I picked up a Sequential (DSI) Prophet Rev 2 polyphonic analog synthesizer a couple of weeks ago. After two weeks of playing, I decided to make a recording and talk about it.
First a few terms. “Analog” means that the sound is created by electronics as a continuous electrical signal which is then manipulated by other electronics. I know,obtuse, but that definition is a contrast with “digital”, which means the sound is created and manipulated by a computer. Most of the first commercial synthesizers were analog.
I said it was a polyphonic synthesizer (poly-synth). In this case “polyphonic” means more than one note can be played at once, sort of like a piano, with each note being distinct. The distinct note is called a “voice” – my Prophet Rev 2 is an 8 voice synthesizer (16 voice Rev 2s exist – more about this later). The way this works is that each voice is played by a completely different synthesizer! In the late 1970s, Dave Smith perfected a way for a computer to store values for a synthesizer so that all of the different voices (synthesizers) could have the same sound though the user only has to set up the sound once (one set of controls). It also let the user save sounds. This instrument was the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. It helped to revolutionist the music industry and, actually, music itself.
As you might guess by the name, the Rev 2 is a descendant of the Prophet 5 (DSI = Dave Smith Instruments – it was originally branded DSI, but he got the name “Sequential” back, so mine is branded “Sequential”). It is not, however, a recreation of that instrument (one now exists! and costs three times as much as the rev 2 ;) ). This is a modern instrument in all ways.
One final note – although I have had synths for decades, I have never owned an analog poly-synth. I have had many analog mono-synths (plays only one note at a time (sort of)) and several digital poly-synths, and even one specialty analog para-synth (para = paraphonic – can play more than one note, but it uses the circuitry of only one synthesizer so very limited – see my review here). These are all very different beasts.
The first thing to say is that I love the sound. There is a sizzle that digital synths don’t recreate well and I don’t hear in mono-synths, yet seem characteristic of poly-synths. The tone does have some “analog warmth”, but it is modern. That means it is very tight and very precise, so it doesn’t have that odd randomness than makes vintage instruments seem so organic and “alive”.
There are tools that help liven the sound up, and it helps, when the more “old school” type sounds are wanted.
One thing I knew, but had to experience was the difference between a poly-synth and a mono-synth. If you listen to pop and rock of the 70s, you could tell when a synth was played – it made itself heard! In the 80s, synths were everywhere, but you didn’t point and say, “Hey, listen! a synth!” like you did in the 70s – they blended better. That is, the sound is made to sit in a mix, not stand out. (Yes, this is super generalized!) The synth became like a guitar, organ, piano and small orchestra and worked as part of the texture of the bands.
The Rev two is very flexible and very deep. That is, there are a lot of parameters to shape the sound. You can find a feature list elsewhere, but I will touch on a few things real quick.
The instrument has DCOs – this means that a computer directly controls the oscillator (sound source) instead of just the value of a voltage. This is part of the modern, super stable sound. Although you can only chose one wave shape at a time for each of the two DCOs, they can be modified. One cool thing, is that you can change the shape in real time, giving the sound some movement, from very subtle to wild. This is one way the sound can be more organic.
There are other tricks, some big some subtle but effective. On my demo, I have a big organ sound. Here is something this can do – the high notes on the big organ have a very fast attack (start up), while the low notes have a much longer one. In real life, it takes time for the big pipes of an organ to sound, so this adds to the realism. And this is just not even scratching the surface of the flexibility.
Even though there is a lot that can be done to the sound, it is very easy to program. A lot of it can be done with the knobs, include most (all?) of the basic synthesis. Other things just need a quick press of a button and then a knob can control it – this becomes intuitive pretty rapidly. A few things take a little more to get to them, though still not much. There is a small LCD, and there are a few features that pretty much rely on using it. Most of these are the esoteric things. Most of the time it is one knob per function.
The keyboard is pretty good, but not my favorite (that goes to my Kawai K5000). I think they call it “semi-weighted”. It is very good for block chords and playing quick synth lines (very quick response) and that type of thing, but I have harder time playing it like a piano than I do the Kawai. Or a real piano. With the sensitive response, I tend to hit other keys when playing like a piano and I play to hard, so if there is aftertouch (you can change the sound by pushing on a key as it is being held), I tend to hit it when playing it like a piano. Still, overall I am pleased by the feel and it is great for synth type lines, both poly and mono, even better than the Kawai for mono lines.
I have not looked at the sequencer at all. One cool feature is something that lets you use the sequencer to change different program parameters over time. Yes, there are already many ways to do it, but this can give large, discrete changes to a rhythm.
Another good feature is that there are two “lanes”. What that means is that each saved sound is actually two sounds. Each sound can be played separately with a quick press of the button. The keyboard can also be divided between them, so one sound plays the low end and the other the high end. They can also be layered, so you can get thick or more complex sounds. A lot of my favorite sounds are layered. One problem, though is that each press of the key will use two different voices, so we can now only play 4 different notes, not 8. Yeah, that does limit it. They do have a 16-voice version, and you can purchase an upgrade (user installable board) to make an 8-voice a 16-voice. I may do that!
Overall, I am very happy with the instrument. I can foresee it being my primary instrument for a long time to come – it is that good. It sounds great, is easy to program, is ultra-flexible and is a whole lot of fun. Yes, I get lost tweaking sounds in a way I haven’t in years.
As I said at the beginning, I created a video over the last few days. All of the sounds are the Rev 2. I did add a little reverb to the final mix. I created all of the sounds from scratch, except one percussion sound, that I just tweaked from an existing sound. This was all played by hand (you can hear plenty of mistakes ;) ). There are several sections, so if you start getting tired of the first one (which was based on a chord progression I wrote out for a recent post…), it will change eventually. Promise…
Oh, another note – this is the first recording in my new, revamped “studio”. I replaced my 12 year-old music computer (Windows XP!) this summer. I also updated the music software and bought a new interface – the old one was from the 1990s! So everything about this recording is new, not just the synth!
Hope you enjoyed!