It’s been somewhat of a good year for old synths. The act of taking an old, much loved and now highly expensive old analog synth and recreating it, either in software or in hardware is nothing new. For over 20 years, people have been demanding faithful recreations of long lost pieces of vintage hardware, either because original models are highly sought after and carry excessive price tags, or the originals were great but suffered from flaws or limitations that modern technology could easily address. The whole business of recreating these classics is massive. I can’t put a figure on it, but I’d say it takes up a significant chunk of the new synth and sample library market. And in the last 12 months, one synth in particular has been grabbing many of the headlines.
Korg announced, some while back, their intention to recreate the Arp Odyssey in hardware. The moment this happened, copious amounts of proverbial body fluids were ejected from nearly every synth geek in the world. Most people greeted the news with glee, others with deep cynicism. And then it all went very quiet. Until the tail end of January this year when they finally revealed the new ARP Odyssey by Korg to the world via one of the most awful product launches I’ve seen in a long, long time. However, once people started to get their hands on it, it turned out they’d done a pretty good job of recreating this pretty wonderfully characteristic synth.
Learn more about the originals here, with a video from Dave…
And here are 8 videos from synth guru, and close friend, Marc Doty aka Automatic Gainsay, that cover some history and also demonstrate the new Korg variant…
Coincidentally, just before the launch from Korg, another recreation of this instrument was launched upon the world, but this time it was a software version. Having already received many plaudits for their previous attempt at recreating the Odyssey, the Oddity, GForce Software launched its long awaited upgrade, the Oddity2.
GForce have, in one form or another, been in the music technology business for a long while. Owners Dave Spiers and Chris Macleod have many years under their respective belts, having been involved with things like the legendary Twiddly Bits MIDI file series, or part of teams making documentaries or catalogues of synthesizers. Remember the Phat Boy MIDI controller? That was these guys. Ever own a Roland Sound Canvas? MIDI files by these guys. And so it went on until they got involved in software synthesis. Their first attempt at software synthesis was a bold one, attempting (and succeeding) to recreate the mighty Mellotron. The resulting M-Tron Pro garnered rave reviews and almost singlehandedly reintroduced the hugely desirable, yet much maligned, instrument to the masses, and the pop charts! They followed it up with the first Oddity, which won similar praise. And since then, they have introduced a number of high quality, supremely powerful yet highly affordable synths, each drawing inspiration from synths gone by and yet adding so much more into the experience. GForce have an uncanny knack of letting you have your cake and eat it by recreating everything that was great about the original and then enhancing it with new workflows and previously impossible or unthought of features, thus giving you a “Dream” version of your favourite classics.
And so it is thus with Oddity2. This one has long been in development. I remember visiting Dave in his legendary synth cave a couple of years ago and he told me to have a look at this thing, provided I kept my mouth shut (something he has since guaranteed through legally binding NDA’s! 😉 ) and I couldn’t believe that what I was hearing was, at its very heart, a recreation of the Odyssey. And that really is something that has carried through in to the final product. I used to think the original Oddity was pretty limited and unique. I never owned it, playing with it on a friends computer, so I would never profess to being that knowledgable about it, but the Oddity2 instantly declares its intentions the moment you fire it up.
It sounds big, rich, searing and powerful all in one note. The first patch that loads up, ‘Titanic Sync’ is all of that. This instrument is really far more than a recreation of an Odyssey. It takes everything that the Odyssey was and then just ramps it up. Of course, if all you want it a faithful Odyssey recreation, this is it, but very soon, you’re digging into all the extra features, many of which were impossible on the original hardware. And yet, they’ve gone to great lengths to retain much of what made the original unique. Take the PPC (Proportional Pitch Control). On the original, these were three pressure sensitive pads. the left and right basically acted like a pitch bend. Left took you flat, right made it sharp. The central pad was the modulation wheel equivalent. Oddity recreates these but maps them to the more traditional wheels but also adds stuff too. For example, as well as the +/-2 octave transpose switch and pink/white noise switch found on the original, you now have a portamento controller, a bend range slider (1-24 semitones) and a direct PPC LFO slider, allowing you to easily control the rate of vibrato for the modulation wheel. But it’s the addition of a sub VCO that really dominates this typically sparse section of the original’s panel. Oddity2 now makes the original a 3 oscillator synth with all of the joys that now brings!
The Odyssey was monophonic and duophonic, but the GForce team have enhanced that too, adding Mono Legato and Polyphonic modes. You can now play massive chords on an Odyssey! And boy is it rewarding. If that wasn’t enough, you can now experience all three of the original hardware’s filters. There were three versions of the Odyssey and each came with its own unique filter, the second of which was a little naughty as it borrowed from one of Moog’s filters, hence the need for the 2nd revision found in the final version of the Odyssey. Now you can experience all three and reap their respective qualities. Much of the panel will look very familiar to those who’ve used an Odyssey in the past, including the brightly coloured slider knobs and orange on black colour scheme, borrowed from the third variant of the hardware.
Below the panel is the bank/patch section which also houses the patch morph, set up functions, tuning and panic and hold buttons. But it is what is contained on the panel above the main section that is of most interest. The Odyssey only ever had one LFO and limited capabilities because of it. However, the Oddity now allows you to assign an LFO to virtually any function of the instrument, allowing for some amazing control over the synth’s parameters. Click on the slider and the XLFO panel lights up and you can choose from 10 different waveforms and attendant settings. This is what I mean when I say that GForce truly deliver your dream version of an instrument. What was once a unique, yet limited machine is now completely brought into the 21st century but, most importantly, losing nothing of what made it unique in the first place.
I’m at a loss to think of anything they could’ve done with Oddity2 to make it any better, aside from attaching a physical hardware body to it! I would go as far to say that Oddity2 is as good as software based virtual analog gets. That’s a pretty bold claim because there are some amazing VA synths out there but for me, it’s the combination of straight-forward use, amazing sound and a desire to stay faithful to the original whilst making it infinitely better that puts this instrument beyond any other VA synth out there at the moment. It will cater for all your needs, whether you want searing leads, lush pads, evolving soundscapes, thunderous basses and just sheer bonkers noise. And it comes with a copious amount of presets to get you started too. Some manufacturers take an original and try and do a simple recreation with few frills, some take it and destroy all that was desirable in the first place. Few, if any get that perfect balance of instant familiarity and a world of new possibilities. I’m willing to wager, if ARP were still in business today, and they had moved into the world of software synths, Oddity would be what they came up with. Oddity deserves the ARP name stamped on it. And whilst I’ve yet to lay my hands on the new Korg version, from what I’m hearing, many people are regretting spending almost six times as much on the physical version.
GForce’s Oddity2 is available now for £116.66 ex VAT. It comes with VST, AU, RTAS and standalone versions for Windows and OS X. It is capable of operation in 32bit and 64bit environments.
Want to learn more about how to use Oddity2? Dave has put together a superb set of mini-tutorials. Just hit play on the playlist below…