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Gearhead: Welcome Back, NAMM (and Oberheim)

The live, in-person music equipment show returns, as does a familiar brand

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The Oberheim OB-X8
The Oberheim OB-X8

You’ve got to give the folks at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) some credit; they tried. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage in 2021, the organization pivoted and turned its usual January gearapalooza at the massive Anaheim Convention Center in California into a completely virtual experience called Believe in Music Week, accessible to anyone on the planet with streaming capability. Nearly 100,000 people took part over five days, checking out new releases, watching product demos, and chatting online with fellow attendees. But it was about as fun as a three-hour Zoom meeting.

This year, understandably, no one wished to repeat that experience. But back in January, the specter of Omicron still loomed, and an in-person conference continued to look risky. So NAMM postponed the Anaheim show until early June. This messed with the circadian rhythms of a lot of people in the industry (and the scheduling of next year’s event in April will likely cause that to happen again), but it worked. There really was a NAMM show in 2022, complete with flesh-pressing, hair-teasing, and volume-cranking … and not too many people got sick afterward.

Once you entered the main hall, it quickly became apparent that comebacks were something of a theme this year. And none was more welcome than that of Oberheim Electronics. Originally founded in 1969, Oberheim became a leader in synthesizer manufacturing during the 1970s and early ’80s, making instruments that will forever be associated with Herbie Hancock, Prince, and many other innovators. For more than 35 years, the brand has languished, while its vintage products—like the OB-X, OB-Xa, and OB-8—kept gaining in reputation and value. But recently, founder Tom Oberheim regained control of the company’s trademarks and IP; now, in partnership with Focusrite, he’s put out the first new Oberheim synth since 1985.

That synth is the OB-X8 ($4,999 MSRP): an eight-voice polyphonic analog model that combines all the key features of the synths mentioned above, including their original presets.

“I wanted to come back strong with a new design that brings together the sounds of the greatest instruments from across the OB range, together with the distinctive sound and styling of those synths,” Tom Oberheim said in an official statement. “But we took it even further. You can now combine the various OB voice architectures in ways that produce unique and interesting new sounds and capabilities.”

What’s even more intriguing to analog fiends is that Dave Smith—founder of another historic synth company, Sequential Circuits—collaborated with Oberheim on the development of the OB-X8, and that the two plan to work together on several follow-up products.

Although Oberheim’s return was, along with the return of the NAMM show itself, the coolest news from Anaheim, it was far from the only news. As always, there was a plethora of worthy musical gear to be seen and heard inside those good old Convention Center walls. Below, you can find five of our favorite examples.

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Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.