In the Spotlight: Sequential Circuits Prophet-5

Produced: 1978-1984 Made in: USA Designed by: Dave Smith, John Bowen Number produced: 7,500 Synthesis system: analog, subtractive synthesis Price new:
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Produced: 1978-1984Made in: USADesigned by: Dave Smith, John BowenNumber produced: 7,500Synthesis system: analog, subtractive synthesisPrice new: $4,595Today's prices: A=$2,000; B=$1,300; C=$400

The Prophet-5 was a groundbreaking instrument, the first to exploit the use of microprocessors, and thus the first truly programmable polyphonic synthesizer. Everything about it is quality, from its look to its range of lush and complex sounds, beloved by such artists as Phil Collins (still) and Peter Gabriel. However, like a vintage sports car, the Prophet-5 needs care and attention to maintain its performance.

Produced in three revisions, Rev 1 and Rev 2 units are unstable and problematic. Always go for a Rev 3 model; indeed, Wine Country Productions, the company that took on the Sequential mantle after the original company ceased trading, deals with nothing else.

Five-voice polyphonic (just to be different), it has 2 variable waveform oscillators per voice; gutsy, 24 dB/octave, resonant filtering; and an extensive "poly-mod" modulation section where you can set up interaction between the oscillators and filter/envelope. Other key features include oscillator sync, polyphonic portamento, and unison mode.

Classic Prophet-5 sounds include washes (encompassing pretty much every pad Phil Collins ever wept over), bells, and glides. The genuinely analog synth's tuning is ever an issue, and no two instruments will ever really sound the same, making purchasing one a skill rather than purely a question of money.

Often recorded and ripped off on the sample CD market, the Prophet-5 has recently come to prominence through emulation and samples by Yamaha (the PLG150 plug-in for the SW1000XG sound card and the S80, CS6X, and MU100/1000/2000 synths), as well as Native Instruments' Pro-5 and, to some extent, Steinberg's Model E software synth plug-ins. All, of course, are digital, and so rather miss the point.

The Prophet-5 remains a classic among classics, well worth seeking out if you have the money to buy a good one or the skills to maintain one that is less stable. With its current high profile, we can expect more software/modeled versions to appear, but there's nothing like driving the real thing.

THE LIST1. Prophet-5 (Sequential Circuits) See "In the Spotlight."

2. MS-20 (Korg) This squeaky-sounding, monophonic synthesizer is highly sought after. A techie's delight, the front panel includes its own patch bay. Baby sibling MS-10 is a worthy substitute.

A=$1,200; B=$900; C=$500

3. Juno-106 (Roland) An early MIDI synthesizer. Easy to tweak, the 106's 6-voice analog synth engine is good for thin but cool basses and washes. Harder to find than the Juno-60 (see item 4).

A=$700; B=$550; C=$300

4. Juno-60 (Roland) This pre-MIDI analog synthesizer offers 6-voice polyphony, dedicated knobs and switches, and a killer chorus.

A=$600; B=$450; C=$300

5. B-3 (Hammond) The granddaddy of rock organs, this tonewheel instrument is large, expensive, and irreplaceable. It's for grown-ups only, not wannabes. The more compact A-100 has essentially the same guts as a B-3 and may cost as little as half the price.

A=$5,000; B=$2,500; C=$1,500

6. TB-303 (Roland) A quirky little box of bass sounds with a built-in sequencer, the TB-303 bass synthesizer fueled the dance-inspired vintage-synth revolution. It has been much sampled and emulated, but real ones are still sought after and hard to find.

A=$1,100; B=$800; C=$600

7. Stage 73 (Fender Rhodes) Fender's glassy-sounding electric piano was a staple sound of retro funk and jazz fusion. It has a wooden action based on hammer-struck metal tines. The Rhodes is heavy and needs constant minor repairs, but you can do most maintenance yourself.

A=$650; B=$500; C=$250

8. 2600 (ARP) It's not for everyone, but this monophonic synthesizer is still the height of cool with its patch bay, "mad scientist" design, and squeaky bonk sounds. A classic instrument for learning synthesis.

A=$2,500; B=$2,000; C=$1,600

9. Memorymoog (Moog) A powerful, complex polyphonic synth, the Memorymoog had many teething troubles back in 1982. Units working today are expensive but highly sought after.

A=$2,500; B=$1,800; C=$700

10. Rogue (Moog) Not Moog's best monophonic synth, the Rogue has nevertheless enjoyed a comeback recently. It features dual oscillators (but with shared controls), is very easy to use, and is good for bass lines.

A=$500; B=$350; C=$250

Price Guide: The quoted prices reflect typical street prices you must expect to pay in U.S. dollars. The buy- in on vintage instruments, as with vintage cars, is just the beginning, though. Most of the original manufacturers are long gone, so maintenance and repairs are expensive.

A=like new; B=like, it's okay for its age; C=like hell