Dave Smith & John Chowning Introduce FM Synthesis On The Prophet 12

dave-smith-instruments-prophet-12Dave Smith Instruments has released a new operating system for the Prophet 12 that adds a number of user-requested features, including:

  • Linear frequency modulation for classic FM synthesis
  • Support for up to 16 alternate tunings (a set of 16 popular tunings is included)
  • Assignable voice-stacking in Union mode
  • MIDI note output for the arpeggiator
  • New modulation destinations (Slop, Osc All Shape, All Delays)
  • Disable screen save option for OLED display
  • Soft knobs allow Playlist List and Set selection

Here’s a video, featuring FM synthesis pioneer John Chowning & Dave Smith introducing linear FM synthesis on the Prophet 12:

The new version, OS 1.3, ships with newly purchased instruments.

For users wishing to upgrade instruments with older versions of the OS, version 1.3 is available for download from the Prophet 12 OS Support page. In addition, a new sound set featuring 40 linear FM-based presets is available from the Prophet 12 Factory Sounds page. See the DSI site for details.

33 thoughts on “Dave Smith & John Chowning Introduce FM Synthesis On The Prophet 12

    1. According to the manual the other (more harmonically rich) waveforms can be used and all four oscillators can act as operators. So think of it as a TX81Z on steroids.

        1. The Prophet 12 features 4 oscillators + 1 sub per voice. When utilizing FM modulation any oscillator can be modulated by the “next” oscillator in a ring… Example : Oscillator 1 can be modulated by Oscillator 2. 2 by 3. 3 by 4. 4 by 1. For total overkill modulation, one can modulate the oscillators which are being used to modulate the carrier.

          1. Yes, but you can also override the default FM routings in the modulation matrix. They don’t have to go in the circular order you see on the panel.

            It’s really like two TX81Zs or two DX-11s in one keyboard. It’s really cool.

    2. As I understand it you’re just able to frequency modulate the existing oscillator with other oscillators rather than just with LFOs and stuff. Not like they built a whole new synth for an FM mode – they just added modulation capability.

      1. The Prophet 12 was previously outfitted with its own brand of exponential FM. This update adds an option to the oscillator menu in which you can choose the new (old DX7 style) linear style of FM. Because the Prophet 12 isn’t limited to sine wave “operators” as was standard on the DX, you can get some truly interesting results when applying linear FM to some of the P12 wave shapes. The wave shapes themselves can be modulated over time (think pulse width except rather than moving a square wave, you’re morphing through 3 different wave shapes) while also having the FM applied. Of course all parameters can be synced to BPM for tight, intense dynamics (which is where I immediately went after installing the update today) or left static to produce classic, bell likened timbres. The digital effects section followed by the Curtis filter and all analog signal path results in the smoothest damn sounds that I’ve managed to coax from a hardware synth.

  1. Excellent! Excellent! This will make my beloved Prophet 12 sound sooooo good! 🙂

    I can’t wait to install this monumental update!

    Well done Dave Smith!

  2. Very nice option to have! Now if the Prophet had true VCO’s capable of linear FM it would be some of the really really rare new things on the planet synth. Maybe the VCO’s on the 6 can do that but i don’t thing they are precise enough. My DX11 still provides most of the sounds presented here with noise and sometimes very atmospheric aliasing. Do the Oscs itself have a selectable bit reduction? Not as global effect please. Maybe worth an update dear Mr. Smith. 🙂

    1. The difference is that oscillators in P12 are digital and implemented in software, which allows for changing the algorithm and introducing the FM feature. Chowning style FM synthesis is in fact phase modulation and it requires this type of oscillators. P6 has analog oscillators. In general, they are capable of linear FM, but it is still frequency modulation, not phase modulation. It is not through-zero and will never sound like a DX

    2. The oscillators head straight into a “character” effects section which boats both sample rate reduction (decimate) and bit depth reduction (hack) prior to the analog Curtis filter. I often find myself using both as modulation destinations. If done subtly it can yield what might be likened to the ailiasing found on older digital predecessors.

      Side notes of interest : The character section features 3 effects in addition to the aforementioned Decemate and Hack. A nice overdrive (Drive) that can subtly or outrageously slam the oscillators into the Curtis filter, and two harmonic overtone generators (Girth and Air) which might be likened to an analog EQ (Girth for low and Air for high) that might introduce subtle distortions into the signal when pushed.

      The character section of the Prophet 12 can also be found on the Pro 2 and purchased as a separate module for Eurorack modular with full CV control.


  3. Can some one give me the name of the Monitor speakers…there are on the first pic in the background…the have a hug high horn…thanks

  4. Stunning update, seriously considering a Prophet 12 now.. Although the Prophet 6 calls out to me each and every day..

    John Chowning is the absolute don of FM synthesis and I would love to see him and Dave co-develop a new FM synth (with an analog filter of course 😉 ) which brings things to the next level..

    1. There’s a reason that the Prophet 12 still sits at a higher price point than the 6. I can’t debate the warm and thick immediacy of the Prophet 6 but, I’ve created some of the fattest, gnarliest unison basses, monitor destroying kicks and sub content much to the disdain of my surrounding residents. I have often heard musicians refer to the Prophet 12 as “an amazing pad and evolving texture machine” and while that’s entirely true, it’s often overlooked when it comes to “huge” or “fat”.

      If you’re looking towards nostalgia then by all means grab that 6 but, I wouldn’t trade my 12 for 2 of them. 😉

  5. I wish more people would make their poly synths multi-timbral! Most of those 12 voices would constantly be going to waste for me.

    1. The Prophet 12 allows you to split or stack (48 oscillators + subs) patches which can then be routed to two sets of stereo outputs. I’ve only ever utilized multi-timbral setups for drum sequencing and I tend to use my Virus KB when that particular mood strikes however, I do sequence and craft the majority of my percussion using the Prophet 12 utilizing the modulation matrix and stacked programs. Stacked programs aren’t limited to a single BPM or clock division so, it’s very easy to craft complex polyrhythms while keeping certain elements separate in the mix for external processing.

      One fun trick that is never mentioned in a manual is utilizing the “pan spread” feature while also syncing the modulation matrix in such a way that each sound only ever repeats on a L or R channel… I’ve been able to squeeze 4 mono outputs from the Prophet by timing things correctly and being persistent.

    2. Well, not sure if you’re saying this is a limitation for layering sounds, but if you’re referring to using separate patches on individual MIDI channels for sequencing, easy multi-track DAWs sort of made that need obsolete. In other words: record audio tacks of everything… it’ll make your life way easier as far as post processing (EQ, effects, panning, etc.).

    1. I thought some of the bell like pads were pretty cool towards the end of the video. There are many more ways to warp and mangle the sound. As a free update, I will take it gladly in addition to everything else it can already do extremely well.

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