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Dave Smith is a pioneering circuit designer and founder of Dave Smith Instruments. Responsible for developing the first polyphonic and microprocessor-controlled synthesizer, the Prophet 5, he has once again delighted synthesizer enthusiasts around the world with the announcement of a new hybrid synthesizer, the Pro 2.
This monophonic synthesizer is referred to as a hybrid because it combines four digital oscillators and a sub-oscillator that generate classic waveforms with twelve complex shapes per oscillator and thirteen super waves, with two analog filters that share design elements with classic filters from the history of synthesis. The analog filters can operate in either series or in parallel and the digital oscillators can be routed in pairs to the filters. The oscillators are able to modulate one another by frequency and amplitude for creating FM and AM sounds rich in harmonics and suitable for a range of different music styles.
The synth also includes a character section with low-frequency boost, high-frequency boost, sample-rate reduction, bit-rate reduction, and a tape-saturation emulation to further expand the tool kit for sculpting waveforms. The combination of digital oscillators with analog filtering opens up an extensive range of different tonal possibilities, all with that distinctive Dave Smith signature sound.
The first filter is a four-pole, low-pass design inspired by the filter found on Dave’s Prophet 5 synthesizer. The second filter is a state-variable design inspired by the filter found in the Oberheim SEM, the first official analog synthesizer designed by Tom Oberheim, and one of the first modular synthesizers that the world had ever seen. The state-variable filter can be varied continuously between high-pass, low-pass, notch, and band-pass modes.
The instrument features three digital delays, each with pan, low-pass, and high-pass controls. Following the theme of combining the best of digital and classic analog technologies, the synthesizer also features a fourth delay line based on an old-school design of a digital bucket-brigade delay. A bucket brigade uses a digital clock to drive an analog signal over a series of capacitors in discrete steps of the digital clock cycle. It’s called a bucket brigade because the circuit is analogous to a line of people handing off buckets of water to one another in series in order to fight a fire, one at a time, in discrete steps.
Though digital signal processing is always improving on both the hardware and software sides, there are certain designs throughout the history of audio that remain classic. This is where Dave Smith’s unique balance of wisdom and desire to innovate in a field he helped create pays off sonically for the end user. The Pro 2 also features four syncable LFOs with controls for phase and slew offset, four five-stage envelope generators that can be looped, and an arpeggiator section with a range of complex variations.
To build patterns, the Pro 2 features a built-in step sequencer that can handle up to thirty-two steps and sixteen tracks while accepting a real-time input and supporting rests and sequences of variable lengths. The step sequencer can be synced to either an external audio input or to an external MIDI clock for integration within larger setups. It can also be used to control any parameter within the Pro 2’s sixteen-slot modulation matrix with extensive source and destination routing.
If you are interested in modular synthesizers, such as those that can be purchased as individual modules or assembled from kits to fit in a lunchbox-style rack, you will be happy to learn that the rear panel of the Pro 2 offers four control voltage inputs and four control voltage outputs. The rear panel also includes a dedicated gate output for integrating with a larger system.
Not only is the Pro 2 a monophonic synthesizer, but a special mode allows it to be switched into 4-note paraphonic operation. A paraphonic synthesizer is different from a true polyphonic synthesizer in that the multiple voices or notes of the paraphony are not independent from one another. In the case of the Pro 2, the four voices have to share the same envelopes and filtering. Time will tell if this voicing of the Pro 2 will be regarded with such classic paraphonic synthesizers as the duophonic ARP Odyssey and ARP 2600.
If you are new to Dave Smith’s Instruments, or to the world of synthesizers in general, it’s worth mentioning a few of the other models in the company’s product line.
The Mophos, Evolver, and Tetra
If you are looking for a simpler, more compact, and affordable entry into the Dave Smith sound, take a look at the Mopho Monophonic, Mopho SE, and Mopho x4 44-key synthesizers. The latter features some of the functionality found in the higher-end models such as a pressure- and velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keyboard, a step sequencer, and an arpeggiator. Another exciting desktop monophonic option is the Evolver, which uses two digitally controlled analog oscillators and two digital wavetable oscillators. The Evolver also features a 16 x 4 step sequencer and can be daisy-chained with additional units to build more complex orchestrations.
|Mopho Monophonic||Mopho SE||Mopho x4||the Evolver|
For a polyphonic starting point, consider the Tetra, which features four analog voices. Like the Evolver, the Tetra includes a 16 x 4 step sequencer and can be daisy-chained to a second Tetra or to a Prophet synthesizer.
The Pro 2 is a monophonic and four-note paraphonic synthesizer that Dave and his team created when they set out to build “the most powerful mono synth ever made.” The company also offers polyphonic synths with eight architecturally identical voices in the Prophet 8 analog synthesizer, and twelve voices in the flagship Prophet 12 hybrid digital/analog synthesizer. A few variations exist for both units, such as modules with and without keyboards, as well as a special version of the Prophet 8 that utilizes potentiometers for more vintage rotary control. If you haven’t yet heard a Prophet 12, you have to experience it for yourself. Every great synthesizer manufacturer such as Moog, Korg, Nord, Oberheim, and ARP, to name a few, all have a characteristic sound. The Dave Smith sound is special.
|Prophet 8 analog module||Prophet 12 hybrid digital/analog module||Prophet 8 - with potentiometers||Prophet 12|
One of the most exciting and fun products offered by DSI is the Tempest, an analog drum machine that utilizes six analog synthesis voices and a performance operating system on a 256 x 64 OLED display, to let you make beats on the fly. The drum machine includes sixteen drum pads and two touch-sensitive ribbons, to program note changes and affect the overall sound. Each voice has a direct voice output for recording each voice on its own channel through your analog-to-digital converter into your DAW. It also features a stereo output mix that can be routed through the device’s stereo analog compressor, and distortion circuits to add color and character to the sound.
Whether you are new to the world of analog and hybrid digital/analog synthesizers or you have walls of racks in your home studio filled with classic and modern units, the Pro 2 and the rest of Dave Smith’s designs are definitely worth an audition.