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  Matrix 12 Synthesizer Module At a Glance
Click for larger view arrowReleased: 1985  Specifications
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Neil Bradley ( ) writes:
The Oberheim Matrix-12.. a DIFFERENT kind of review of one of the most expensive Analog polys of it`s time and and still so on the secondhand market, lets take a look at what it`s made of, what it does and how it sounds..

as most people know, it`s basically the guts of two Xpanders in a bigger box with a keyboard on, 12-note polyphonic, 12-part multitimbral, it loses the individual outs of the Xp (was available as a factory extra and not hard to fit today) and the CV/Gate in/outs, boasts the famous Oberheim "Matrix-Modulation" and 15-type multimode filters, what most people don`t know is that it is a classic example of Oberheim making a silk purse out of a whole bunch of sow`s ears.

Each Xpander/M12 voice is based on the low cost Curtis 3372 combined VCF/VCA also found in the budget Sequential Prophet-600 and Akai AX80, there is enough prejudice for both of these machines to put people off but when you see that the M12 doesn`t even have the expensive Curtis 3340 VCOs of the P600 but instead another low cost Curtis chip, the 3374 dual VCO you really start to wonder. top this off with six cheap carbon rotary encoders for editing, "no cost" Software envelope generators, three "Avery cash register" readouts and a shoddy budget Panasonic keyboard action and you wonder how they`d dare charge £4500 for the thing without getting lynched!.

Just as Oberheim managed to get the rough and gritty 3340/3320 curtis chipset to sound massive, fat and wonderful in the OB-Xa and smooth and sweet in the OB8, they really went overboard with the Xpander and Matrix-12 to create probably the most complex, programmable virtual modular Analog polysynths ever from the cheapest, shoddiest off the shelf components of the time (released 1984/5). after extensive use and familiarity of both the Xp and M12, I would call it total bleedin` miracle.

Sonically these machines aren`t as fat, punchy or powerful as the OB-Xa, but what they lose in sheer welly they make up for in smoothness, warmth and utter complexity and are the First Oberheims since the clunky SEM based 4-voice and 8-voice polyphonics to have multimode filtering. the software engineers screwed the tits of those cheapo 3372s to provide fifteen types of filter including phase filters and combination filters as well as the usual low/hi/band pass types in various "poles", due to Oberheim`s painstaking design and attention to detail those cheap Dual VCOs sound as sweet as a nut and the routings for them for FM, sync etc are superb. 5 EG`s per patch although not the fastest on earth are flexible and modulatable from within the 27 source, 47 destination, 20 patch-cord mod matrix. there are tracking generators, ramp generators 5-LFOs and more VCAs than you can shake a whole friggin` wood pile at. there is still no virtual analog which even comes close for complexity.

Reliability never was a real problem, but the DAC can go (found in a scrap OB8 near you) and there are bugs in the M12`s software which can cause grief with stuck MIDI notes on really fast lines (the Xpander doesn`t seem to suffer). if the mains transformer goes you`re in trouble (rare) and the CPU in the M12 is apparently a non-standard part unlike the Xpander. the Rotary `twiddlers` are hard to find and wear out due to their carbon design but we`re looking into readily-available replacements.

MIDI is excellent for the year, being fully multitimbral and multipatch mode provides the UNISON mode as well as the usual split, layers etc. anything from 12-note poly on 1 channel to 12 parts monophonic with all inbetween make for flexible setups, you can also fake OBX or CS80 Wonkiness and even "wavesequencing" here by having each voice play a different patch (or the same patch programmed slightly different and saved in 6 or so locations), the only fly in the ointment being that you can`t change the individual patches from your sequencer on the different parts like a modern synth (or a CZ1000 for that matter) so those 100 performance memories will come in useful. Patch dumping is brilliant, you can send all patches, all multis, or just ONE and even choose where you want it to load back into when you redump it, great for collating a "best of matrix" from the internet`s large XP/M12 resource of patches. all parameters can be tweaked over MIDI via Sysex controllers so warping your patches in a realtime perfor Both the Matrix-12 and Xpander take the expression "greater than a sum of it`s parts" to total extremety bordering on preposterous, how OB got a pile of cheap rubbish to sound this good is completely beyond comprehension. Sequential cheated with the Prophets 600 and T8 by using the superior 3340 VCOs and neither get even close to an Xp or M12 for sound, refinement and complexity and the T8 cost as much as the M12, it`s just that in the T8 you can see where the money has gone, in the Matrix-12 it`s hidden in those beautifully programmed ROM chips and the circuit design. the Matrix should have been 16-note poly and the Xpander 8-note, the cost to have done this would have been minimal especially if you take the original shop prices. shame.

Comments About the Sounds:
Smooth but still `live`

(Thanks to Neil Bradley for this info.)

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