Formats: Creamware SFP
Sequential Circuits' Prophet 5 is perhaps the synth that would win second place in the 'best-known and most popular synthesizer ever built' award, after the Minimoog, of course. And like the Minimoog, the Prophet 5 has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years with the popularity of virtual instruments — Native Instruments, for example, released their own Prophet Five emulation as one of the very first VST Instruments available back in 1999. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Prophet 5 can afford to feel rather proud.
The original Prophet 5 was designed by John Bowen and Dave Smith, and John now runs his own virtual synth companies, Zarg Music and John Bowen Synth Designs, developing new instruments for Creamware's SCOPE Fusion Platform (SFP). However, in addition to working on new designs, after consulting for Native Instruments on their original Prophet software model, John felt he could make a better virtual Prophet by utilising the DSP power of the SFP, and so the Prophet Plus was born.
The Prophet Plus is essentially John's virtual Prophet 5 for Creamware users, and is based on a Revision 3 Prophet 5. This version used the more reliable CEM components, which have been faithfully modelled by Klaus Piehl, one of Creamware's DSP gurus. However, in the same way that Native Instruments have taken the original Prophet 5 concept further with the Pro 52 and 53 releases, John has taken the Prophet in his own direction, putting the Plus in Prophet Plus and incorporating and building upon features from the original Prophet 10, 600 and T8. A non-Plus version of the instruments, called simply Prophet, is also available, and is a simpler feature-for-feature model of the original Prophet 5.
Installation is a simple matter of copying a few files into the appropriate places, as described by the enclosed brief HTML instructions, and requesting an authorisation code the first time you load the instrument. While Prophet Plus runs under either the Mac or Windows versions of the SFP software, from version 3.1 (or version 2.0 for Prophet), Prophet Plus supports XTC mode, allowing it to run from your Creamware board as a VST Instrument within a suitable Windows host.
It's said that first impressions are important, and my first impression of Prophet Plus was simply: wow. While I didn't have a Prophet 5 to put Prophet Plus up against, I'm almost certain that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference, and it was hard for me to believe I wasn't actually playing a wooden Prophet 5. While I hate to use adjectives such as warm and fat, there's no doubt that Prophet Plus has these characteristics that are so commonly used to describe analogue designs. The lead sounds you can coerce out of this synth are mind-blowing (especially with the help of a little distortion), as are the bass sounds and, well, just about everything else! Listening to sustained sounds as they evolve is particularly awesome because you can hear a level of detail in the modulation that you just don't get with every digital synth.
The Prophet 5 was so-called because it was a five-voice polyphonic instrument, but since DSP technology allows you to scale models to use the available resources, a single Prophet Plus can now be scaled to the equivalent of a Prophet 16, taking 76 percent of the available resources on a 19-DSP SFP system. One voice on the same system took approximately 8 percent, and I was able to run 11 monophonic Prophet Pluses simultaneously.
A particularly indulgent use of the new 16-voice limit, as with Native Instruments' Pro 53, is to engage Unison mode, which can turn the Prophet Plus into a monophonic instrument playing all the available voices in unison. I say can because Prophet Plus has an additional setting enabling you to configure how many voices are grouped together in Unison mode — for example, setting Unison Voices to four on a 16-voice Prophet Plus allows you to play four voices simultaneously, each comprising four voices. This is really neat and enables you to create some incredibly rich and evocatively warm pad sounds. However, fat just isn't the word to describe the sound of playing 32 oscillators per note when playing a lead line with Unison Voices set to 16— obese would be getting closer, not to mention the fact that this is a highly addictive activity.
Other Plus highlights include the Wave oscillators, which allow you to load your own mono *.WAV files (stereo files can't be loaded) to use as an oscillator instead of the built-in wave shapes. Obviously you can use any sound you like, but drum loops and other percussive sounds sre particularly good candidates for mangling with the Prophet Plus's filters. And speaking of oscillators, Prophet Plus follows the Prophet 600 and T8 in that Oscillator A now can generate all three wave shapes (adding the triangle wave).
The effects page features onboard distortion, stereo chorus or flanger, and stereo delay, and you can sync the latter to an incoming clock signal, or specify a tempo manually. However, the real fun comes courtesy of six inserts, allowing you to choose any effect you have installed on your SFP setup, including the Masterverb reverb included with every Creamware system — there are also two optional stereo sends for routing the signal to other Devices in your SFP Project.
Comparisons to Native Instruments' Prophet are perhaps unavoidable, and while Prophet Plus is noticeably better than either the original Prophet Five or Pro 52, NI have got really close in Pro 53 with the redeveloped oscillators and tweaked filters. However, I think Prophet Plus has a slight edge if you're after the most realistic Prophet emulation because it benefits from being slightly greedy with your extra DSP resources. Certainly, John's Plus adds a greater number of options for sound designers, and the fact you can integrate it with all your Creamware effects is a bonus. My only slight criticism is that, if you've never used a Prophet 5 before, there are no 'hands on' instructions besides the brief guidelines supplied for the new features. But this is a minor point, and you can always order a copy of the original Prophet 5 manual from Sequential specialists Wine Country (www.winecountrysequential.com) for $24.95, who also sell Prophet and Prophet Plus.
If you're a Creamware user and you want a Prophet 5, Prophet is both indispensable and something of a bargain at $129; if you want a synth that's both a Prophet 5 and something a little bit special, Prophet Plus is well worth the extra money. However, from my perspective, that reviewing an instrument such as Prophet Plus should be considered work is perverse because this synth is pure, unadulterated, inspiring pleasure. Can you tell that I liked it?
Prophet $129; Prophet Plus $229.