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Prophet 08 Synthesizer

January 17th, 2012 by Fitz, Music Synths, Gear, & Tips, 0 Comments

Prophet 08

I love my Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 08 Keyboard Synthesizer . Indeed, it’s become my main axe. Warm and lush tones coupled with modern amenities and all in a compact portable size. Still, there’s a nagging feeling that with just a bit more attention to the user interface, this board could’ve been one for the ages.

The Sound

There are some tones that only a proper analog polysynth can make. I love my soft-synths but they uniformly fail to recreate the warm midrange of vintage 80s synths (although the new U-HE Diva comes pretty damn close). Manufactures try and disguise their soft-synth shortcomings with reverb, chorusing, and delay effects, with tepid results in my opinion.

The Prophet 08′s sounds are as warm and lush as one would hope. I find I’m able to program a wide range of tones and especially nail many “Vangelis-type” sounds like one would hear on Chariots Of Fire or the Bounty Themes. The unit does Prophet 05 but also Yamaha CS80 and some Oberheim-like sounds thanks to its flexible 12/24db filter. It has an abundance of modulation options with three envelope generators and matrix-style routing.

Unfortunately it lacks a high-pass filter and this is the #1 feature I really miss. So many times I’ve wanted to thin out a sound to make it sit better in a mix, have a glassier tone, or evoke band-pass textures; but it was not to be.

Also absent are any cross or ring modulation capabilities. I can’t say I really miss these too much. They’d be nice to have but cross-mod effects are one of the things soft-synth do quite well so I can field these elsewhere.

The Interface

This is where I start complaining. For all its power and quality the Prophet 08 is hobbled by a very mediocre user interface. So much more could be coaxed from this unit if it had just been given a good going over by a talented ergonomist. Here are just a few of my many gripes:

  • All the dials look exactly the same. This may photograph well but it’s hardly intuitive. Even after owning the unit for a few years I still find myself scanning the dials’ labels to grab the one I want.
  • Patches are selected by two endless encoder dials (one for bank, one for patch). This makes selecting a patch a delicate and imprecise exercise that I wouldn’t want to try and perform live. With this board you pick ONE sound per song or you’ll be in trouble.
  • The arrepggiator and sequencer are useless. With core features buried in menus these two options are too fussy to be useful and I really wish they’d been stricken from the feature set. They’re not features, they’re clutter.

Now don’t get me wrong: even a mediocre analog polysynth interface is downright breezy compared to the impenetrable nonsense that is a modern workstation’s. In the wider scope of things it’s not that the Prophet 08 is bad, it’s just that it could have been so much better without costing much of anything and that’s a shame.

Summary

This is an excellent board. It sounds fantastic, has a great form factor, and it’s extremely playable. The interface could use some polish but it’s still very usable. These types of boards have a definite sound and character. They aren’t workstations (thankfully!) that make a wide range of “pretty close” sounds. Instead they make a narrower set of really, really good sounds. If you’re into electronic music then you owe it to yourself to check out a real analog polysynth – and the Prophet 08 should definitely be on your shortlist.

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