Sonic LAB: Prophet X Hybrid Synth - Big Fat Review

Samples plus synthesis from DSI      14/08/18
    MP4 38:57 mins    

Buying Choices

A big new synth from anyone is always a bit of an event, and in this case more so as it's deviating from the usual path Dave Smith Instruments takes. The Prophet X is a hybrid poly synth with four oscillators per voice - two DSP Oscillators like in the Pro 2 and Prophet 12, plus two multi-sample sound sources with samples provided by 8DIO.

Synth engine has a lot of similarities to the REV 2 with 4 LFOs per voice, four envelopes, twin effects engines (though with an extra Superplate algorithm) plus the A/B engine for splits and layers.

The new filter design from Dave Rossum is a stereo Lowpass 24dB analog filter - stereo because many of the samples are in fact stereo. The X works in this mode with 8 stereo voices, though you can switch to 16 voice (mono) mode. In truth this really affects the sample side of things more so with many sounds becoming less impressive, but you do miss those extra voices when playing with the sustain pedal on.

The filter sounds nice, there is a drive parameter, though it's not as hot as some other modern filters, you do get some colour change when resonance is applied.

But back to basics - with a 256GB SSD on-board and around 150GB of samples provided, the Prophet X has a lot of nice sample sets , many are what you might consider to be staple sounds, pianos, strings, brass, electric keyboard etc but there are also a lot of atmospheres, drums, percussion and the like.

Generally these are all of a high standard, though some more expressive instruments seem to lack the articulations you might find in dedicated multi-sample libraries and the limited polyophony wouldn’t make this your go to workstation for that sort of thing.

Generally the samples are multi-sample sets, some with velocity switching from soft to hard, but I couldn’t hear more than 3 or 4. Additionally, when listening to brass or wind sets, there was no articulation switching, generally you would have to load a set of articulations into the second sample slot and perhaps fade or switch between those using mod sources.  I guess it's not really designed to be a replacement for your Kontakt libraries.

The power comes when combining sample and oscillators together the 16 slot mod matrix and effects. Cross modulation is king here with both samples and oscillators available as mod sources, they can also modulate each other. The sounds can be truly wonderful, though I tended to gravitate towards the more ethereal and atmospheric.

Sample editing is: reverse, start, end, loop length and loop position with the loop cycle tunable down to very small amounts, though any sample, no matter it's length is limited to 1000 increments for any of those parameters, the longer the sample, the less granular. Cross fades are also possible for tricky loop points, though I think this is just linear at present. However you can create short tuned wavecycle sounds and modulate the loop centre which creates some unusual sound sources. It is also possible to stretch the selected (last played) sample across the entire keyboard range, and also add bit and sample rate reduction as well as bypass the Lowpass Filter.

There are 4 internal user banks (128 each), 4 preset (duplicated in the user banks) and four additional empty factory banks - these are reserved for additional presets that will come with add-on 8DIO sound sets. We don’t know how much or how many these will be.

User samples are also promised and I think will really open up the creative possibilities - we’re told by the end of the year the OS will have been updated to allow this - samples loaded via a USB host port slot.

Synthesis:

With the REV 2 style engine, you get a lot of modulation and routing options, the 16 slot mod matrix gives you a lot to think about, additionally the extra sliders add more performance options, and combined with the neat playlist feature, 4 lists, each with 10 sets or slots which allows quick access to programs via the soft buttons.

I honestly found it very hard to not wander off into uncharted sonic territory when combining the analog and samples  though most of it lead me into ethereal, lush soundscapes - where polyphony is a bonus, I was impressed with how inspiring the Prophet X is to play. The DSP generated oscillators don’t sound as good as their analog counterparts, but it's a close run thing, the slop control lets you wobble them into unpredictability (also a mod dest).

Look the Prophet X is expensive, there’s no way around that and yes you might be able to buy a REV2, cheap laptop and Omnisphere for a similar price, but that won’t give you a single unit. It works as an instrument, I found it inspiring. I can’t afford it though at $3,999/£3369 Street, it's a chunk of change.

Not for everybody, but I’m pleased this exists and I wish anyone who can afford it all the best (somewhat enviously). I suspect this will improve over time as OS updates add more functionality - those user samples are going to be a big addition.

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