Review: Behringer Odyssey
In the world of inspirational synthesisers, there are a select few that command the mantle ‘legendary’. Behringer revisits one of the finest examples in the next chapter of a synth odyssey…
The notion of an attractively priced vintage synthesiser is something of a misnomer, with all of the classics being snapped up by creatives and collectors and the serious vintage market seemingly being for a select few only. So the prospect of purchasing a recreated vintage classic employing brand-new components, which shouldn’t fail for many years, is hugely appealing – promising the vintage sound on a comparatively inexpensive budget.
This is where Behringer has been on something of a crusade, with its clone of the Model D alongside freshly inspired designs such as the DeepMind 12 and Neutron. So it’s highly fitting that the company’s latest recreation should be a nod to the legendary ARP Odyssey, often a common bedfellow for the DeepMind 12 and Neutron, but offering a slightly different take on subtractive synthesis.
Best of 3
The first thing you’ll notice, upon taking the new Odyssey out of the box, is it’s reassuringly heavyweight. It weighs in at a fairly hefty 8kg, in keeping with its analogue credentials, albeit with the addition of the ubiquitous external power supply. In keeping with Behringer’s aversion to mini keys, the synth is completely full size with a full three-octave keyboard that feels reassuringly nice to play. Even more helpful in this area is the mounting of the keybed in an all-metal casing; it looks very similar to an original Odyssey case, albeit in metal where the original was plastic, but Behringer has done away with the concept of overhanging keys. This overhang resulted in many original Odysseys missing a top C, due to its limited protection and exposure to the elements.
Continuing the large-scale form factor, the main panel is bedecked with long-throw mixer pots and switches, laid out pretty identically to the original ARP model, but with reverence toward the final Mk 3 Odyssey revision colour scheme, in black and orange.
There is a small degree of lateral movement within the long-throw pots, although they do feel very assured in use. They also offer a little party trick, illuminating with the switching on of power, but with the helpful addition of a brightness control located on the rear panel. This allows for dimming, which will eliminate any glare if working in darker conditions; in fact, it can be dimmed completely, if that’s your preference.
While the markings on the fascia point toward an Odyssey Mk 3, the main difference with sonic makeup to the original Odyssey’s sound was the type of low-pass filter. Helpfully, all three filter revisions are included, from the grittiness of the mark one 2-pole filter, through to the smoother 4-pole designs found on the Mk 2 and 3 revisions. These sit alongside a further high-pass filter and an overdrive control.
To my ears – and with recall from another Odyssey – I have to say that the filter is so close, it’s near-impossible to tell it apart from an original. My only reservation is that the top end of the Behringer low-pass filter seems to top out a shade early, which could of course be nothing more than calibration of analogue electronics. We’re talking very subtle differences here and not one that is going to annoy anyone anytime soon. Elsewhere in the filter section, calibration seems exacting in every detail, which might also be because of the use of the same model of Curtis-based components. Key following is reliable, while generic filter behaviour seems nigh-on identical.
It’s fair to say that if you put an original side-by-side with this recreation, there might be the most subtle of differences, but I don’t think that’s going to change anyone’s life in any serious way. Fronted by the two completely sweepable and modulatable oscillators, it’s got that ARP sound with a very substantial punch in depth and weight.
Being duophonic in nature, one aspect that I always loved about the original Odyssey was the ring modulator: specifically, its intrinsic behaviour between the two oscillators, which allowed for the creation of sympathetic harmonies, filling in the harmonic content to create three note chords from two actual notes. Behringer’s take on this feels completely in keeping with the original concept, allowing the ability to blend the ring-mod element against the oscillators through the mixer. In my view, this is one of the strengths of the original, recreated here with resounding sonic accuracy.
Exponents of amplitude
The original always offered two envelopes, in the shape of a basic attack/release version, alongside the more complete ADSR envelope. These can both be routed in a number of instances to all of the usual favourites; there are superb modulation possibilities too, with sweeping oscillator sync being a firm a particular favourite. The shape feels more exponential on the Behringer, with the backend in particular feeling like it can tail off a little quick. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, it’s just not quite the same as my experience with the original, but again, it’s one of those points that might only offend a purist if they placed this next to an original.
More importantly, the envelopes are quick and spiky and react with the sharpness that makes the Odyssey perfect for those tight and snappy bass and drum sounds and far more besides. As a complete unit and with the very minor purist niggles to one side, the one thing that becomes abundantly clear is what a stunningly good synthesiser the Odyssey was – and this recreation captures the same spirit perfectly, in a package which draws in the player.
On a musical level, I have to mention the keyboard again, being a good quality full-size and highly playable resource, while the pitch and mod controls also surprisingly feel far better than the original. ARP opted to employ a set of three Proportional Pitch Controls (PPC) on its Mk 3 revision of Odyssey, which were firmly at odds with our general preference for the pitch and mod wheels which seem to have won this battle over more recent years.
The PPC buttons relied on pressure being applied; the greater the pressure, the greater the amount of pitch change or modulation. These were never hugely successful, yet Behringer has somehow improved the quality and design and they actually feel far more assured in use. For the keyboard player, it’s a much better proposal than any original Odyssey.
New model army
Behringer has cleverly taken the decision to add some new elements to its Odyssey, with the first being thanks to a tie-in with Klark Teknik and the inclusion of a very capable effects section. Alongside the substantial collection of many different reverbs, there are delays and echoes, phasers and other modulation effects. There’s limited control over the parameters, but enough to offer the user that additional colour that adds another dimension, bringing it to a more modern age. By contrast, the digitised incarnation of spring reverb is beautifully evocative of some of those vintage Weather Report colours, originally emanating from the Odyssey’s bigger brother, the 2600. Okay, you can’t thump the side and get the springs to rattle, but it does sound authentic – and if it’s not for you, the myriad of other digital reverb colours will doubtless offer something appropriate.
Another worthy addition to this new Odyssey is a 32-note sequencer and arpeggiator; operating in a pseudo SH-101 style, it’s as simple as hitting record and step-entering your sequence, with rests and accents also available for entry. Playback can then be immediately deployed, with the two-octave transposition allowing for movement up or down. Regrettably, it doesn’t seem to be possible to transpose beyond this, which would have been a very useful addition, but it is possible to alter the swing element of any sequence.
This requires a shift keypress together with the movement of the sequencer tempo control. In doing so, the sequencer tempo annoyingly alters once you un-press the shift button, which could make things a tad difficult and unusable in a live setting. I also can’t help but notice that the maximum tempo of the sequencer and arpeggiator seems quite slow, but then again the review model here we presume to be a very early production or pre-production model, with no manual, so it’s quite likely that minor factors such as this will be ironed out. Added to this niggle list, the portamento seems to exhibit slightly odd behaviour, not operating alongside the gating action in the way that I remembered on the original. It almost seems not to engage when you want it to, which feels a little bizarre.
To Odyssey and beyond
I think it’s important to contextualise what we have in this box; it is, at its heart, a full-blown hats-off homage to the ARP Odyssey and it delivers on many levels as a fully functional duophonic synthesizer, with a build quality which is really very good indeed and is, in my view, far better than you would find on a vintage machine nowadays. Is it identical? Well, it’s very close, but there are a couple of minor points that just seem to make it not quite the same. Should this put you off? Absolutely not.
What I got from my highly enjoyable experience with the Behringer Odyssey was brilliance in sonic colour and oodles of creative potential, just like the original. Though recreations like this are often controversial to some people, my firm view is that we should devote far more attention to its ability to make great sounds that sound pretty much identical to a machine from 40 years ago, while also being a much better playing experience, on all levels. This might be an unpopular view, but some of those old keybeds were truly shocking to play. Once you add in the newer onboard elements, you have a hefty package. And at the price, it’s a bit of a no-brainer!
1. The Odyssey boasts 2 VCOs, both of which are fully tunable and capable of duophonic operation. The classic ARP-styled sync is also offered, alongside a beautiful Ring Mod, for introducing further harmonic colour and growl.
2. The comprehensive filter section brings us recreations of the original three Odyssey filters, found on the various revisions. The Mk 1 2-pole filter offers plenty of grit, while the more sedate 4-pole filters sound gloriously colourful. The high-pass filter allows further subtractive sculpting.
3. In true ARP style, the dual envelope section offers assignment of a more basic AR envelope, along with the complete ADSR. Either can be routed to VCA or filter, or fulfil numerous modulation duties, including the classic sweeping sync timbre
4. The addition of a 32-step sequencer and arpeggiator turns this incarnation of Odyssey into a real performance machine. Programming is simple and quick, while the arpeggiator offers plenty of up/down and random-style patterns, to keep you coming back for more
5. The pitch and mod controls follow the later Mk 3 breed of Proportional Pitch Control and are a significant improvement on the original ARP design. They are quick to respond and as the name implies, proportional with the amount of applied pressure
6. Thanks to a little FX magic from Klark Teknik, there are plenty of reverbs, delays and modulations to add some useful back-end colour. The spring reverb, while digitally generated, offers that hint of 2600, but without clanging upon sensing movement.
Do I really need this?
There are plenty of great-quality monosynths on the market today, with something for everyone operationally or at specific price-points. Many of these tend to be miniaturised in some way, often offering the lower end pricing by way of tradeoff, so where the Behringer Odyssey differs is in its fully sized form factor, which makes it a pleasure to both play and program.
The Odyssey is something of a classic, from its tonal makeup to its signal flow and while offering vintage stylings, offers plenty of scope for interesting sonic creations, which would not be available elsewhere. It’s a little bit different from the rest of the pack, and as such could be considered part of a really excellent pairing alongside other synths. It is, and always has been, very capable for basses, leads, sci-fi sounds and more, while the addition of very helpful and useful features not found on the original will prove very desirable when in use.
- Fully formed true analogue synthesizer
- Recreation of the original ARP Odyssey
- Three-octave full-size key bed
- Onboard arpeggiator and sequencer
- Duophonic capability, like the original
- MIDI available via conventional MIDI I/O or USB
- Multi-FX section courtesy of Klark Teknik
- Three filter revisions included, with overdrive
Odyssey Module £449 (street price)
If you want all that ARP glory but in a desktop form, without a full-sized keyboard, the module version made by Korg is an elegantly designed recreation of the Odyssey, in a slightly smaller casing.
The ultimate software recreation of the Odyssey, from a company that prides itself on exacting details and stylings. It can sound truly original while offering one element that none of the hardware incarnations have, which is the ability to save patches.