The Sound of Arp

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So. The Behringer 2600 is out, and it costs about a 6th of the retail price of the original 1971 model.
Arp 2600 is an analog synth many have sung about, it is described as a “holy grail” in analog synths. Prices for the originals on Reverb or Ebay may double those of the much sought after Roland Jupiter 8 easily. S
o, what’s the magic behind this exclusive synth, then? Join me on a journey to find out.

First, let me tell you what Arp really means as a synth.

Arp Axxe MK1 2310

Arp Axxe Mk1. Image from MatrixSynth.com, fair use copyright.

I became familiar with the original Arps back in 1990. For a bargain price at that time, I got me a second hand Arp Axxe (gold face) with an Arp Avatar (orange face, more on that later). The true magic of synthesis began only then. There was this keyboard machine with wooden cheeks before you, and it held all kinds of sliders.

The Axxe was a monophonic basic synth, capable of some nice effects but it held only one VCO. It is comparable to the more common Korg MS-10, only less modular patchable.

The Avatar was in fact the same as the Arp Oddyssey (which has been relaunched by Korg in 2015 and copied by Behringer in early 2019), but it was built for guitars. Yes, it came with this nifty long cable with an electro-magnetic pickup element for any steel stringed guitar. But, and this was the truly nice part, it also had the CV-Gate-Trigger in the back, just like the Axxe. So with the Axxe as a keyboard, you had a fully playable Oddyssey AND an extra VCO…

Arp Avatar

Arp Avatar. Image CC BY 3.0 by user Kimi95 at Italian Wikipedia

It was the ease of constructing a sound, that really set the Arps apart from any other synth. Its layout was confined to these sort of outlined boxes, almost as if you had a modular before you. But the patching was already done! No fiddling with colourful cables and which-one-goes-where, just set up this easy schematic of a synthesised sound: set up your VCO (or VCOs in case of the Avatar), your frequency LFO, your Mixer and VCF and VCA, and at last the well-known ADSR envelope.

There were choices to be made with simple switches, which performed the task of patch cables on a modular. Limited, but freeing.

In the end the sounds of the Axxe or Avatar were lush, bright but warm analog sounds. There was this raw soul in the voice of the Arps – a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that made the sounds unique. Maybe it was the certain grit in the attack of the tone, produced by the brief moment when the J-wires nearly touched the contact wire; a feature still recognisable in Behringers implementation of the original Arp Oddyssey. That’s one of the great features of that distinctive Arp sound.

Another one is the Sample and Hold. Together with the externally triggerable LFO, this forms a unique capability of forming random or arpeggiated sequences, of which Korg could only dream. It is only to be matched by the old Sequential Circuits’ Prophet series – aptly used by Kitaro. There is little to add to this feature; it is a sound source on its own.

On third there is the filter. That is a whole other story. I’m not going into depth with this – there has been written plenty about the Moog ladder filter copyright infringement. But in my opinion (I’ve had the both non-Moog filters built by Arp in my Axxe and Avatar) the filters were not bad at all. Self resonating at heart, and an overly sweet sound if you just pinched the rough edge off of the sawtooth VCO.

What certainly stroke me, was the stability of my units. The VCOs didn’t need much of a warming up, they just kept stable overall. Yes, of course there was this thing with the J-wire system, where the main thread would make a somewhat bad contact. Then suddenly the whole Axxe fell out of tune, with whining notes that would greatly fit into Halloween music. But a flat-handed whack on the wooden sidepanel pulled it right back on track.

To conclude: it is hard to describe sounds on a blog. But I hope I can convince you to have at least one Arp in your studio setup – the sound has a unique character which springs out immediately. This goes for the Axxe, the Avatar or Odyssey(Arp, Korg or Behringer), the Quadra, and the 2600 which has been recently revived by Behringer. If you have the chance, check them out in your local shop.

Behringer 2600

Behringer 2600. Image courtesy of Music Tribe IP Ltd.

Behringer Odyssey

Behringer Odyssey. Image courtesy of Music Tribe IP Ltd.

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