Like all love affairs, love of vintage gear isn’t entirely rational. Old equipment is often unreliable, noisy and limited. But we still pay inflated prices for classic synths and studio hardware, because... well, why?
A depressing answer would be because it represents an investment. We’ve all seen things we bought new plummet in value like a Lexus being driven off the forecourt. The idea that some might actually appreciate while we own them is understandably attractive. But if this was the only thing holding up the prices of vintage gear, it would be the bubble to end all bubbles.
If vintage equipment was only valued as an investment, it wouldn’t matter whether it was functional or not. But when people hand over eye‑watering amounts of cash for a Yamaha CS80, Neumann U47 or Fairchild 670, they don’t just want to own these things. They want to use them in making and recording music, because there is still a widespread perception that classic gear has unique sonic attributes.
That perception has its roots in fact. When analogue synths and valve gear were rediscovered in the 1990s, they offered a real contrast to what was available new. It took manufacturers a long time to respond to the interest in retro equipment and, initially, they did so by offering digital emulations or by focusing more on cosmetics than sound quality. As a result, they fuelled demand for the originals rather than quelling it. Many years on, we’ve been conditioned to think of the Minimoog or the Prophet 5 as the Platonic ideals of the synthesizer, to which modern instruments can only approximate. But is that still true, or has it become a shibboleth?
When people hand over eye‑watering amounts of cash for a Yamaha CS80, Neumann U47 or Fairchild 670, they don’t just want to own these things. They want to use them in making and recording music, because there is still a widespread perception that classic gear has unique sonic attributes.
Consider the new Rev 4 Sequential Prophet 5 and 10 reviewed in this issue. They cost perhaps half what you’d pay for a vintage original. They are more versatile and easier to integrate into modern studios. They are stable and reliable, and in the unlikely event that something goes wrong with them you’ll be covered by the manufacturer’s guarantee. Yet that manufacturer is the same Dave Smith who, back in the mid‑’70s, turned the world of synthesis on its head with the first programmable polysynth.
The new Prophets are not pale imitations or emulations. They are just what the name suggests: updated and improved versions of the Prophets of the ’70s and ’80s. They can do everything the originals could and more besides, without needing constant retuning or visits to the synth hospital. If you still hanker after an original, it’s worth asking yourself why. Will you make better music with 40‑year‑old oscillators than with new ones? Will your listeners notice the difference?
Many people have a passion for vintage gear. It has ‘mojo’ — that indefinable quality that inspires us. But if even a new Prophet can’t float your boat, perhaps inspiration has given way to rigid thinking — and passion has become nothing more than a fetish.
Sam Inglis Editor In Chief