waveform, which perhaps did more to put the Odyssey on the map than any other single feature. After all, this was a sound designer’s dream, with Star Wars’ and Doctor Who’s soundtracks amongst the beneficiaries.
Creamware has taken this core design and added a few tricks of its own. Firstly, it has upped the voice count from the original’s monophony to 12 voices. Secondly, the modulation capabilities have been overhauled so that many more parameters can move and flow from the envelopes and the LFOs. Creamware has also added the same effects as features on the MiniMax and Pro-12 ASBs.
However, by far the most significant addition is that Creamware has taken the filter section from the MiniMax ASB and incorporated it here alongside the Prodyssey’s own Odyssey filter remake. This will raise a few eyebrows amongst the more straightlaced synth purists, but anything that takes up shelf-space in this day and age needs to offer something unique, and this is one hell of a touch.
So, how does it all sound? In two words: pretty wonderful. Aside from the authenticity, to which we’ll return in a moment, the Prodyssey is by turns warm, full and rich. However, it’s the wonderful sample and hold LFO that takes a star turn on many a preset that really sets the Prodyssey aside from so many of its contemporaries. Loads of synths feature something similar, but none sound quite like this. Whether you want burbling sequences or R2D2 lo-fimachine gurgles, you’ll find what you need here.
As for the authenticity issue, once you’ve stripped away the effects, ignored the MiniMax filter and only allowed yourself a single finger press, you’ll be pleased by any direct comparison to the Odyssey.
It's when you start tweaking that the choice of filtering becomes so wonderful. The original Odyssey’s filter was distinctive enough but was much less rich than its Moog counterpart. To have both available on the same unit is great and toggling between them as a sequence plays will become a favourite live effect for onstage users.
The two gripes with the unit are the lack of a headphone port, for which there is ample space, plus a slightly flakey power supply, which had to be twizzled in its port before working on the review model.
Same but different
The Odyssey ASB is a bold, thoroughly great synth to play. It does sound like the original Odyssey, but it also manages to be its own boss, with its own agenda and tricks.
Twelve Odyssey voices lie under the slick interface and the addition of the filter section borrowed from Creamware’s MiniMoog emulation effectively ends 30 years of healthy competition as the two heavy-hitters from that period finally come together under one set of knobs and sliders.
The instrument is a programmer’s dream, with an intuitive, bold surface that simply begs you to get a-twiddling. Yes, there are good software emulations available for less money, so you should check the competition, but the Prodyssey offers something new. Go on. Take a closer look.