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Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

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Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Mar 01, 2016 3:06 am

Review: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Introduction

Many reviews have been written about the Prophet 6 (including an excellent review by Gordon Reid in Sound on Sound) and there are many videos on Youtube and similar sites, so it may seem an odd choice of instrument to review here.

That said, the reviews tend to focus on the history behind the instrument and the specifications thereof. I am going to try and convey something of my empirical end-user experience with it, and avoid technical specifications as they are available in any number of other places. This then, is a review of how it works for me in my environment, in the hope that others in similar positions to me may find it useful.

Why did I buy it? (Background info)

Over the last 20 years or so I have acquired a decent collection of digital synthesizers including many of the 'flagship' workstations of the day, such as the Yamaha SY85, Korg Trinity and Triton, Yamaha ES7 and XS8, Korg M3 & Radias-R and the Korg Kronos (to name but a few). Much as I appreciated (and still do) the power of these instruments I found my musical productivity degrading in recent years and it bothered me.

Having spent some time thinking about why this was, I realised that I was spoiled for choice, which is probably a familiar feeling for many of us. The modern workstations incorporating multi-layered performances replete with drum patterns, arpeggiations, articulations, karma scenes and drenched in seemingly limitless DSP power were great fun to jam with but did not lend themselves well to honest-to-goodness composition and music making.

I therefore wanted to take a step back to basics and add to my collection an instrument that would enable me to focus on 'simple' sounds, or perhaps more accurately, one sound at a time. I also felt a desire to engage with the analogue side of things if only to offset the sheer number of digital devices in my home studio. I had recollections of analogue synths from my school days (that mates owned) but at the time my knowledge was sadly lacking and I dismissed them because I was unable to play them 'like a piano'. The ignorance of youth indeed!

In short, I was looking for a machine that would provide me inspiration, and everything I saw and read about the P6 seemed to indicate I might just find it again. This was why I bought one.

First impressions

When it arrived, I unboxed it with respect. Within the packaging sat one of the most lovely looking pieces of gear I've ever seen. Of course the aesthetics are hardly the main point of a synthesizer but for a true synth fan, it certainly doesn't hurt to have something that is as nice to the eye as it is to the ear and the P6 certainly doesn't fail to deliver in that regard.

Without so much as a glance at the (slender) manual I plumbed it into my desk and had a quick flick through the presets. Immediately I felt a feeling inside my chest that I've not felt since I collected my SY85 from the shop in the early 90s.

The sounds I flipped through, many of which were ... esoteric, had a certain undefinable something about them that none of my existing gear had. I hesitate to say 'warmth', and actually that would be the wrong word. I was describing to my wife the difference between digital and analogue synthesizers and during the course of that conversation I found the right word.

The Prophet 6 sounds alive. The crispness of sounds with fast attacks and open filters was quite a revelation to me, and the cosiness of the warmer pads and filtered timbres was addictive.

Never underestimate the power of pure sound

After a while I started to experiment with the knobs on the front panel. I know the theory of analogue synthesis reasonably well, and found that my experience with the Arturia collection of plugins (which emulate a variety of classic analogue synths) was useful.

In no time I was sweeping the filters, modulating this with that, shaping that with the other and falling in love with the analogue distortion courtesy of a single knob at the left of the instrument labelled 'DISTORT' in straightforward script.

The distortion is like nothing I've ever heard on a digital synthesizer. The way it adds a 'fuzziness' to the sound, increasing its depth and perceived volume is quite something, and when combined with a bit of delay (admittedly the effects are digital but they don't seem to suffer for it) it is fully capable of producing some absolutely earth shattering basses.

Realising I was still listening to it through some (relatively sterile) Yamaha MSP monitors, I plugged it into my JBL EON 210 system (which I use as backline when I do the occasional gig) and cranked things up a bit. I was absolutely floored by the resulting sound, and with judicious use of the distortion and low-pass filter sweeps I was grinning like a madman in no time.

The P6 is capable of producing some absolutely epic walls of sound. I don't know how useful these particular ones would be in a mix, but I don't care, as most of the sounds it comes pre-configured with work just great in a mix.

Sonic Character

The P6 excels at bass and lead sounds. I was surprised that it didn't seem to lend itself quite as well to pads. I was expecting some really deep and rich detuned saw-based strings and luscious analogue goodness in the pads department but as it turns out this isn't its strong point. It could be that the filters are partly to blame here, as doing some tests using my King Korg I was able to get much brighter tones out of a saw-tooth oscillator when applying an Oberheim filter (on the Korg obviously) than I was able to with a similar sounding oscillator sound and the P6 filter on the Prophet.

However, the punchiness of the bass, the snappiness of the envelopes and the sonic range of the P6 is impressive nonetheless. You might struggle to get those high-frequency-laden trance leads out of it though.

As for crazy, off the wall sounds - you'll find no shortage of these in the P6.

Inspiration, or wishful thinking?

Having rifled through the presets, and spent some weeks with it subsequently, I now have to consider whether the P6 was worth the cost for me. I have to say that it was.

Since owning the P6, I have been inspired by it every time I've turned it on. I have copious bits of paper floating about with scribbled notes on pertaining to patch numbers, chord sequences, arpeggiator settings and more. I am also now revisiting some of my works-in-progress and previous recordings in order to supplement, or replace in many cases, parts that were recorded with bass/lead/pad sounds from the digital synths and my music is (to my ears) gaining something from the process which is worth more to me than the cost of the P6.

Arpeggiator and sequencer

The Arp and Sequencer functions are basic, but very immediate and useful. The arpeggiator can be switched quickly through 6 modes, and each of these can be associated with a 1-3 octave range almost instantly. Basic, classic, fast, useful. Not much more to say. You won't find fancy arps in here, nor can you define your own but really it's not the sort of instrument you really need to.

The sequencer is a note-only, up to 64-steps affair, with support for ties and rests. You don't have to use all 64 steps, and there is a simple step record function which is a doddle to use. Mess up, and it's easiest just to record it over from scratch.

I'd say the sequencer is most useful for bass lines - the P6 definitely lends itself to the purpose.

Criticisms and related comments

Some people have judged the P6 harshly for the lack of a larger keyboard (it has a 4 octave keybed only). While I am not completely unsympathetic to this view, for me personally it's a non-issue. I have a whole room full of synths, three of which have fully-weighted 88 note interfaces, and several of which are 76-note semi weighted. MIDI being what it is, I have no issue controlling the P6 remotely.

I can see the 4 octave keyboard might be an issue for the gigging musician, but in my case I use the 76-note Korg M3 + Radias-R for gigs. I would find it hard to gig with a 4 octave keyboard but there is nothing stopping anyone from using the Prophet 6 Desktop module in combination with the controller board of their choice.

I find the patch selection a little clumsy on the P6. There are Bank, Tens and Units buttons which means that if you want to jump to a sound that's not in the current 0 - 10 range, you'll need to dance on the selection buttons a bit. I would have liked to have seen am 'inc/dec' type button to just walk through the sounds one at a time with no regard for their location, or even more preferably a rotary encoder. There are certainly no shortage of these for other functions (tempo, FX parameters, arp types) and they are snappy and perfect for the job.

As for the short keybed, one thing I'll note is that my studio is cramped, and I managed to fit the P6 on a shelf just above and behind my Mac keyboard, next to my mixing desk. It's the perfect size to have permanently 'just there' ready to flip on and play with, and I do. A lot.

Conclusion

The Prophet adds a sonic character to my setup that I couldn't get from any digital synth that I know of. It has a pedigree, it's rock solid (unless you don't want it to be - gotta love the 'slop' knob!) it can sound epically huge, or tinkly and delicate. The immediacy of the controls on the panel, presenting everything right there, with no menu diving or parameter selection processes is a revelation. This thing just begs to be twiddled and delivers in spades when you do.

I also love the fact you can hit a button to jump out of preset world and have the control surface become 'live' in whatever form it's currently at. Some unexpected goodies just leap out at you when you apply this mode after tweaking some presets, whereby you get a bit of a mixture of all the tweaks you've made to the last few presents combined with the defaults (for those parameters you've not changed) of the last preset you selected.

With a simple 2-button push you can also initialise a patch to a basic tone for 'ground-up' editing. Joyous.

It looks great, it sounds better but most importantly of all, it is a little box full of inspiration that gives me new ideas every time I turn it on...

... and I couldn't ask for more than that.
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Mar 01, 2016 4:09 am

Quick correction: The Arp has 5 modes, not 6 (Up, Down, Up/Down, Random and Assign). My hour's grace expired before being able to edit the post. Hugh - if you want to edit the original post accordingly and delete this addendum that would work just fine for me.
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby The Elf » Tue Mar 01, 2016 9:55 am

Eddy Deegan wrote:The P6 excels at bass and lead sounds. I was surprised that it didn't seem to lend itself quite as well to pads.
This comment really stuck out to me, and I know exactly what you mean. I have always thought the same about the Prophet 5 and it's why I never bought one. I absolutely love my Pro-One, which has some of the best bass and lead sounds I've ever found, but I don't need a polysynth for that.

When I've been in the market (as now, actually) for an analogue polysynth I am looking for something that will give me those lush detuned saw pads. What your review suggests is that I will probably be equally as disappointed with the P6 as the P5.

It almost seems to be a mutual exclusivity. My favourite pads synths are generally poor at bass/lead. One of my favourite pad synths is the Oberheim Xpander. I wonder how I'll feel and the Prophet/Oberheim hybrid...
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Zukan » Tue Mar 01, 2016 10:36 am

Eddy, have to disagree re the pads dude. I thought it excelled at that.
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Mar 01, 2016 11:21 am

Interesting - of course it's all subjective. I wasn't inferring that the P6 wasn't good at pads as such, just that to my ears at least, the basses and leads are the more obviously stronger features of the thing.

When playing it alongside a King Korg I find that certain types of pads on the Korg using the (modelled) Oberheim filter are easier to make and sound better in a mix than those of the P6. The P6 is more suited (and again, this is to my ears) for pads with a darker timbre and/or more mid frequency content. Even with the filters wide open I can't seem to get the 'bouncy/airy' high frequencies that would make for a better range of pads IMO.

Based on various youtube videos I've seen, I suspect the OB-6 would be more capable of these kinds of pads, though I've yet to play with one myself.
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Mar 01, 2016 11:45 am

The Elf wrote:
It almost seems to be a mutual exclusivity. My favourite pads synths are generally poor at bass/lead. One of my favourite pad synths is the Oberheim Xpander. I wonder how I'll feel and the Prophet/Oberheim hybrid...
If you haven't already Elf, I would definitely recommend getting some hands-on time with the P6 even if it's just in a shop with some decent headphones. It may be that the pad sounds work for you, and in any case It's quite something to play with. I'm certainly going to be having a twiddle with the OB-6 at some point later this year, though right now my poor wallet has been beaten senseless with a number of recent purchases so I need to wait for it to recover a little bit :)
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Zukan » Tue Mar 01, 2016 12:08 pm

Elf's got enough problems at the moment.
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby The Elf » Tue Mar 01, 2016 12:21 pm

:D

It's just a broken foot - pretty soon I'll be out there and in danger of losing a chunk of my savings again!
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Mar 01, 2016 5:11 pm

The Elf wrote::D

It's just a broken foot - pretty soon I'll be out there and in danger of losing a chunk of my savings again!
Good to hear (the 'pretty soon' part), broken a foot myself in the past, got a lovely bit of tin in there now holding one of my toes on :crazy: ... wishing you a speedy recovery.
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Blott » Tue Apr 26, 2016 11:59 am

Eddy I found myself in almost exactly the same position as you.
Over the last few years I'd been looking for a killer keyboard to have as the heart of my studio and had tried an Access TI2, a Korg Kronos and a Roland Jupiter 80 but none of them really inspired me.
I loved some of the sounds on the Jupiter 80 (some of the synth strings were stunning), but it's outdated and illogical sound management just made using it too frustrating.
The epiphany for me was the 'fun' purchase of a Studiologic Sledge synth.
I got it second hand for a little over £300 and absolutely loved the simplicity and immediacy of it - a cracking buy for the money.
It made me realise that what I wanted was quick and easy access to my sounds. Once you need software editors or it's hidden behind menus it may as well be a soft synth and I've already got dozens of those!
However I wanted a real quality keyboard to be at the heart of my setup and the Sledge (though not bad) just wasn't good enough for that, but it had made me realise that whatever I went for it needed to have knobs...lots of them! :)
So Dave Smith was the obvious place to look and I'd always wanted to own a Dave Smith synth.
In the end I decided on a Prophet 12.
The design and build quality was a level up from the Sledge - everything just feels solid and well made (no plastic).
Also...and this is a big one.... it has a FIVE octave keyboard.
Ideally I prefer 76 note synths. 61 key is bearable but I simply could not get by with a 4 octave keyboard as my main synth/controller. This ruled out the Prophet 6 and OB6 for me, though I'm sure they'd sound great.
The Prophet 8 was appealing but it has no sub oscillator and I like my big bottoms! :)
So I purchased the Prophet 12. I swear the first few days I played it I couldn't stop smiling. It sounded so rich and full compared to my other sound sources and I absolutely love it.
It's a lot deeper than the Sledge, but that's exactly what I needed. A more capable synth, but not too much more difficult to use.
There are a couple of things I'd change. Not being able to use the oscillator buttons as solo/mute buttons is frustrating and makes building sounds from scratch more difficult.
It would also be great for live use to be able to quickly switch oscillators on and off.
However, this small gripe aside I love the P12 and I can empathise with you totally on your P6 and I hope you continue to enjoy it.:)
I'm certainly loving my setup now as because not only do I get instant gratification with the sounds, but ascetically with the Sledge and the P12 my studio now look ace too! :)
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:19 pm

Heh, funny you mention the sledge - I'm on the lookout for a decent second hand one myself after laying hands on one at the SOS meet. Those Dave Smith synths are something else though, and I'm extra happy at the moment as I got word from Andertons that my OB-6 should be delivered this week sometime!

By the way, I really like what I've heard on your Soundcloud page :)
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Zukan » Tue Apr 26, 2016 1:05 pm

I might be going with Dave top Andertons this Friday for the OB I believe. Wanna join us?
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Eddy Deegan » Tue Apr 26, 2016 2:02 pm

Zukan wrote:I might be going with Dave top Andertons this Friday for the OB I believe. Wanna join us?
Want, yes.. but can't as I shall be flying home from Amsterdam during the day (flying out tomorrow eve). Sadly, the world is unreasonable enough that it expects me to work in order to pay for synthesizers. There is no justice!

The invite is appreciated nonetheless :crazy:
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Blott » Tue Apr 26, 2016 5:54 pm

Eddy Deegan wrote:Heh, funny you mention the sledge - I'm on the lookout for a decent second hand one myself after laying hands on one at the SOS meet. Those Dave Smith synths are something else though, and I'm extra happy at the moment as I got word from Andertons that my OB-6 should be delivered this week sometime!

By the way, I really like what I've heard on your Soundcloud page :)

Oooh I bet the OB6 will sound great! :)
And thanks for taking a listen to my music too - much appreciated. :)
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Re: Dave Smith's Instruments Prophet 6

Postby Quaver » Tue Apr 26, 2016 6:48 pm

Blott wrote:The Prophet 8 was appealing but it has no sub oscillator and I like my big bottoms! :)


Not a direct Sub oscillator function,but whats to stop you using layer B to act as a sub octave to beef up Layer A

Works for me

:bouncy:
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