Many virtual instruments resemble real-world synthesizers, but few are exact replicas of a specific model. Native Instruments, in partnership with Steinberg,

Many virtual instruments resemble real-world synthesizers, but few are exact replicas of a specific model. Native Instruments, in partnership with Steinberg, assiduously crafted its virtual instruments to look like actual vintage synthesizers. Pro-52 is an amazing likeness of Sequential Circuit's venerable Prophet-5 synthesizer, right down to the wood-grain trim and the A-440 test tone switch on the front panel.

Pro-52 replaces Native Instruments' first Prophet-5 virtual instrument: Pro-Five. It has an expanded feature set and runs as a standalone program as well as a VST Instrument. A Pro-52 VST effect insert plug-in lets you run external audio signals through the synthesizer's filter, amplifier, and effects section (a very nifty function). That said, check out what's under the hood.

First NotesPro-52 sports a virtual 5-octave keyboard with pitch-bend and modulation wheels - features not usually found on VST Instruments. You trigger sounds without velocity by clicking on the virtual keys, which are great for auditioning sounds and entering notes. The keys, pitch-bend wheel, and mod wheel track incoming MIDI messages and move accordingly, like a virtual player piano.

The hierarchy of patches is a bit confusing. Patches are organized into eight banks with eight groups of eight patches each. Native Instruments refers to its banks as files and to its groups as banks. The banks were arranged that way on the Prophet-5, but Pro-52 could have deviated from the original.

You get 512 preset patches, a broad number compared with the Prophet-5's 40 presets. Pro-52's presets include fat bass sounds, funky lead programs, analog string patches, and electric pianos. I especially like the analog drum sounds and cheesy special effects. All patch numbers and their associated names are documented in the manual.

Taking ControlYou'll find lots of parameters to tweak, as well as two oscillators (A and B), a mixer to control their relative levels, and a knob to add white noise to the signal. A single LFO offers triangle, sawtooth, and square waveforms. The filter has a dedicated ADSR envelope, and another ADSR controls amplitude. The Unison mode stacks voices and is great for creating thick monophonic sounds; portamento adds to the program's authenticity. Even the original Poly-Mod section is here. The Poly-Mod section uses Oscillator B and the filter envelope to control the frequency, pulse width, and Oscillator A's filter cutoff - a handy feature for creating bright, spiky, FM-type effects.

Velocity sensitivity is tied to the amp and filter envelopes, but you can switch it off with the click of a button. You can assign the mod wheel to five destinations, ranging from the frequency of Oscillator A to the filter. You can activate all of the instrument's dials and switches with Control Change messages for endless automation possibilities. You can also sync the LFO to MIDI Clock with 8th- to 16th-note subdivisions, including triplets - way cool.

Pro-52's effects section provides four stacked delay lines with control of the overall stereo spread, but not individual delay times. The delays work well for creating chorus, flanging, and echo effects, and you can synchronize them to your song's MIDI tempo. An Analog control lets you simulate inaccuracies inherent in voltage-controlled synths. That effectively softens the instrument's digital edge by adding slight random detuning.

Getting RealPro-52's polyphony is user definable, but maximum polyphony depends on your CPU. I squeezed about 12 voices out of my Mac G3/266 MHz machine and almost 24 from my 450 MHz PC before overloading the CPU.

I plugged the instrument into Steinberg's Cubase VST 24 and didn't experience any serious latency problems on either the Mac or the PC. The Mac was equipped with Digidesign's Pro Tools/24 MixPlus system, and the PC used a Mark of the Unicorn 2408 digital-audio interface. Different sound cards have different ASIO drivers, and drivers that aren't up to snuff can introduce serious latency. However, playback timing of MIDI tracks is incredibly tight. Steinberg claims VST Instrument playback is better than that of external MIDI gear.

Pro-52 is an impressive instrument. Not only does it look and act like a Prophet-5, but it sounds like one, too. It's one of the best-sounding VST Instruments I've heard so far. The Analog control and delay effects are wonderful. For $199 retail, this instrument is a steal.