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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Product Review: Dave Smith Instruments Prophet '12 Synthesizer

I recently purchased a Prophet '12 synthesizer after much deliberation and consideration. For those of you in the market for an analogue or hardware synthesizer this might be of interest or use to you. Frankly, I couldn't be happier with the product I bought, it's exactly what I wanted in a synthesizer and here's why. I'd been looking at ways of moving some of the aspects of sound design invloved in my production techniques (namely things like sub bass, midrange sounds such as leads, pads and plucks) out of the box, onto something that had a quick and easy to use tactile surface, but also that had a rich, warm analog sound that differed from software synthesisers. In this regard the Prophet '12 was on the money as a workhorse synthesiser in my setup. Not to say that the Prophet '12 can't be used for other sounds and other purposes, it most definitely can, and incorporates featers including filters, delay and distortion. Using a combination of these effects and the multitibral waveforms included you can make just about anything from really soft, warm and luscious ambient sounds right through to dirty, aggressive modulated midrange stuff. But plenty of synthesisers are versatile in this regard, so what makes the Prophet '12 differnt to say a competitor like the Virus TI series, another synth that is hugely popular in electronic music production?

There's positives and negatives to any peice of gear, so let me preface this by saying that it really depends on what role you expect your gear to play in your production as to whether it's a success for you. In many respect the Virus TI series would have fit my needs as described above. However there were a couple of things that pushed me towards the Prophet '12 instead of the Virus TI series and a couple of other candidate synthesisers I was looking at. Firstly, I wanted something that had a proper analogue signal path, to be able to pull those fat, warm tones out of it that you can only get with analog as opposed to digital synthesizers. To the credit of the Virus TI series, they come close with their virtual analog technology. I'd played around extensively with one of my friend's Virus TI synths previously and even went so far as to borrow it for a couple of weeks to really test it out. I loved the onboard effects that it offers, and in terms of multitimbral sounds it edges out the Prophet '12. However after listening to a bunch of demos of the Prophet '12 and doing some A/B comparisons against the Virus TI my preference was for the Prophet '12 sound. Another thing worth mentioning here is that although the signal path of the Prophet '12 is analog, the oscillators are digital meaning that you really do end up getting the best of both worlds. I've been pleased with the cool glassy tones you can get from it at the other end of the spectrum.

However probably the most attractive thing about the Prophet compared to a whole host of other synthesizers i'd used and/or read about was it's elegant simplicity. Using this peice of equipment is a joy, and while other synthesizers i'd used arent exactly cumbersome in most cases, the Prophet '12 encourages you to play and experiment when making a sound by giving you really quick and intuitive access to all the parameters without sacrificing any features. You can change the waveform by selecting an oscillator and scrolling through the multitude of waveforms available, and it will represent what you are doing in real time on the really nice and crisp OLED display. Moving to another parameter is just as easy, simply select say one of the filter types for example and move the cuttoff and resonance and again it will reflect what you are doing in real time.

A criticism of this synthesizer has been the integration with host software, and i'd agree that the software for this purpose is definitely below par, not to say miles behind the Virus TI sseries. However with such an easy to use and intuitive hardware layout, I haven't even needed to install this software. Indeed i'm making a point of not installing it, because as i briefly mentioned before the reason for purchasing this peice of equipment in the first place was to avoid clicking parameters on a software display and use tactile controls to instuitively design sounds instead. In summary, if you want a synthesizer that's going to take the place of using software synthesizers, but you want something thats tactile and really condusive to creativity in sound design, then this is certainly a good candidate. The price tage at around $2,000.00 Australian dollars is a bit steep, but reflects the quality of the build and the versatility of this synthsizer, in my opinion worth the money.

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