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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.