The OSCar Synthsizer

The OSCar was a synthesiser that as soon as I saw it I wanted one. It unfortunately came with quite a prohibitive price tag for me at the time £499! So a lot of saving and judicious use of the credit card was required to procure me this beast.

The OSCar was designed and built in the United Kingdom, in Oxford in fact by the Oxford Synthesiser Company, this was the new company of a certain Chris Huggett who had previously been the Electronic Dream Plant which had produced the Wasp and Gnat synthesisers and a small sequencer device for the both of them called the Spider. So you could say that the Oscar synth designer had some pretty useful previous to go on.

The Oscar became available in 1983 and was manufactured until 1985, the later units also had MIDI fitted as standard as the interface began to be included on almost every electronic musical device at that time, the first units that came out didn’t have the midi interface. I had one of the original first releases I think, as it was a non MIDI version and also had the serial number written in biro on the plywood bottom!

When it came to looks there was nothing else that was really like the OSCar. You definitely couldn’t say that it was copied from anything else. It had two massive chunks of rubber at either end instead of the more traditional at the time wooden ends. The sections of the front panel’s controls were also separated by the same rubber and this also served to protect the control knobs as they were the same height. One end even had a three pin recess for the mains plug. Apparently only about 2000 were ever produced so they are quite rare.

The OSCar contained two oscillators that were digital, each could produce the standard triangle, sawtooth, square and variable pulse waves , there was also a pulse width modulation that worked in a way to optimise the best pulse width modulation and didn’t tie up the LFO either. They could also produce waveforms that were additive. By utilising the keyboard while programming the waveform up to 24 harmonics of varying levels could be added together to produce waveforms that you previously couldn’t. You could do that with both oscillators, you could also store the new waveforms that you had created. Although the oscillators were digital they sounded beautifully analogue but by using the additive digital waveforms you could also sound digital, it was like having a Minimoog and a PPG Wave 2, all at the same time or a mixture of the two, all in all pretty dam impressive. There was also a duo phonic mode where you could separate the individual oscillators and each was controlled by a separate key press, again pretty unique at the time especially for a monophonic synthesiser.

The filter of the OSCar not surprisingly also had some pretty unique features, it was really two filters. Two 12 dB’s per octave filters to be precise, that could be combined into a 24 dB low pass filter a 24db highpass filter of a 12 dB band-pass filter. The filter also had something unique, a separation control, this effectively moved the two filters cut-off frequencies apart so you could get two resonant peaks, this could create sounds that you couldn’t get with any other filter. It can best be described as being able to produce an effect similar to how you filter a sound by changing the shape of your mouth as if you make a continuous tone and then shape your mouth to make the vowel sounds A E I O U, that’s the best way I can describe the separation control. By pressing the store button and turning the volume button changed the amount of signal that went into the filter, this was termed drive and again it gave the filter another type of sound, it was always said that the moog filter sounded like it did because it was slightly overdriven to produce a slight distortion and the OSCar filter gave you the ability to do this with its drive parameter. The combination of the OSCar’s oscillators and the filter did manage to produce an awesomely powerful sound when required.

The OSCar also had a pretty unique option for a monosynth. It was programmable! When you found a sound you liked, which wasn’t difficult with the OSCar you could press the store button and then one of the keys on the keyboard and it would store your sound for instant recall you could do that with all the keyboard keys so you had  memory locations for your favourite sounds. This was obviously brilliant for when you were using it live as you could pre-program all the sounds you needed before hand. You could also build up a library of your favourite sounds which you could then down load onto cassette tape or dump via MIDI if you had the MIDI option.

There was also a sequencer built in, that could program notes of different lengths and insert rests, these mini sequences could be stored separately and then linked together to form complex programmed parts, using the trigger input to clock the sequences meant that you could user a trigger from a drum machine to synchronise everything together. At the time this was quite a combination.

The OSCar was the best synthesiser I ever owned, this was basically down to the wonderful sound. It had power, precision and flexibility. I always thought that there was always something more to discover, however many sounds and how fantastic I thought they were. You could just get carried away with the OSCar and I must have wasted many hours attempting to write songs with it. I loved messing around with the sounds it could produce and I quite often would get a fantastic sound and just hold down a key and lose myself in the moment and that power. Luckily I later found out using other equipment lead to me being much more productive in song writing! The Oscar came out to play when a song was written and needed recording!