Dave Smith Prophet 12 review

Looking for more great Prophet 12 sounds? My P12 sound bank is now available through Boxed Ear. 99 beautiful electronica patches for your Prophet 12.

I have spent the last week exploring every sonic meandering path I could push the Prophet 12 along. Why just a week? Well that’s all I had, during which time it was my pleasure to make as many patches as possible and I hope you will see a good number of these in the factory presets when it’s finally released.

[UPDATE: After the initial factory sound design week, I elected to purchase the Prophet 12 – probably as good an indicator of my feelings towards it than any]

I guess the first question is did I like it? That’s easy, yes I did. I’ll try and explain why. The Prophet 12 delivers two important things, and it does both with aplomb. The first is power. Twelve voices, each of which has four oscillators and a sub-oscillator, individual FM and AM on each oscillator, wavetables and patches that can be stacked or split into two, using six voices each. Dave Smith has delivered a powerful beast of a synth, no doubt there.

But that would mean nothing without the second vital ingredient, character. The Prophet 12 delivers this in several ways. One of my favourite is the Slop parameter in the oscillator section. This makes the oscillator tuning go all.. well.. sloppy. It’s great for adding analogue style tuning drift to the Prophet 12’s digital oscillators. The Evolver has a similar parameter but it’s so subtle it’s almost imperceptible. It seems Dave has fine tuned this in the Prophet 12 and it’s something I’d like to see on all my synthesisers. There’s also the Character section. Yep, there’s a whole section on the interface just labelled “Character”. This allows you to mangle the oscillators in different ways before going into the analogue filter section. There’s “Girth” and “Air” controls (essentially bass & treble), then there’s “Hack” and “Decimation”, which add digital noise and bit reduction. I found these two controls a little too harsh for any serious use other than the occasional special effect, but the last Character control is “Drive”, a soft overdrive circuit placed immediately before the filter and this one is invaluable. It really helps to add some warmth and subtle (or not) distortion to a sound, but because it’s pre-filter it’s very much controllable.


Moving on, there’s dedicated envelopes for filter and amplitude as well as two more auxiliary envelopes making four in total. There’s four LFOs too. There’s Dave’s usual Curtis-chip analogue low-pass filter, and also an analogue high-pass immediately after it. This is resonant, something new to DSI synths, although it doesn’t self oscillate. There’s four (yes four!) digital delays per voice and a tuned feedback circuit.

In terms of performance, you get five octave keyboard, mod-wheel, pitch wheel and two pressure sensitive sliders. These can all be accessed in the modulation matrix which has 16 assignable slots and 8 fixed slots. The list of sources and destinations is impressive. Notable inclusions are the ability to use oscillators as sources, and a new source called DC, which allows you to push some parameters beyond their normal limits by applying a DC offset to the controls current value. There’s also a very useable arpeggiator.


So how does it sound? Well, no doubt you’re listening to the above demo as you read this so you can make your own judgement. When it arrived here, the Prophet 12 had only three presets saved in it’s memory. Other than those three presets, I haven’t heard any sounds made by anyone else, so I started the process with no preconceptions about how it should sound. That’s a unique position to be in and I found that programming yielded unique and interesting sounds both when treated as a keyboard instrument, but also when exploring more drone-like textures by holding a chord via the sustain pedal or Hold button and tweaking knobs. Listen to the last 2m30s of the demo above for an idea how that can sound.

So in summation I would say that the Prophet 12 is a synthesizer in the “proper” sense: lots of knobs, lots of power, lots of character and lots of sonic potential. It is therefore, at least for this synth nerd, a lot of fun.

34 thoughts on “Dave Smith Prophet 12 review

  1. Thank you very much for the demo and overview. I was already sold on it, but you helped with a great look at what the synth is capable of. Pretty much what I thought, but nice to hear regardless.

  2. I’m sure you have done numerous modulation paths with some of the more complex sounds, how easy was it to go back to review and figure out what you did before?

    1. Nami – yes patches can get complicated with many modulation routings. In practice I didn’t find it too hard to go back to a sound and deconstruct. All modulation paths are listed on a single screen so they’re easy enough to review.

    1. Hi Dollers. Good question. Yes there are definitely differences. For example, the FM on the digital oscillators is nowhere near as smooth as you would get when using analogue oscillators. Aliasing can be heard at high frequencies (it’s not unpleasant – in fact digital “grunge” often adds character to a sound). But the digital oscillator also brings features that would not be possible (or very expensive) to do with analogue such as waveshaping for ALL waveforms, and wavetables. So it’s swings and roundabouts. Not that I wouldn’t like to see a P12 with analogue oscillators, that would be great, but it wouldn’t necessarily be better just different.

  3. Dave Smith is a great architect but his demos don’t do a good job selling the Prophet 12. You’ve done an awesome job of showing what’s possible. I hear some PPG, Prophet VS and Microwave (Curtis chips) sounds in there – Fantastic!

  4. Excellent demo, thanks.

    Did you have a go at bass sounds? To see how deep, fat, crunchy, punchy, smooth… the P12 can sound?

    P12 is for now top of my list. I was looking at some other new releases like the Moog Sub Phatty and this latest moog in a way from what I can tell is harsher than a Slim Phatty or Voyager almost moving towards a more Prophet sound (with some stretch of immagination)… of course the Sub Phatty is a different proposal but talking about sound (and not features which the P12 has TONS which makes it fantastic)…
    Can the P12 take care of the low-end making the P12 a good all around synth? Most audio demos showcase mid/high range type of sounds

    1. Good question. My experience of Dave Smith synths is that they don’t excel at bass sounds quite like Moog synths. Now, that is absolutely NOT a criticism of DSI or the Prophet 12. No synth will ever do everything better than all the others and I would much rather dedicate a little monosynth to bass duties rather than waste the immense power of the Prophet 12. I have a Little Phatty and the low end is gorgeous, but it’s pretty much limited to bass and lead sounds. The Prophet 12 is a different beast entirely. The low end is there, but if you’re looking to make simple sawtooth bass sounds then it wouldn’t be my first choice.

        1. It’s not so much that it’s “not good” for bass. Just that I think Dave Smith synths excel at other types of sound. For example the Prophet 12 is a huge 12 voice monster, that would seem like overkill for your average bass sound. Plus, and this is a purely personal observation, there’s something in the Curtis filters that DSI use which doesn’t reproduce deep bass quite how I like it. The new OB6 on the other hand, sounds awesome in that department!

  5. your demo sounds tremendous. what post fx or what audio path did you use to record this?

    at no point did what i hear get unlistenable or cloudy or harsh. just exciting.

    i’ve had one or two hardware synths in the last 15 year but predominantly i’m a vst chap. this could convince me to move away from the vst world.

    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the kind words. The Prophet 12 went through my Soundtracs analogue mixer and directly into an RME Fireface 800.

      – Rory

  6. just a couple of questions that i can’t see on the dsi site. what lfo shapes do you have and can i say, just osc1 to fm osc2?

    1. As far as I can remember (I don’t have the unit anymore) the LFO shapes were the same as the Evolver. The FM is a bit more exciting, each osc can FM the osc next to it. ie. 4>3>2>1>4. The graphic on the front panel illustrates the circle quite nicely.

      – Rory

  7. I couldn’t find any sounds I liked in this demo. I can get about 20 awesome VST’s with awesome sounds for that money. If I get an analog synth, I want it to do something I can’t already do with my VST’s.

    1. I respectfully disagree…..VERY strongly disagree!!! The Prophet 12 is one of the few hardware synths that I cannot get close in sound with vst synths. I recently bought a P12 precisely because of that fact….and I have thousands of dollars in VST synths. If you couldn’t find any sounds that you liked in that demo, then IMO your probably not going to find likeable sounds in ANY soft-synth.

  8. A virus comes close. I just recived my Prophet 12, but i’m sending it back for a TI2 Virus Polar. Hence, I already own a Virus desktop. The Virus sound comes very close and it’s 10x more versitle. This synth is for people who have workstation or other hardware. This is an add on piece IMHO!!!!

  9. I’ve owned an OB-8, Prophet ’08, and now the Prophet 12, along with a Moog Voyager. I built my own modular synth from PAiA kits in the 1970’s. Yes, I’m that old. In 1980, I wandered into a San Francisco music shop where they were just unboxing their first Roland Jupiter 8, and I was the first to play it – what can I say, but that it was an electronically-induced religious experience. Unfortunately, it was a religious experience only God could afford. Later, I owned tons of studio and synth gear, including the wonderful Oberheim OB-8 – wonderful when it was working, that is. Always a crap shoot in the studio, just turning it on.

    I bought one of the first Prophet ’08’s made, and had high hopes. Alas, I never really loved it. The build quality was flimsy, compared to the Moog Voyager, and I called Dave Smith Instruments to complain – and got Dave, himself. He was somewhat indignant that I’d complain about the build quality of an 8-voice synth, priced at $2200 vs. a monosynth priced at $3600, but I said that I’d have gladly paid more for a more solid piece of equipment. Well, I’d like to think that Dave listened to me 😉 because the Prophet 12 is every bit as solid as my beloved Moog Voyager. And, more importantly, it sounds absolutely wonderful, and has an absolutely fantastic user-interface – something that was also sub-standard on the Prophet ’08.

    The Prophet 12 can sound very modern, with its VS-like waveforms and very high-fidelity circuitry, but can also sound very vintage by cutting some of the high frequencies that old gear just can’t produce. With 4 such oscillators + sub oscillator (i.e., 5 osc per voice!!) and extensive modulation and novel “sound munging” tools that go where no analog synth has gone before (feedback, distortion, FM and AM on oscillators, and a very useful Delay section) I honestly believe this is the most powerful and best-sounding polysynth ever built, bar none.

    Don’t misunderstand – the Prophet 12 will not replace my Moog Voyager, and vice versa. They’re very different beasts, with different palettes and purposes – like a Fender Stratocaster vs. a Gibson Les Paul. Most any guitarist will tell you that you need both. Neither is better than the other; they just offer a different set of colors to paint with.

    So yeah, I’m one happy camper, owning both the Moog Voyager and the Prophet 12. IMHO, the two greatest synths in their class ever built.

    That said, if something else, a Virus or otherwise, speaks to you, then go for it. A musical instrument is a very personal, even intimate choice, like choosing a spouse. No one can (or should) tell you what fits you. So, while I cannot say that the Prophet 12 is the perfect choice for you and your music, I can say that, if you have loved / lusted after a Prophet 5, Jupiter 6 or 8, or Oberheim OBx/OB-ma/OB-8, you will absolutely adore the Prophet 12. It is everything those instruments were, and more. Much, much more, while still being everything those works of art were.

    Thank you, Dave Smith. Thank you for the Prophet 5, which inspired me (and caused great pangs of longing) in 1978, and thank you now for the Prophet 12, which is, IMHO, the culmination of everything we ever wanted in an analog polysynth. The Prophet ’08 was a good start in modernizing ye olde Prophet line, but the 12 is really all of that “done right” and I, for one, could not be happier with the results. Bravo, Dave!!

    — jdm

    1. I have to agree strongly with what jdm said. I’ve owned a Jupiter 6 Europa, had the Prophet ’08, and have a few classic mono and poly syths still in my studio. Both in terms of build quality, functionality and most importantly, sound quality, this thing rocks and is everything the classics were and more. Be sure to download the new OS from the DSI website. There are now filters on the delays which warms things up quite a bit and the Slop parameter can be modulated for all oscs, which helps make things a bit more unstable and vintage analog-like.

  10. Absolutely love your P12 patches! After trying to find sound examples that suit my tastes and hopes for this instrument for several days, I found your patches and they scored bullseye! I’m not a fan of the harsh bit crushing decimator sound myself, and so your patches showed exactly what I hoped for. The range of the synth you showed me so far is incredible. Thanks a bunch for helping me decide. Your music and M5 demosongs were a joy to listen to as well, allmost afraid to listen to what you did with the OSCar sounds, lol. Thanks again and keep up the great work!

  11. hye guys,

    Can someone recommand me a good tutorial about sound synth ?

    This keyboard sound awesome and I am about to buy it. To I am a little afraid because I am new to synth.

    1. Hi David,

      Congratulations on your new synth! There’s a lot to learn, but don’t worry, it’s fun and you can’t do anything wrong. Here are some learning links that might help:

      A Young Person’s Guide to the Principles of Music Synthesis by Beau Sievers (nice short explanations of the building blocks):

      “Synth Secrets” series on Sound on Sound website (in-depth but gets complex quite fast, start at the bottom and work your way up):

      Also, there are a million youtube videos of course. The best way to learn however, is simply to have fun with your synth 🙂

      – Rory

  12. Hi Rory, thanks for the incredibly helpful review. I’m thinking of picking up a Prophet 12 and am torn between the module and the keyboard. Have you had a chance to play with the module? How usable is it? Obviously not having all the knobs is a potential problem, but it also looks well-thought out so I’m hoping to find a review of someone who’s really put it through its paces.

    1. Hi Hans,

      The only experience I’ve had with the module was a brief overview from Tracy at DSI at NAMM. I was left with the impression that you could program the module almost as quickly as you could with the keyboard version. As you say, it’s well thought through and there are some neat tricks to keep the workflow smooth and fun, but my memory of the specifics is hazy. You’d have to check out the manual.

      Hope that helps.

      – Rory

    2. Hi Hans,

      I have the keyboard and have messed with the module. I remember it being pretty easy to use, though working with the keyboard is blinding fast and is amazing for setting up modulation routings and more. For me, I really appreciate having dedicated bank and number buttons to select patches. In short, the extra hardware is awesome but if you can get by with fewer controls and are tight on space, the module is great too!

  13. Best 12voice monophonic possibly.. It has a very special way of doing voice stealing so you cant play slow attack&release in multimode . It’s a shame really, and the customer care has their heads stuck waaay deep down in the sand about it. Still love it but it could have been so much better if they did force faul sharp attack sound on me. it’s not a polyphonic instrument, it’s a 12voice monophonic one, keep it in unuson and you’ll be fine.

  14. Hi,
    i am interested in your patches. They sound really good.
    Just one question: Which user sound bank will they replace?

    Thanks, Arthur

  15. Thanks for sharing, the patches you have created sound excellent!
    Do you still have the P12? I’m wondering how relevant it is in 2017 with P6, OB6, Pro2 out and soon REV2 hitting the market. I’m looking for a poly synth for live use (i have a sub 37 and thinking to replace a nord a1) and while the flexibility and the interface of the P12 seem very attractive, I’m still not sure if it’s the right thing for me.
    I’m a live musician and I play modern fusion jazz. The P12 has arrived two weeks ago and I have been playing with it at home, comparing it to the A1 and Sub37 (of course very different) from a live/gigging board perspective. Thanks!

    1. Hey John, I don’t have the P12 anymore. It’s certainly still relevant. Synths are synths, just depends what flavour you like. If you’re after a pure analogue tone, the OB6 might be a better option. P12 is lovely as a digital/analogue hybrid. It excels at pads, atmospheres and poly synths, whereas the OB6 excels at bass, lead and “classic” analogue poly patches. Good luck in your search.

      – Rory

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