ARP Odyssey

Produced: 1972 Made in: United States Designed by: Alan R. Pearlman Number produced: 3,000 Synthesis system: analog, subtractive Price new: $1,995 Today's
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Produced: 1972Made in: United StatesDesigned by: Alan R. PearlmanNumber produced: 3,000Synthesis system: analog, subtractivePrice new: $1,995Today's prices:Like new $700Like, it's okay for its age $550Like hell $300

ARP produced the Odyssey in response to the Minimoog, with the rivalry between Moog and ARP almost stage-managed. Everything Moog did, ARP did slightly differently: a pitch wheel on the Moog - a pitch knob, and later, a pitch pad on the ARP. Rotary knobs on the Moog - sliders on the ARP. Black color scheme on the Moog - colored knobs on the ARP. Indeed, the Odyssey's front panel could not be mistaken for a Moog instrument: it's a sea of minute switches and loosely calibrated sliders with plastic color-coded blobs the size of a Tic-Tacs.

A dual-oscillator, monophonic synth (two notes can be emitted by using different pitches for each oscillator), the Odyssey is a cut-down version of ARP's earlier 2600 synthesizer. Voltage-controlled oscillators offer switchable sawtooth/pulse waveforms, and coarse and fine tuning. Pulse width can be controlled manually or modulated using an LFO or the ADSR envelope generator.

You get a static highpass filter and a dynamic lowpass filter. The lowpass filter offers variable cutoff frequency and resonance sliders and you can set the resonance high to drive the filter into self-oscillation, so you can use it as a sound source. The filter can be shaped by EG 1 (with simple attack and release parameters) or EG 2 (attack, decay, delay, and release). It can be modulated by the LFO, sample-and-hold circuit, keyboard CV, or a pedal.

The LFO has sliders governing frequency and output lag (delay), and the sample-and-hold circuit can be fed the output of VCOs 1 and 2 and the VCF for a range of those classic random space-age sound effects.

The Odyssey is well stocked with features. White and pink noise are available, the oscillators can be hard-synched, you get a ring modulator, and you can also set up repeats and auto-repeat triggering. Wide-ranging modulation permutations make this a theoretically expressive instrument to play.

Performance controls on early models included a portamento slider, 4-octave range transposer, and a far-from-accurate pitch bender that was nothing more than a rotary control with a supposedly safe central area. Later, these were joined by a rubbery pad called a PPC (proportional pitch control), which controlled LFO depth. If you are on the lookout for an Odyssey, try to find one of these.

At the other end of the performance scale, the Odyssey is an excellent sound effects synth, for wind, steam, seashore, bird noises, space effects, and so on.

But the Odyssey was not really designed as a purveyor of static, repeatable musical timbres. In fact, no matter how carefully you try to re-create a sound (ARP made little templates you can sling over the panel so you can mark control settings), even approximations are pretty hard to accomplish. There are no LEDs, and the sliders are way too sensitively calibrated.

The Odyssey makes the ever-tricky problem of tuning on this vintage instrument even harder with its hertz-indicated coarse-tuning slider, and lack of an A 440 guide, button, or position. If you're trying to play with other instruments, slider-controlled oscillator coarse tuning is an almost certain recipe for disaster, as one tiny nudge creates tuning havoc. If you find a sound you really like, sample it.

The Odyssey garners major plus points for distinctively rich basic timbres (check out Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," the unit's extensive use on Ultravox's "Vienna," and the bass on Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" from the Headhunters album), creative sample-and-hold permutations, and thoughtful features such as a pedal that maneuvers the filter cutoff for wah effects.

The Odyssey's fundamental weirdness makes it excellent fodder for drum 'n' bass, jungle, and even hip-hop. But whereas a Minimoog sounds fat, an Odyssey is sharper and thinner. Still, you can tap into the self-oscillating filter on a CV input-equipped model to add some bass tones to the sounds of, say, a Roland TB-303 or drum machine.

ARP made three distinctly different looking models. The Mk I - deemed to have a slightly richer sound - featured a white/gray control panel; a dark gray panel was used for Mk II instruments; and the final look on the Mk III was a gaudy black and orange.

Encasing certain components in resin was a trick that ARP employed from time to time. Some say this was a temperature-stabilizing measure to aid tuning stability; others claim it was ARP's paranoia, preventing anyone from looking too closely at the design. Either way, repairs to resin-encased modules are extremely complex.

Plenty of Odyssey resources can be found online. You can download the ARP Odyssey service manual a page at a time from http://aupe.phys.andrews .edu/diy_archive/manuals/arp, and www.netcontrol.fi/~jocke/arptech/ modmain.htm contains page after page of seriously technical information.