Sequential Circuits Prophet 2000
More money means Mirage-mangling, maybe? Tony Mills sizes up the latest sampling supersynth
So the membrane switches let you get at 12 'keyboard combinations' (single or multisampled sounds) from disc, but they also allow you access to 16 synthesizer-treated versions of a sampled sound. Like the Mirage, the Prophet 2000 has a filter with variable resonance, a velocity-sensitive ADSR for volume and for the filter, modulation, and many other conventional synth parameters. All these are selected on the membrane matrix and edited using the single Data Entry rotary, with values coming up in a two-digit LED display which shows all the system statues in the various modes.
So now you can use ROM sounds, load and modify sampled sounds and re-store them to disc. If you want to make your own samples you can connect a mike or line input to the rear jack of the 2000 (the level is switchable) and go to Sample mode. The sixteen LEDs under the switches act as a VU meter (peculiarly, from right to left) and when the last LED illuminates you have a decent level to sample. This can be done by hand, or automatically with variable threshold, with the two-digit display telling you what mode you're in at all times. Samples can be played as soon as they're taken; all you have to do beforehand is to decide which sample number this is (from 1 to 12) and what memory capacity should be assigned to it (from a total of 264k).
You can alter the sampling rate from the default vault if you like, giving as we mentioned a maximum of 16s at 8kHz if you want to use up a whole keyboard half for one sound. Once a sample's made you can press Execute to obtain a Middle A tone, against which it can be tuned using the Up/Down buttons next to the LED display.
In terms of sampling quality the 2000 seems to perform well. We sampled a set of Minimoog sounds, putting them in different sections of memory and assigning them to different ranges on the keyboard. All the top end of the Minimoog filter effects was preserved well, and the envelopes were reproduced accurately with no clicking or glitching. We then set out to make a loop in some sections of the sound, which of course is a more difficult process. The 2000 gives you more help than the Mirage though — there's an Auto routine (as on the Greengate DS:3) which finds a 'zero crossover' and 'zero slope' point accompanied by mucho flashing of lights, and the routine seems to get a good loop point fairly quickly. Start with a Minimoog sound and by the time you've looped it and played a few notes or a single-finger chord (definable up to eight notes) — voila! Instant Memorymoog.
So what else can you do with your samples once you've stored them? The 2000 offers many methods of combining and overlapping samples; you can layer two or more sounds on the keyboard, play in 'Stack Mode' which gives powerful unison effects with delays between the onset of different samples, you can truncate and mix samples, you can cross-fade between two samples using the keyboard velocity (which can also effect the depth of modulation, although the keyboard isn't in fact pressure-sensitive as well), and you can control the sample's start point with velocity.
The 2000 also features an arpeggiator, although the Mirage has a full polyphonic sequencer which puts this in the shade a little. However, using the lower function set you can change the number of octaves the arpeggiator covers, how many times it plays each note, whether it plays up, down, up/down or randomly, and so on, so it's reasonably exciting. Speed is controlled from the data entry rotary and you can latch arpeggios on using a footswitch. Incidentally, there's also a footswitch for 'alternative release' which would normally be used for piano-type sustain effects.
The 2000 of course features MIDI, and the MIDI THRU can be switched to a second MIDI OUT function. Information recognised includes key down in Omni, Poly and Mono modes, velocity, pitch and modulation, main volume (for all of you out there with Akai MIDI Digital Faders), clock (to or from the arpeggiator), preset number, wavetable access and sample transmit. The last two of these features mean that you'll be able to edit sounds visually using a computer, as you can with the Mirage/Apple setup, once Sequential have written the software; and that you can dump sounds to another 2000 via MIDI, which is faster than using discs. There is talk of developing a universal code for sample recording so you'd be able to use sounds from other machines too, but that's some way off yet.
The 2000 we saw looked a bit rough — it was a prototype after all — and there's more to come in the way of minor cosmetic changes. The more important point is that we weren't listening to final factory samples — most of the sounds we heard had been made from cassette and edited only very roughly, so there was plenty of glitching to be heard.
But from the quick samples we took ourselves and the promise of the early sounds (lookout for the harp pluck/arpeggio — it's stunning!) the 2000 does have slightly better quality than the Mirage, which as if to emphasise the difference has been put on the market with some seriously duff factory sounds. Hopefully this won't be the case with the 2000 by the time it hits the shops from the end of September.
You can see many of the points for and against the 2000 below, but the fact of the matter is that it's bound to sell — demand will always outstrip supply for polyphonic samplers such as the 2000 and the Mirage. It's just a question of how long the thing will remain economical, because next year's Frankfurt show in February promises to be a real breeding ground for polyphonic samplers. However, if you do get hold of a 2000, you won't be disappointed. It's going to be great fun while it lasts.
Review by Mark Jenkins writing as Tony Mills
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