iSEM – Review
Arturia has the vintage analog emulation thing down. Their TAE (True Analog Emulation) technology they’ve developed is a premium body of work. They have a history of creating some of the very best emulations of vintage classics that have forever left their mark on the music world. iSEM is the latest carefully crafted, vintage emulation of the famous Oberheim Synthesizer Expander Module (S.E.M.) from 1974. The sounds from the hardware back in the day graced legendary progressive rock, and electronic music artists like Tangerine Dream, and Rush. Today we can recreate those synth sounds not only with great ease on our iPads, but also with the same sound characteristics that made them famous. iSEM delivers.
Attention to detail in faithfully recreating the visual appearance is obvious. All of the original Oberheim functions are neatly placed in uncluttered, and separate screens identified by their own button at the top of the screen. This 2 oscillator sawtoothed legend looks and sounds like the old hardware. iSEM maintains all of the original parameters of the classic that inspired it.
2 LFOs, multi mode 12db Lo, Hi, and Band Pass filter, notch, and 2 ADS envelopes .
This also has some added functionality that expand upon its original, improving the synths overall scope of sound design range.
Noise, Sub Oscillator, Arpeggiator, 8 voice programmer module, FX and more. Here is a link to some more info in the Arturia Official iSEM Trailor
The modulation matrix that comes with iSEM has 8 source to destination banks. Virtual dials control the parameter selection and how much you want of them in the mix. Very simple to use and immediately satisfying. Combined with the voice programmer (next) there are loads of cool sounds to be made.
The 8 voice programmer module (see above image) allows independent voice settings for each. Select the desired parameter by a virtual knob that cycles through all of the routing options, and apply it’s effect and behaviors via additional up/down sliders. How about that!
Well, maybe it’s not exactly the most impressive thing, but it does give you more room to spice up your sound creations effectively.
iSEM also comes with some well emulated analog FX. Delay, Chorus, and Overdrive. Pretty much just the basics. These FX actually sound very nice. The Overdrive really packs a punch. Not a whole lot to say here that isn’t probably very obvious.
Last is the “Pref” section. In this spot you can control the amount of every parameter in 4 banks. Each parameter is selected again by a virtual dial, and the amount by adjusting up/down sliders. So there is really quite a bit that can be done to craft sounds in very fine detail.
iSEM is well thought out and designed for easy use. Full midi mapping control, Audiobus, WIST, and Inter-App Audio ready.
There is no recording function onboard so that also means no AudioCopy.. It works easily with the iRig Keys if you don’t want to use the scrolling keyboard. Play mono or polyphonic by the flip of a switch.
It’s stable, and behaves itself when connected to other host apps just as well as it does all alone. Things were not nearly as simple back in the day of wires and heavy equipment. Considering how things back in those hardware days were so much more complicated, you gain perspective of how truly spoiled we are with today’s technology. Can you imagine the look on Klaus Schults face if you told him in 1975 that his truckload of synthesizers and gear would fit on a device like an iPad? He would’ve Schultsed his pants!
iSEM may not be the most feature rich synth ever made, but it’s not trying to be. This is a special type of sound that is especially suited well for thick leads and warm pads. With over 500 presets there’s a lot to try out, or build off. That’s a lot of presets, and honestly many are totally unnecessary. Several of them sound very much the same.
In closing I have to say that although I am not particularly thrilled with yet another analog synth emulation, iSEM does do an excellent job finding its own place with its head slightly above glut of vintage synth copies we have seen so often. I think we have enough now?
A brand new synth design would be very welcome from Arturia in the future.
If you love that vintage sound, then this is the perfect synth for you. You will get your monies worth. This is a excellent, quality synth and you really can’t go wrong unless you already have a dozen analogs.
For those of you synth history fans I included a copy of some interesting historical tid bits that I received from Arturia in their press release.
Some history from Arturia taken from the Arturia official press release:
“Hatched by legendary synth designer Tom Oberheim back in 1974, the dual-oscillator SEM was originally conceived as a way of beefing up weaker-sounding compatible analogue monosynths of the time before becoming a sought-after sound in its own right — so much so that its American creator came up with a series of successive SEM-based instruments, first pairing up two SEMs with a 37-note keyboard and a simple analogue step sequencer to form the Two Voice, Oberheim’s first self-contained compact, duophonic synthesizer in 1975, thereby beating rivals to the polyphonic punch. Programmability came courtesy of Oberheim’s breakthrough Polyphonic Synthesizer Programmer which — when hardwired into the fair-sized Four Voice (featuring four SEMs and a 49-note keyboard) in 1976 and enormous Eight Voice (eight SEMs set across two tiers) in 1977 — enabled the control voltages of many parameters for up to eight SEMs to be memorised for the first time. Though these instruments were undeniably groundbreaking, quickly finding favour with the likes of popular prog-rockers Rush and electronic music trailblazers Tangerine Dream, polyphony was, after all, achieved with multiple SEMs so each voice/module had to be programmed independently, which was quite a daunting task — even by somewhat shaky Seventies standards!
Fast forward, then, to 2013 and the truly 21st Century musical landscape has changed considerably, as has music technology itself. Today, of course, we take polyphony and programmability for granted, though not necessarily that still-sought-after Oberheim sound. Ingeniously, iSEM quite literally taps into all of this and then some, putting more musicality at anyone’s fingertips than its analogue namesake designer dared dream possible back in Oberheim’s Seventies salad days!”