The Prophet 12 isn't a new synth and has been around a few years now, but Dave Smith have introduced some fantastic synths over the last 4 or 5 years such as the Pro 2, Prophet 6 and OB6 and more recently the Prophet REV2 (the successor to the Prophet 08), so it seemed a good time to perhaps do a 'refresher' on the Prophet 12.
The Prophet 12 is still arguably Dave Smith's flagship synth and along with the Prophet REV2 is one of only two synths in the current DSI range offering a 5 octave keyboard and high polyphony count (12 voices & 16 voices respectively).
Like the REV2, it's also bi-timbral with independent audio outputs for each sound.
When used in Bi-timbral mode the Prophet 12 effectively functions like two independent 6 voice synths.
The build quality of the Prophet 12 (P12) is excellent.
The use of wood across the front and sides gives it an almost luxourious ‘Bentlyesque' look, and the solid metal face plate gives it a reassuringly robust feel.
It looks and feels like a premium instrument and the encoders and switches have a nice positive, consistent feel to them too.
I have large hands and there's enough room around each encoder knob to easily grab one without your fingers accidentally catching something else.
The 5 octave keyboard has an illuminated pitch and mod wheel located to the left (rather than above like on the REV2) and responds to velocity and aftertouch too.
This is important as once ubiquitous, aftertouch now seems to be becoming something of a rarity on mainstream synths these days (as is 5 octaves).
Roland’s System 8 for example offers only 4 octaves and no aftertouch - scandalous!
So it's pleasing to see that DSI have not forgone the aftertouch on the Prophet 12 or any of their other synths for that matter.
The keyboard action is nice and very quick which makes the P12 great for those repetitive baselines or fast solo's. The two slider strips offer more scope for sound control when playing too.
One of the things to remember about the P12 is it isn’t an analogue synth.
This can be easily forgotten when looking at it, because with all those encoder knobs and buttons it certainly looks and feels like an analogue synth and it can sound pretty analogue too, but ultimately it isn’t.
It’s a hybrid synth with elements of both analogue and digital.
It uses 4 DSP based oscillators which in addition to the classic analogue waveshapes of sine, triangle, pulse and sawtooth, also offers an additional dozen digital wave shapes, so there’s a much broader range of sound sources available for selection than you can get from a conventional analogue synth.
There's then a digital editing section called 'character' which allows you to alter the bit rate & sample rate of the waveforms, add saturation or apply a lo shelf and hi shelf EQ – all this before it even reaches the filter!
From this point on though the rest of the synth is totally analogue.
There is a 4 pole Curtis low pass filter (which can be self oscillating), a high pass filter, a tuneable feedback section, 4 analogue delay fx, a stereo analogue distortion and a nice ARP too.
From a playing point of view the illuminated pitch & mod wheels, 2 assignable touch sliders (that respond to position and pressure),the large OLED display in the centre of the synth (with 4 soft buttons and 4 soft knob encoders below and above it respectively) and dedicated bank select buttons and numeric keypad makes the user interface on the Prophet 12 a joy to use.
It is much quicker to navigate than the REV2 and much more pleasant to use as a consequence.
There's also a playlist mode (great for live),which allows you to assign sounds to the soft buttons below the display for quick access.
At first glance the UI of the REV2 and the P12 look very similar.
Both have a plethora of knobs and switches to quickly edit the synth and avoid menus, so you may expect them both to be very similar in use then – which they are…up to a point.
IMO the UI is where the P12 starts to flex it’s muscles and perhaps begins to stake a claim to the flagship label.
There's no doubt that the Prophet 12 has been designed to be a 'complete instrument' and it shows in the detail.
There are lots of what might initially appear to seem insignificant little differences between the P12 and REV2, that cumulatively make a BIG difference to the overall user experience.
The biggest impact on navigating the UI comes from the larger OLED display found on the P12.
Compared to the OLED display on the REV 2, the P12’s display is much larger and capable of displaying more information, with soft encoder knobs and buttons above and below the display that can be used to edit the information shown without having to switch pages and dedicated bank select buttons and numeric keypad along side it for quickly accessing programs.
The larger OLED display is sharp and clearly shows the information you need when editing.
It is easy to read, but crucially it also allows for the editing of more than 1 parameter at a time.
This is one of the bigger differences between the P12 and the REV2.
The bigger display also improves navigation by giving more visual prompts.
So for example when editing an envelope, it visually shows the whole envelope shape and associated values, or when editing an oscillator the waveform shape will be shown.
This is particularly useful when shape modding as in addition to hearing the change you can see it too – great!
The Prophet 12 is in some ways an understated synth.
4 oscillators PLUS a sub oscillator is a VERY good starting point for any synth, but in addition to that you also have 2 auxiliary envelopes (which are assignable to pretty much anything), a massive 24 modulation slots (8 preset and 16 user), which is twice as many as found on the REV2.
There’s almost twice as many destinations on the P12 too - 100 compared to 54 on the REV2.
The four LFO’s on the P12 offer more shapes as modulation sources too and with FM & AM there’s a lot of little extras that sonically just make the P12 more absorbing.
That’s not to say the REV2 isn’t a great synth too btw (it is and I love mine), but there’s just a depth to the P12, an extra dimension in sound creation that the REV2 (or most other synths for that matter), simply don’t offer and because of the excellent UI and the clever use of the OLED display, accessing the extra power of this synth is easy.
That doesn't necessarily make it a better sounding synth than the REV2, but it does IMO make it a better instrument to use.
Part of the strength of the P12 is that it grows with you.
It sounds like a cliché I know, but it really is true.
The longer you have it the more fond you grow of it as you find more ways of doing things.
For example you can create a chorus effect using the one of the delay fx and an LFO or by using two oscillators and applying FM.
Bizarrely, it’s not actually quite as immediate a synth to use as you may expect.
I’ve owned my P12 a couple of years now, but I was close to moving it on after just a couple of months because I was underwhelmed at first – it’s definitely a slow burn! :)
This was probably because when seeing all those knobs you expect it to be an analogue bulldozer of a synth (more like a REV2), which it isn’t really, it’s more refined than that.
This means initially a little more effort is required to get the best results from it.
The choice of 4 delays for example feels limiting at first, but when you get to grips with it you realise that it's actually very powerful.
The Prophet REV2 by contrast is very in your face from the get go, so if you want instant gratification from a synth with easy to use fx, the REV2 is definitely the way to go.:)
However if you want a synth that gets better the longer you own it and offers greater depth for sound creation, then the Prophet 12 is the one to go for and it is for this reason that I still consider it to be Dave Smith’s flagship synth.
Ultimately, both the Rev2 and P12 are brilliant synths and either one is a good choice for those seeking an easily tweakable polysynth.
Both the P12 and the REV 2 each make sounds the other synth can't, so it's just a question of what kind of sound you're after and how you plan to use it.
Together they are just...wow!
As much as I like the REV2 (and I really do), after having used the Prophet 12 I constantly find myself wishing the REV2 had the UI of the P12, because those little differences between the two I referenced earlier make a big difference overall.
I’ve been lucky enough to own many synths over the years, but I can honestly say the Prophet 12 could be my favourite yet.
It just seems to get under your skin and the thought of ever letting it go now fills me with dread
and If that’s not the sign of a great synth then I don’t know what is! :D
With 4 oscillators, FM, AM, 4 analogue delay fx, stereo analogue distortion, high pass filter, illuminated pitch & Mod wheels, 2 assignable sliders, digital character section, large OLED display with 4 soft buttons and 4 soft knob encoders and the myriad of extra sound sources attainable from the digital waveforms the Prophet 12 just feels like the Daddy of the family.
In light of the recent arrivals to the Dave Smith family it's perhaps easier now than before to overlook the Prophet 12, but trust me when I say that if you were to do that, you'd be making a BIG mistake.
It's a great synth and one that is likely to be regarded in the future as a classic IMO! :)
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Dave Smith Prophet 12 review (and a mini REV2 comparison)
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