MATRIXSYNTH: Oberheim Eclipse Stage Piano 88-key Keyboard

Friday, December 07, 2018

Oberheim Eclipse Stage Piano 88-key Keyboard


via this auction

Anyone remember which model was supposed to include a built in M-1000, but never did? M3000 or something?

Here's the description for the Eclipse:

"Oberheim: a controller keyboard which aims to replace your piano, and an organ module which threatens to do the same with your Hammond...

After a few quiet years on the keyboard front, the legendary Oberheim seem to have stepped up the pace of product launches. The perennially popular Matrix 1000 sound module continues to sell consistently, and the more recent OBMX analogue synth keeps the Oberheim profile high at the top end of the synth market. Now the company have launched not one, but two new products, both of which might seem rather out of character: the Eclipse master keyboard/piano, and the OB3, a retro organ module complete with drawbars and wooden end cheeks.

TOTAL ECLIPSE

Physically, the Eclipse is a substantial instrument, with an 88-note weighted keyboard, built into its own aluminium flightcase. The bottom half of the case serves as a base, attached to the keyboard, while the top half can be removed. The case and keyboard are sturdy and well made.

Oberheim describe the Eclipse as a 'piano/ controller'; it's a non-multitimbral instrument with 12 high-quality preset sounds, and though very little editing is possible to modify those sounds, Oberheim have provided on-board digital effects to enhance them.

I'll start the tour of the Eclipse's front panel with the pitch and modulation wheels, which are mounted on the left of the panel, above the keyboard. I always feel that pitch and mod wheels are rather uncomfortable to use when positioned so far from the front edge of the keyboard, but it's a personal point. Moving swiftly on, we come to the two sliders provided for Master Volume and Brilliance, which are nicely notched for precise control. The sounds themselves are selected using the two rows of six buttons, labelled Piano 1, 2 and 3, Harpsichord, Electric Piano 1 and 2, Pipe, Vibe and Jazz Organ. There are also two basses, Electric and Acoustic, which, when selected, effectively split the keyboard and occupy only the first three octaves, leaving the remainder for the main instrument. The last sound, Strings, can be layered with any one of the other sounds, and a Strings Volume slider lets you set a good balance between the Strings and the chosen main instrument.

The Eclipse's effects processor is useful, if not exactly full featured. Physically, the effects section consists of eight buttons, and a slider marked Parameter Adjust. The first four buttons -- Hall, Stage, Room and Ambience -- relate to four reverb types. The remainder access Chorus, Flanger, Tremolo, and a Rotary (Leslie simulator) treatment. Any sound can be processed by one type of reverb, plus Chorus or Flanger, and Tremolo if required, although the effects themselves cannot be edited in any way. The Rotary setting is only available when using the Jazz Organ preset, and the soft pedal then acts as a fast/slow switch for the Rotary effect. The Parameter Adjust slider simply alters the amount of combined effects level in normal use, but it also operates as a speed control for the fast setting on the Leslie simulator when using the Organ preset.

The last couple of control buttons, on the far right of the front panel, access global functions that affect the keyboard as a whole. These are labelled Transpose, Dynamics, MIDI and Demo, and are used in conjunction with selected keys on the keyboard. I assume the Dynamics button has something to do with controlling velocity via keyboard response, but I was unable to detect any difference with it switched on or off, and as the review model came without a manual, I called UK distributors MCM to see if they could help. Unfortunately, they didn't know either!

Back-panel controls and connections comprise an on/off switch, mains socket, 5-pin DIN for the footpedal unit, a recessed grub screw for tuning, and a jack plug for a pedal to control the volume of the strings. Also at the rear are the obligatory MIDI socket trio, a pair of jack outputs for connection to an amp or mixer, and a stereo headphone output.


THE PLAYING EXPERIENCE

The Eclipse seems designed to appeal to club and live performers -- it's fairly simple, it offers stock sounds, and it's built to travel. It doesn't, however, have the hammer action of a real piano, and I found the keyboard feel a little light for true control during quiet passages. If you're using the Eclipse as a master controller, you might require MIDI functions it doesn't have, such as keyboard splits, or the ability to transmit controller information, both features I'd look for in a master keyboard. A greater cause for concern is the keyboard's aftertouch implementation, which seems to be extremely coarse. After setting up a one-octave rise in pitch, on a rack module using aftertouch, I was surprised to hear it stepping up and down, almost in semitone increments, as pressure was applied to the keyboard.


The sounds themselves are very good, with the pianos being comparable to the best I've heard. There are no dramatic changes in tone as you move from note to note, and no buzzy loops or digital noise during note decays. In these days of 64-note polyphony, the Eclipse's 24 notes appear a bit on the mean side, but in practice the difference is hardly noticeable, unless you deliberately try to bring on note stealing. With the acoustic pianos, the Brilliance control is especially welcome, as all three are a little bright in their normal state.

The effects processor, although very simple, actually sounds very good, the reverbs are quiet and well behaved during the decay stage, and the Chorus is particularly pleasing on the Electric Piano 2 preset. The Rotary effect too, is quite convincing on the Jazz Organ preset.

CONCLUSION

After playing the Eclipse for some time, I began to like it very much, particularly for the acoustic piano sounds and the expression offered by the three footpedals. However, I think the keyboard is let down by its feel and its scaled-down controls, which (for the price) could have been so much more comprehensive. I could find no way of storing sounds along with their effects, and a method of selecting patches via a footswitch would have been useful for live work. Keyboard splits and transmission of controller information to remote modules, as mentioned earlier, and effects editing would also have added so much to the desirability of a unit which has been built to last and sounds great. No one has yet succeeded in shoe-horning a grand piano into a portable keyboard, but the Eclipse comes close."


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