As an owner of the original Omnichord System 200m (and a fan of the earlier models), I was thrilled to see today’s announcement of Suzuki’s new Omnichord OM-108.
Suzuki first unveiled the Omnichord in 1981 as an easy-to-play electronic instrument similar to an autoharp, for musical novices. Its signature feature was a touch plate that could play notes and chords simply by strumming your fingers across it. Combined with preset rhythms and tones, the Omnichord allowed anyone to start making music instantly. Over the years, professional artists like Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz have used the Omnichord’s retro charm in major musical works as well.
Its unique sounds and easy playability earned it a cult following (and several digital emulations and sample libraries) that continues to this day. The OM-108 is a new release in response to the growing customer demand (and the crazy prices on the second-hand market) of these past few years.
Overview of the New Omnichord OM-108
If you’re not familiar with the Omnichord history and family, the OM-108 is an electronic musical instrument with an automatic accompaniment function (auto bass chord) and is equipped with a harp sensor (strumplate). By pressing the chord button and sliding your finger on the strumplate, you can play accompaniment to a song almost instantly.
Like the older models, the Omnichord OM-108 is small, lightweight, and battery-powered, making it easy to carry and play. It can be powered by 8 AA batteries or a dedicated AC adapter.
Overall, the new model strikes a balance between old and new. The OM-108 is equipped with 10 strumplate tones, including “omni1” and “omni2” which are the same as those found on the OM-84, reproduced using analog circuitry. It also includes the electric piano “FM piano”, which was popular in the 1980s, and other tones like “celeste”, “harp”, etc.
Each of the 10 tones can be layered with a second tone: Main Voice and Sub Voice, and these can be controlled with individual knobs.
The OM-108 is equipped with a selection of 10 rhythm patterns that correspond to a variety of music styles. For the first time on any Omnichord, the OM-108 features a trap beat (hip hop). SIgn of the times, I guess.
When connecting to an external speaker etc., you can turn on/off the sound produced by the speaker of the instrument.
The Omnichord OM-108 integrates multiple functions that allow you to change the way you play chords and rhythms, such as playing at free tempo, adding bass accompaniment, or starting with a drum intro.
Last but not least, you can send chords, strumplate, and drum performance information via MIDI OUT. Strumplate tones can be sent on two separate MIDI channels (exactly as on the original MIDI-equipped Omnichords like the one I have), allowing for the layering of tones using external MIDI sound sources.
Unfortunately, no MIDI IN/Thru connections, if you were wondering.
To wrap it up, here’s a more coincise outline. As you can see, the new OM-108 pays homage to the original while adding some modern updates:
- Analog modeling of the classic OM-84 sound with analog circuitry
- Both vintage and new Omnichord tones
- Layer two sounds on the touch plate
- New chord options like sus4 and add9
- Updated rhythms and drum samples with popular drum beats.
- MIDI out connectivity
- Battery-powered with built-in speaker
Watching the (pretty hilarious) demo video below from NAMM, I got nostalgic hearing those iconic Omnichord sounds again. At the same time, I’m excited to see a new Omnichord model with interesting updated features.
For instance, the new Omnichord OM-108 is equipped with a drum pad for the first time, and the drum sounds and rhythms can also be played with the strumplate.
My Take As an Omnichord Player
As someone who played regularly with my Omnichord System 200m, I’m most excited about the new sound layering feature. Being able to play two tones at once opens up many new musical possibilities. The inclusion of additional chord options, coupled with the introduction of a new drum pad and strum feature, not only enhances the versatility of the instrument but also opens up intriguing possibilities for experimental music creation.
Here below you can watch the official Suzuki video playlist for the new Omnichord OM-108, with 11 videos demonstrating all the main features, sounds, and rhythms of the instrument.
Pricing and Availability
The Suzuki Omnichord OM-108 is scheduled to launch in July 2024 at a price of approximately $800. That puts it squarely in the middle tier of musicians’ gear pricing, but probably above the original expectations of the Omnichord fan base.
Omnichord OM-108 – Closing Thoughts
In the era of virtual instruments, high-resolution displays, and digital production, I love seeing Suzuki reinvent one of music tech’s most iconic instruments. The Omnichord OM-108, albeit probably more expensive than what most people were expecting, retains the signature features that made the original so addicting while bringing it into the modern age.
For lapsed Omnichord fans like myself, this new model sparks fond memories of days past. Yet it also promises fresh creative potential thanks to the sound layering and other new features. All said, the OM-108 could become both a nostalgic treat and secret weapon for producers when it drops in July. I know I’ll be first in line to get one! You can learn more on the Omnichord OM-108 on the official web page.
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