Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12 Review – ‘The Finest Hardware Synth’ On The Market

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Producer Francis Preve has published a review of the new Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12 synthesizer.

Dave Smith calls the Prophet 12 synthesizer ‘my best synth yet’. Some even think it may be the best polyphonic synth of all time

Preve says the hype is justified. “Not only is the Prophet-12 the finest synth Dave Smith has yet designed,” he writes, “it’s also the finest hardware synth for synth geeks currently on the market.”

Check out Preve’s full review at the Keyboard Mag site. And let us know where you think the Prophet 12 ranks among the greatest polyphonic synths of all time!

35 thoughts on “Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 12 Review – ‘The Finest Hardware Synth’ On The Market

  1. I’ve owned 2 Prophets, so I’m a DSI fan overall. That due respect paid, greatest for whom? What’s your scale between this and perhaps a Synthex? Both are unique polys from totally different eras, so can you compare them in truly musical terms beyond the keyboard? Let’s also be semi-sensible. How many people buy $3k-$4k synths casually? Most of us generally buy the more downstream gear. If you have a good feel for your music, you’ll feel the right sort of instrument when it appears. That may be a megabuck beast or a quirky little plug-in. You never know.

    I would not buy a P-12, because its both too big for me, as a near-modular synth and too analog-y for the direction I’ve gone. I could not do justice to it, because I no longer have a need for the thing it does best. A few years ago, I would have been giving plasma for it, though. Its a primary synth you build around. The best compliment I can give: you could damned near recreate “Switched-On Bach” with it. That says a lot for a slab synth that’s also a real player’s instrument. Whatever was at the bottom of the Top Ten Polys got knocked off when this appeared.

  2. I wonder if he has tried a Solaris? I don’t think I would tried mine for a prophet 12 (granted it is a little bit more price wise)

  3. Best polyphomic synth ever: unlikely when you consider
    the cs80, the oberheims, the original prophet, the synthex, the moogs…

    Best hardware synth on the market today: i think that the moog voyager,
    solaris, access virus, electron, kronos, motif, omega have a stronger
    claim to that distinction.

    Synthtopia seems to be remarkably sympathetic to this synth though.

      1. Forgot about the Solaris… fair enough, but between the Solaris and P12 its anyones game. I would probably still pick the P12 even with its lack of envelopes

        1. I take your point readily. I see the Prophet-12 as somewhat “modular” because its internal structure offers options you normally have to patch in with a cord. Consider the range of parameters for just ONE of the 4 oscillators, plus FM-ing and 4 LFOs. That’s edging into MOTM territory. One of the few things its missing is a CV-Out and that’s hardly an honest negative, considering the rest. So I call it “modular” the same way I do a Kurzweil. If you laid out all they do on a graphic featuring a knob per function, you’d be up to yer arse in knobs! Its like a T.O.N.T.O. that doesn’t fill a whole room.

        2. Not in the sense that you can modulate modulators through VCA’s, yet its far more modular than just about any “semi-modular” and offers a whole lot more power than most fully “modular” synths that have very sparse VCA’s. For about 95% of intensive purposes its a modular, and 99% practical purposes its a modular… Most people would probably consider an OB-Matrix a modular, nothing to get semantic over either way

    1. This runs circles around the original Prophets (12 voices vs 5, more powerful architecture, better keyboard…). It’s also more powerful than the Oberheim. The CS80 is probably a more expressive synth, because of its polyphonic aftertouch, but the Prophet 12 has way more range as a synth.

      It’s pretty clearly one of the best polysynths ever – but to say its ‘the best’? There’s always the K2600….

        1. Clearly you’ve never spent any time with a prophet 12 if you think it sounds like a “broken Oberhiem at best”. Truly idiotic.

  4. “Prophet 12: Best synth of all time?”

    “Apple stuff: Best stuff of all time?”

    “Synthtopia: Best synthtopia of all time?”

    Best comment of all time?

  5. are you sick of driving your honda synthesizers? want a bad boy synthesizer thats “only for the pros”

    the cs80 is a mustang, the andromeda a6 is an s-class

    …but you want a porsche

    for only a MSRP of xxxxx, your prayers have been answered by the prophet 12….the biggest and best and most powerful synthesizer! a masterpiece, a filet mignon of synthesizer!

    you call that “music”?

    get with the program. if you wanna play with the big boys in the big leagues, you need to stop playing with your kiddie toys, you hobbyist, and get a hot rod synth.

    now you’re ready for REAL music

  6. Best poly synth of all time?

    IMHO, not even close. I LOVE mine. But here’s some honest feedback from someone who owns MANY MANY MANY synths (staring at 20+ analogs just in my bedroom as I type this… and my studio is one of the few profitable small recording studios in NY.) These are just opinions though…

    That said, the Prophet 12 is an amazing, powerful, and versatile synth. It sounds excellent.

    My gripes: 1. Build quality (not solid enough for me). The DSI end cheeks are made of cheap wood and come loose after a year or so of use in the studio. Hasn’t happened to the 12 yet, but has already happened with my DSI MEK, PEK. and prophet 8.
    2. Poly but not (really) multi. For this money, There are MANY more versatile poly synths around.
    3. The DSI LP filter. Not the same as the old prophets… and very unique sounding. I love the filter sound… but it is very limiting and the has very quirky sweet spots. Sweeping the filter will show this immediately. To me, this makes the Prophet 12 hard to use as the centerpiece synth in my studio.
    4. Generic signal flow. The MOD matrix lets you do some interesting stuff… until you realize that there are many other much more complex routing systems available from the likes of Waldorf, Novation’s older stuff, Access, modular (which nowadays…. poly is getting cheaper every day), etc.
    5. The Poly Evolver. A much more interesting, unpredictable synth with a quad sequencer that SHOULD have been a no-brainer on the 12. I would put the evolver about the 12 on a top ten list any day.
    6. DAW integration and control is good, but not excellent in the way Moog’s Little Phatty or Access’s TI range is. This is extremely important if you truly want to maximize your synth’s potential… midi automation is at the heart of newer electronic music in the same way CV sequencing makes modular sound alive. The 12 falls short in this regard.
    7. The digital oscillators are great. BUT….. being digital, I would have liked to see more options.
    8. FILTERS. Again…. The 12 has 2 filters technically. Unfortunately, they are routed in a way that makes many types of sounds impossible to emulate. Don’t expect MS-20 vowel madness. Don’t expect Virus TI filter versatility. Don’t expect a wide range of filter tones. Sadly, a $300 Alesis Micron will do more for you in the filter department.
    9. The bit reduction/sound hack feature is awesome, but is fiddly and has very few useable sweet spots.
    10. Sound. The DSI stuff has always been useful to me as icing on the cake, NOT as the main ingredient. DSI synths have a sound to them. It’s hard to describe, but I always find myself working much harder on DSI synths to make them sit well in a mix.

    My top ten poly synths (I own all except the Jupiter and Obie…. used to own both):
    10. Alesis Ion
    9. Waldorf Q+
    8. Novation Supernova 2
    7. Korg z1
    6. Oberheim Matrix 12.
    5. Roland Jupiter 8.
    4. Nord Modular g2
    3. Roland V-Synth GT
    2. Roland JP-8080
    1. Access Virus TI2

    1. I’m considering a P12 at the moment and I can totally get your point. I sold a Virus because there was something I didn’t like about the sound at all… and Alesis Ion? OK…. with most of that list I think in 2015 you can actually get better sound quality with software. Of course, I know that in some cases, like the Q, the digital grit is considered part of it’s charm. I like that kind of thing too from time to time, but I’d rather add it with a bit crusher effect than have it part of the instrument that can’t be removed.

      Anyway, for a while I thought I’d get rid of some hardware, including a KingKORG to fund the P12. I quickly realized how stupid that was. The KingKORG is like 100% sweet spot. It’s hard to make sound bad. The osc and filters are all great. Now, it’s got issues. lackluster UI, unmodulatable effects, lots of menu diving… but I got it new for $800 and if I were you I’d toss out the Ion and the Jp8000 and put the KingKORG in it’s place, at least sonically.

      But, you’re 100% correct, IMO that the P12 is a very specific flavor. Someone on Gearslutzs called it “Robots from space on a very old tape.” I call it the cardamom of synths. It’s great when you have a dish that needs it, but if you try and put it on everything you’ll get sick of it really quickly. However, that’s me. If you’re really doing a very BoC kind of thing (like an Indian restaurant) and that’s your deal, then get a P12 at once. Me… I’m trying to figure out if I can justify it as it’s a pretty high price.

  7. I’ve played around with the prophet 12 and liked it a lot! What I can’t for the life of me work out, though, is why the encoder controlling the LFO depth is of the clicky-type, eliminating the ability to smoothly tweak the LFO rate/depth in any kind of meaningful way.

    This alone might keep me from the synth as I love this kind of tweak. But I guess that’s not really going to be an issue for many…

    1. You can route the mod wheel or one if the two ribbon controllers to LFO frequency if you want “smooth” tweakabiity of that parameter (as Danny noted, LFO depth is already a [smooth] pot). The LFO knobs are shared among the four LFOs anyway, so maybe not so convenient for tweaking anyway…

      Which things are pots and which encoders is a tradeoff, with encoders being less tweakable, but more precise. I think the P12 does a pretty good job of it generally … DSI has clearly learned from their previous synths … :]

  8. i played the Prophet 12 at a shop on Saturday. Initially was expecting something quite interesting – which it still can be with some teaks. Unfortunately the unit I played already had some glitches. Plus the factory sounds are …. murky and unfocused. There were no factory sounds that grabbed me or gave me any immediate indication of what this synth could do (that others can’t).

    I want this Prophet 12 to succeed.

    1. Can’t anyone read?

      The title of this thread is ‘best hardware synthesizer on the market’. NOT ‘best synth of all time’.

      Comparing it to a Solaris is relevant. Comparing it to a CS80 or Oberheim is irrelevant.

      1. Can you read past the title inside the post? it says:
        “Some even think it may be the best polyphonic synth of all time. ”
        So the comparisons are relevant afterall.

  9. I also think the title is misleading.
    The P12 is not the “best synthesiser” on the market because there is no such thing, unless you have a precise model you want to reproduce. The P12 is a unique machine, with a specific character, with its own specific sound universe. It is not a workstation, it is not an analogue synth. It is a beast on its own.
    If it fit your universe, it is a great machine. Do not compare apples and oranges.

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