The Prophet 12 synth, after 4 years use in the studio

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Introduction

I got this massive beast already 4 years ago and still use it in the studio. But what kind of synth is it, how does it sound and is it something for you ?
The specs list is quite massive so I will stick to the most important and unique features of this sound design instrument. Because yes, it is a true sound designer tool from heaven!

The Prophet 12 has a 5 octave, semi-weighted keyboard with velocity and aftertouch. In addition to the traditional pitch and modulation wheels it  also features two programmable sliders which are small ribbon controllers that you can assign to just about any parameter of the synth.
The Prophet 12 contains 4 non-writable factory banks, each with 99 programs and 4 user banks for your own sounds. So that’s 792 sounds in total.

Most people know that the Prophet 12 is a 12 voice synth, obvious you think, given the “12” in its name. But actually it can be two six-voice synthesizers as well, called Layer A and Layer B. You can use them individually, layer them or split them. So it is a 12-voice, a six-voice bi-timbral synth or it can be two independent six-voice synths! Each layer can be edited separately and swapped with each other. Each layer can be send to a dedicated output.
Being a hardware and software engineer for years myself I can say that the user interface is very well layed out, well thought over. It has a beautiful black & white display as well displaying all the content on the right place. Yes, some minor menu-diving is needed here and there but nothing is cumbersome to use. Actually the display dynamically shows which part you are modifying. For example: moving one of the synths knobs makes that the menu on the display immediatelly jumps to the right menu location. Awesome, no diving its menus there, it dives them for you!

Voice structure, oscillators

So, as I already said, the Prophet 12 is a 12 or a 6 voice synth depending how you use it. But is it an analog or a digital synthesizer? Well, actually, it is both. It is a hybrid synthesizer. Its soundengine is digital while the rest is fully analog: filters, envelope generators, lfo’s. The sound is produced by a set of 6 (!) SHARC processors, each of them takes care of 2 voices. Per voice there are 4 oscillators available. Each oscillator provides you with the common waveforms plus several additional ones. So that gives you 12 voices x 4 oscillators = 48 oscillators in total. For each oscillator there are also mods for a sub oscillator (jawohl!) , glide, slop, volume, shape mod, pulse width, sync, AM, FM and pitch tuning available. And then per voice there is the  “girth”, air, “decimatation”, “drive” and “hack” knobs…. are you still with me? As you can see… a whole lot of sound design power there, something which simply is not achievable with analog oscillators.

Filters

When you have such a lot of oscillator power available it is nothing more than normal to have some neat filter capabilities available to carve out your desired tone as well.  So the Prophet 12 doesn’t dissapoint here neither. The low-pass filter is based on the well known CEM chips that has been used in many other DSI synths. This can be switched between a 12dB filter or a 24dB filter using the “4 Pole” button.

The 24 dB filter is a resonant, self-oscillating one while the 12dB filter is not. It supplies you with cutoff frequency and resonance controls, key tracking, a ADSR enveloppe generator with variable amount and positive or negative polarity and key velocity for the envelope amount. There is a separate high-pass filter section available which sounds great on the P12 !

Envelope Generators


Next up there’s an envelope generator available to shape the contours of your sound plus it can be used to adress velocity purposes as well.
Awesome here is the addition of the “Pan Spread” knobs which allows you to pan your sound in the stereo image.
Two more additional EGs are available and selectable using the buttons 3 and 4.

 

Effects

 

The effects section on the P12 does a great job as well although some would like to have some more power there. It allows you to add distortion to dirty up your sound in case it sounds too clean for you. Furthermore it provides you with an analog bucketdelay for each of its voices as well. But as said, this section is a little underpowered and I would like to have flanger, phaser or choruses there as well. But of course you can add this using some external fx pedals or so.

 

 

Powerful Modulation section

 

This section only provides you with 3 controls only: “Assign Mod Source”, “Assign Mod Destination” and an “Amount” knob. This looks very simple and it really is. Select a source to modulate the destination and then add the amount of modulation. In order to see what will be selected you have to use the display, but again here, still very straight forward to use! And oh, you can modulate practical anything with anything! Nice sound design power again!

 

 

The power of LFO’s

 

Yes, up to 4 independed LFOs are available each with 8 (!) different waveforms to choose from. Also you an address the LFO to practical anything of the synth just as with the Modulation section and this 4 times !

 

 

Neat Arpeggiator

 

So the P12 has 2 layers, so it has 2 arpeggiators as well: one for each of the layers.
Playing around with these arpeggiators in layers, syncing with different clock divider settings, repeats etc actually is very powerful here. Somethin’ a lot of people will like this very much!

 

Connections

 

There are 2 pairs of stereo outputs, a pair for each of the layers. Two connections for a sustain pedal plus two additional assignable pedals are provide as well and the usual MIDI In/Out/Thru connections. Additionally a USB port is provided for computer connectivity. The latter for software editors or updates of the synth only.

 

The sound.

Ah the sound, thé most important thing of course, how does it sound? Well this synth can sound very different depending up what you want to do of course. But I can say that it sounds very warm, sometimes dark. It does not sound very open or sharp. I find it hard to program some nice pads on it as you can do with eg. the Prophet 6 or a Jupiter 8. The P12 does a very great job however in creating drones, evolving pads, sequencer sounds, empowering chords, rumbling basses etc.

A very good example of an “empowering” sound can heard here, where I used it at 1:00 exactly on this track:

 

 

So thanks for reading, it was not my intention to give you an indepth overview on the P12 rather than providing you some info on the true power of this remarkable sound-designers tool. After having this beast for 4 years in the studio I only can say that it really has found its way in my production/producers workflow. More in particular, for my personal taste that is, it is very usefull to create ambient, Berliner Schule or spacy stuff.

Cheers,

 

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