Studio Electronics Omega8

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I'll start with the basics. The Omega 8 is an eight-voice hybrid analogue/digital polysynth that offers two oscillators, a filter and an amplifier per voice. Sound shaping is provided by three contour generators, one of which you can assign to any three of 19 possible destinations. Modulation is supplied by two LFOs, again with a range of destinations. Niceties include oscillator sync, cross-mod, programmable glide, and an extensive MIDI implementation. There's also a Multi mode that offers a range of multitimbral facilities, plus individual signal outputs and inputs for each voice card that allow you to use the Omega 8 as a bank of individual monosynths, or as a set of limited signal processors. But the feature list is vintage synth-like in feel, by which I mean there are none of the bells and whistles we now associate with polyphonic synths: built-in multi-effects units, phrase recorders and the like.

All of this arrives in a 4U rack that offers 33 knobs, 35 illuminated buttons, and a small 16 x 2 LCD (for a head-on look at the front panel, check out page 208). Editing is a two-stage affair. You can effect simple changes by turning a knob, but detailed editing requires you to dip into each section's menus. However, twiddling a knob does not take the on-screen editing system to the appropriate menu, so you must select this by pressing one of the numerous 'Edit' buttons located across the panel.

Only one of the three knob-behaviour modes mentioned in the manual is currently implemented. This is 'Jump', which means that when you start to turn a knob, the associated parameter jumps to the value represented by the knob's current position. The manual suggests that Edit mode will turn the knobs into incremental controls, increasing or decreasing the parameter as you turn them clockwise or anticlockwise (respectively) irrespective of the current position, while Match mode will require you to move the knob 'through' the saved value before it affects the parameter. According to Studio Electronics, these modes will become active at the next OS revision, which is due soon.

Once in an edit page, you move around using the three cursor keys, and change values using the so-called Q knob. However, with no numeric keypad and no 'fast' mode, you can spend inordinate amounts of time twisting, and twisting, and twisting. Parameters can pass directly from 127 to 0, or from 0 to 127, which makes it quicker to move between extremes, but it's still slow. What's more, there's no comparison of the parameter's control-panel value and the saved one. Sure, there's a Compare function that compares the complete front-panel sound to whatever is in the current memory location, but there's nothing to allow you to compare individual parameters.

Internally, there are eight voice cards. These have dedicated stereo outputs that allow you to direct each voice to a separate destination, and with the pan position of your choice. These outputs are in addition to the stereo pair to which all voices are directed (but from which they can be defeated), and the mono output.

The filter on each voice card is a 12dB-per-octave Oberheim SEM-style device, but each card offers three expansion headers that accept piggyback filter boards. On a standard Omega 8, one of these headers (per board) is occupied by a 24dB-per-octave 'Moog-style' filter, while the other two are empty, awaiting the addition of further (optional) cards. As on their ATC1 monosynth, Studio Electronics offer two products to fill these slots; a filter based on the Roland TB303, and another based on the ARP 2600 (at the time of writing, however, it's unclear whether these options will be available in the UK — for more detail on the add-ons, see the 'Pricing & Options' box at the end of this review). There are two other boards in the machine: one that hosts a Motorola DSP, the operating system, the memory, and so forth; and the front-panel board that holds all the controls, the associated LEDs, and that diminutive display.

According to Studio Electronics, the Omega 8 is "the world's first completely programmable discrete analogue synthesizer". In fact, there are plenty of integrated circuits inside: every voice card boasts multiplexors, demultiplexors, microprocessor supervisors, quad op-amps, flip-flops, transistor arrays, amplifiers, and more. However, as far as I can tell, these are all part of the voice-control architecture, not the sound-generation system. The Omega 8's signal path is indeed analogue.