For the past week I’ve been playing with Dave Smith’s new baby, the Pro 2. It comes a little more than a year after the mighty Prophet 12 and, so stylistically similar are they, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the two. Side by side they make quite a pair.
The Pro 2 is a three and a half octave monophonic synthesizer. A quick feature rundown reveals four digital oscillators plus sub oscillator, two analog filters (both new designs to DSI), five envelopes, four LFOs, a sixteen track step sequencer, arpeggiator, four delay lines, analog distortion, USB, MIDI and CV connectivity. Phew.
Let’s look at the audio signal path. The oscillator section is very similar to the Prophet 12. Four digital oscillators with the usual analog style waveforms and some more wavetable-ish waveforms. Every waveform can be wave shaped, which is cool as hell. Where the Pro 2 improves on the Prophet 12 is with the all new “Super” waveforms. There’s a SuperSaw and a Super version of each of the digital waveforms. Super waveforms use the Shape knob to morph between a single waveform and a heavily detuned/unison sounding version.
The oscillator section then travels through the Character section. This is identical to the Prophet 12 character section, allowing you five ways to mangle the signal – Girth (bass), Air (treble), Decimate (bit reduction), Drive (analog style overdrive) and Hack (noisy digital glitch).
Next comes something very new from Dave Smith, not one but two brand new analog filter types which you can run in parallel, series, or anywhere in between. You can sync them, or split oscillators 1&2 to filter 1 and 3&4 to filter 2. The first filter is a 4 pole, low pass design inspired by the original Prophet 5, and the second is a 2-pole multimode with low, high, notch, and bandpass filters (based on the SEM). It’s a welcome change from the usual Curtis filters that have been used in Dave Smith products ever since the Evolver. The multimode sounds open and airy, great for pads and anything with lots of high frequencies. I found the Band Pass mode to be particularly juicy. The 4 pole sounds nice and tight, perfect for more bass heavy patches. The flexibility in routing might be complex, but the OLED screen makes it simple to understand.
After the filter, the feedback circuit used in almost all of Dave’s synths is present, allowing you to feedback the filtered signal from the filter output back into its input, then the signal goes into the analog VCA and delay network, a parallel set of 4 delay lines which can be used for modulation effects like chorus and flange as well as traditional delay duties. The Prophet 12 had the same delay section, but DSI have improved things by changing one of the delays to a simulated bucket brigade delay (BBD) which gives a different, more vintage feel than the other three. It sounds nice, especially when you play with the delay time. Finally, there’s an analog distortion at the end of the signal chain.
So what about modulation? Ever since the Evolver, Dave Smith has made a point of including abundant modulation sources and destinations in his synth and I suspect the Pro 2 breaks any records he might have set in this regard. There’s five envelopes, one each for both filters, an amp envelope and two free envelopes, all loopable. There’s four tempo-syncable LFOs. There’s mod wheel, aftertouch and two sliders which are position and pressure sensitive. The modulation matrix allows you to use the oscillators as modulation sources, which means you can frequency modulate just about anything at audio rates. There’s also an audio input with an envelope follower which again can be assigned to modulate just about anything (side note: if there’s no cable plugged in to the audio input, you can turn up the input gain for feedback). Oh and let’s not forget the four CV inputs!
Probably the biggest modulation addition to the Pro 2 is the sequencer. This is a brand new design. It’s 32 step with up to 16 tracks. Track 1 is a dedicated note sequencer and the other tracks can be assigned to any destination that’s available in the modulation matrix. Each track can have a different loop point. The modulation tracks work by offsetting a value from the parameters current value, which works nicely because you can still go back and tweak the “centre point” without having to reprogram your sequence. You can also record directly by hitting record and turning knobs. The sequencer will intelligently add tracks for every new parameter you tweak. Each step of the sequence can be a tie, rest or can have a slew value, which can help create those slides from one note to the next. My only annoyance with the sequencer (and I must point out that I was working with a beta version of the operating system, so this may or may not be fixed) is that the tied notes don’t slide (ala 303). The sequencer tracks can be assigned to output through the MIDI ports or CV outputs, which means you can use this sequencer with your other gear. Make no mistake, this a powerful tool.
While we’re talking about the CV connectivity, let’s just take a moment to review what that means. The four CV outputs appear as destinations in the modulation matrix. This means you can assign all sorts of interesting things to them. The oscillators, LFOs, envelopes, sequencer tracks, sliders, keyboard and even incoming MIDI (making it a MIDI to CV convertor of sorts). So, aside from the Pro 2’s prowess in synthesis, it’s also a pretty amazing analog modulation source. Stick it next to your Eurorack modular or any cv/gate synthesizer and you’re in for some great fun. And of course, it goes two ways. The four CV inputs are perfect for adding all sorts of interesting modulation sources to the Pro 2’s internal sounds.
What else can I tell you about the Pro 2? Well, I’ve saved my favourite feature until last – the paraphonic mode. Paraphonic synthesis mostly died in the 1980s. Technically, it’s when multiple voices are played through a single filter and amp. So you can play chords because there are multiple oscillators, but there’s only a single filter (as opposed to polyphonic where each voice gets its own filter). Back in the 70s synthesizer components were expensive and in order to offer low cost “polyphonic” synthesis, manufacturers came up with the paraphonic architecture, but as components got cheaper and digital muscled in, it quickly fell out of fashion. Cut to 2014 and it seems to be having a revival. The Moog Sub 37 was announced recently with paraphonic capability, and now the Pro 2.
So how does it work? Paraphonic mode is implemented by allowing each of the four oscillators to play a different note on the keyboard. So you can play four note chords going through one or both of the filters. That’s cool, but what’s really brilliant (and my favourite trick on the Pro 2) is that you can still independently set the oscillator’s waveform, pitch, modulation etc. So each note of your chord can be using a totally different waveform and pitch offset. Each “voice” also gets its own amp envelope, which helps to make it feel even more like a fully polyphonic synth. Throw the arpeggiator into the mix and you get these amazing, evolving, timbrally complex, melodically shifting sequences that sound like they’ve taken hours of painful editing to achieve. It’s a very cool thing and definitely not something you will find in many synths. Sadly, the version of the operating system I had could not yet use the sequencer to sequence paraphonic patches, but DSI tell me this will be possible by the time they release.
Well, I guess you’re listening to the demo right now. The sounds you hear represent one week of work towards the factory patches. It’s difficult to really get to know a synthesizer in a week, but to me it seems that the Pro 2’s strengths are not necessarily what you would normally expect from a mono synth. Sure, it can do sawtooth bass, it can do prog rock style leads, it can even do big trance supersaws, but for me the really interesting stuff is born from the sequencer, arpeggiator and that wonderful paraphonic mode. In terms of audio character, thanks largely to its digital oscillators and character section, it shares a sonic signature with the Prophet 12, but the sequencer and paraphonic mode help to carve it an identity of its own. In short, it’s a great sounding and highly versatile synth. Add to that the very attractive CV i/o and you have a compelling package, capable of deep interaction with other analog gear. I think the Pro 2 will be very popular.