By Justin Leeah
I recently checked out the Suzuki Omnichord. My first impression, upon opening the hardshell case that housed the omnichord was, “wow this toy comes with its own case, maybe it sounds good.” So I take it out of the case and look for a power source. There is no power supply, and the battery compartment has terminals corroded with battery acid. So I look at the voltage requirements, 12 volts, no problem…this external hard drive power supply should do the trick. I plug it in and hit the power switch and …no lights, and a rush of burning silicon hits my nose. At this point it looked like I was going to need to find another instrument to review. I noticed that the polarity was reversed, so I cut the end of the power supply, reversed the leads, soldered, and taped. This time, making sure the Amperage on the power supply was greater or equal to what was needed by the device. Once verified, I was back on track, plugged it in, and low and behold, the omnichord was singing. What could that silicon smell have been? All the volumes were maxed out and the little built in speaker was hating it. After I brought the volume levels down, it started to come to life. There is a volume control for the rhythm section. One for the bass line section and a master volume control.
My first instinct was to just play chords with the pushbuttons that are laid out with major chords on the top row, minor chords on the middle row, and 7ths on the bottom row. While being reasonably content with what I was hearing, I placed my hand casually to the right of the pushbuttons, which was when I realized what this magical little instrument is all about. The Strumpad is a row of conductor strips that you can strum like a harp with the pads of your fingertips. This strumpad covers 4 octaves, and plays only the notes of the chord button held and across 4 octaves.
I was able to get some amazing sounding arpeggios in the first few minutes of playing. You can also experiment with sustain or vibrato, that is always in tempo with the built in rhythm section. I was getting some really cool distortion when I set the volume of the strum pad a little high while playing it with a 4 finger swipe. It really felt natural and intuitive to me. I was a little disappointed to discover that the feature that I fried with reversed polarity, was the MIDI output. This made me very sad, because I immediately began to imagine the possibilities of controlling all of my software synths using this incredibly intuitive interface. It is good to have many sounds available in your palate, big or small, expensive or cheap. They can all play an important part in the audio spectrum. The Omnichord can be all of these, it sounds like a plastic toy keyboard out of the built in speaker, but the line output yields a rich analog tone that can be manipulated to sound colossal.
Photographs courtesy of Peter Svarzbein