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Marion Systems Pro Synth

Synth Module By Paul Nagle
Published November 1995

Following on from last year's modular MSR2 synth, Marion Systems' new stand‑alone Pro Synth seeks to capture the analogue sounds of yesteryear in module format, without recourse to sample‑based synthesis techniques. Paul Nagle lends an ear.

The Marion Systems Pro Synth is the latest in a series of modern instruments attempting to recapture the sound of analogue monosynths, but without their inherent tuning problems and unreliability. Housed in a 1U rackmount, and proudly bearing the name of its creator Tom Oberheim, the Pro Synth is physically far removed from the massive, knob‑laden monsters of yore.

So how far does it succeed in recapturing the glories of bygone days? Well, on paper at least, it should be able to do the business, following the traditional architecture of two oscillators, noise source, filter and amplifier sections, and with a very wide selection of internal modulation and patch routings.


The Pro Synth is 8‑voice polyphonic with just a stereo output pair, no headphone socket, no effects, and no sampled waveforms. A simple multitimbral implementation allows up to eight different sounds to be driven from their respective MIDI channels — a feature that would have been infinitely more useful if individual outputs had been provided.

There are 200 preset factory sounds, the best of which are brass and horn emulations, with organs, bass, and lead following behind. Strings are a little on the weak side, and a few 'funky clav'‑type patches, woodwind, and token sound effects are the only other notables. I didn't come across any real stunners, and many were stamped with a 'sameness' that was surprising, given the synth's pedigree. Marion have taken the sensible step of leaving the 200 user‑programmable locations blank, so you can get right down to creating new sounds without fear of losing anything valuable. One hundred user layers complete the available memory slots, and allow the creation of velocity or keyboard splits and layers. You also have the ability to stack and detune up to four voices — this is how you create some of the synth's biggest sounds. Patches can be selected via a program map or by using MIDI bank select: voices do not cut off as new program changes are received.

Filters And Oscillators

At the heart of the synth is the analogue component of the expandable Marion MSR2, described in December 1994's SOS. Basically, this features Marion's High Resolution Oscillators, and a switchable 2‑ or 4‑pole analogue‑style low‑pass filter, which (in 4‑pole mode only) is capable of self‑oscillation with the resonance cranked up. This sounds a little tame when compared to the wild filters on synths of old, but by today's standards it is quite respectable, producing wide sweeps and burbles, and injecting much of the life into the more successful of the Marion's sounds. The oscillators generate variable pulse and sawtooth waves, but to my ears at least, they are bland, and lack the richness usually associated with classic analogue. Even when the oscillators are detuned against one another, the raw sound is static, and this prevents all attempts to create something unique. This is not to say that the Pro Synth sounds bad — it actually compares pretty well against the current batch of sample‑based machines when it comes to analogue impersonations — it just doesn't sound so impressive when compared to a real Moog, Jupiter or even (Oberheim) Matrix, notwithstanding tuning problems. The envelopes don't have the bite of my old Moog either — the decay is annoyingly flabby and apathetic. If you're looking for cutting sequenced bass patterns, then look elsewhere.


What the Pro Synth does best is zappy brass sounds and whangy filter sweeps, with bass and lead fairly passable too. If this represents the bulk of your analogue requirements, it could be the synth for you. The addition of a unison mode gives a welcome boost to the power, as does variable portamento. Perhaps its greatest strength is the number of modulation sources, which allow for a very wide range of internal patching. The ability to trigger the envelopes independently of any note information is also useful, making it possible to mimic synths such as the Korg Poly 800, which had a single filter for all voices.

Ultimately, though, it's the basic sounds that matter, and I'm afraid the Pro Synth just didn't convince me — but with its many programming options, ease of use, and analogue sounds, maybe it is just what you've been looking for.

The Curse Of The Wall Wart

Although every reviewer complains when they encouter external power supplies, the one supplied with the Pro Synth is the nastiest and flimsiest I have seen for some time. How many legendary instruments can you think of that resorted to such obvious corner‑cutting?



  • Analogue‑style sounds in a convenient rackmount package.
  • Easy to edit.
  • Flimsy external power supply.
  • Not enough real guts.
  • No individual outputs.
  • Only 8‑voice polyphony.


A difficult instrument to sum up: on the one hand it has great programming potential, with a wide variety of internal patch routings, yet on the other, its basic sound impersonates analogue, but achieves only a limited success. Bathed in effects and sitting in a mix, it may be close enough for many situations, but make sure you try before buying.