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Sequential Circuits  Prophet 600

↓↓Evaluation of the Original Version↓↓


When buying one, watch out for:
bad connections & cracked wiring which results in → all sort of crazy stuff.



Holy shit. This thing is ancient. If I am to believe written records, it was released around the same time as the Japanese wunderwaffe Roland Juno / Jupiter (read about its "perfection" here), but the way it looks and feels gives the impression as if it was at least 10 years older - and made in Russia, especially when you open it up and see the crude soldering patterns, the multi-colored PCB boards that resemble recycled materials, and finally the flimsy wiring, all of which seem to silently shout "don't touch me, or I'll break instantly!". America, wake up! You're being outperformed by the Japs by a decade! This thing looks like a prototype of the Prophets, and not the third (after P5 and P10) Prophet.

Actually something did break in my unit, very silently and stealthily indeed. When I opened the synth up to install the Teensy Mod, a wire connecting the panel board and the voice board had broken off unbeknownst to me, after which none of the knobs worked. I thought that I had damaged the processor board during the Z80 removal, but no - just a stray wire decided to disconnect. I spent three consecutive evenings locating the problem and was almost pulling my hair out because of this unexpected & treacherous coincidence. Oh, and did I mention that the interior screws look like they were made by a monkey living in stone age, inspired by a giant black monolith? They look as if somebody took a sharp stone and hit a piece of metal on top of it to create a notch.

Anyways, should you find it necessary to open and dismantle the synth, here's my tip about the green ribbon cable: don't just pull it like a stubborn ass. Mine had been sitting in its original position for 30 years and it kind of grew into the socket, like an abandoned car grows into asphalt. Buy yourself a tiny paintbrush and some contact cleaner that dissolves oxides and sulfides and apply it into the socket - or to be more precise - use the brush to force the liquid between the socket and the ribbon contact surfaces. Wait 10 minutes and try to pull the ribbon cable out. If it still doesn't want to come out, repeat the process (you could also use this method with a stubborn IC chip, just don't drown it).


I bet you know for yourself that in the synth world the word "Prophet" sends shivers down the spines and elicits gasps of awe and desire the same way as the word "Shelby" does in the car world or "Bernal Heights" in the San Francisco real estate domain. However, sometimes certain variations of the generally appealing whole do not live up to the standard of the whole and should be avoided, and it may turn out that they are even worse than a generic substitute from other manufacturers. Something has just gone bad - we don't know exactly what - but the results present themsleves clearly in front of our eyes. So if you are planning to buy yourself a Prophet 600, but you do not entertain the idea of installing the CPU (Teensy) upgrade, here's a hint of why this synth may kind of suck.

First of all - the sound. There is an expression in Polish language which roughly translates into "you're doing it as if you wanted but couldn't", which means that somebody is performing below a satisfacory level (am I right to assume that it has sexual context?;P). The original Prophet is like a beast cramped in a cage. You can sense that it wants to devour you, but it won't, because the cage is limiting it. It wants to but somehow it cannot;P

Then you have the uncomfortable Arpeggio (semi-pain-in-the-ass since you have midi), no Filtertracking knob (semi-PITA since you have a three position switch), no Negative Filter Envelope Polarity (quite lame), lagging processor reactions (huge PITA), imprecise settings of LFO amount (huge PITA), weird Glide behavior (quite a let-down), weird Note Priority (PITA), slugguish Envelopes (huge PITA), low extreme points within knobs (modulation amounts) resulting in less musical results (huge PITA), etcetera. I don't want to sound too negative because I have just read a keep-a-positive-attitude-and-all-your-problems-will-magically-fade-away guidebook, and I don't want to focus on the original version, because from now on I am a happy owner of the upgraded version, so I'll stop here (only to continue below;P).



Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 + Teensy Mod

↓↓Evaluation of the Upgraded Version↓↓


The Prophet 600 pictured below is a custom version with new thick panels.


Holy cow! I have never felt anything like it and the feeling is amazing. Trying to build an analogy outside the synth world, I'd say it might be compared to the discovery of penicillin. GliGli and his project to write a new firmware and feed it to the Prophet 600 on a USB-controlled microprocessor board (Teensy++) is something to behold. I'm amateurish enough to enjoy it as a kind of magic, yet understading enough to appreciate this rare situation of a wonderful potential being effectively released by human skill and effort. The Teensy upgrade gives you so many new features and such a considerable improvement in sound, that your half-baked, muddy-sounding Prophet 600 turns into Prophet-5 plus Korg Polysix plus Nord Lead, Akai AX and Ensoniq ESQ-1 in one. Of course don't take it too literally; it hasn't become the most elastic / versatile synth in the world, and the muddiness still breaks through the surface sometimes - what I'm saying is that the upgrade gives so many new faces to this synth that it has turned from a lame duck into a little chameleon. What makes up its sound appeal is a mixture of several tasty flavors: it's raw-but-not-harsh, punchy-but-not-invasive, clear-but-not-bland. And it's rad. In one word: it's classy. Playing with the original Prophet I had to put it through a Lexicon to make it sound remotely inspring. Now, the Teensy version sounds as if it was already running through a Lexicon. It has become a big competitor to the all-successful Korg Polysix (yet the P6 still holds strong due to its effects section, and the P6 sounds a little bit more beefy and "confident").

Don't worry about lurking rocket-science when using the new features with the old UI. When I heard about GliGli's project, my brain started its analytical processes, and the thing I thought most anxiously about was: "holy shit, how is he gonna do it - bury so many new features under an interface that wasn't designed to handle so many options - it's gonna be tedious & finicky and dwarf the benefits". But GliGli pulled it out very neatly, and the final result is similar to the experience of the Roland Alpha Juno; press the feature button on the keypad and next turn the data knob. Obviously, to make life easy (and logical) I suggest creating an overlay and attaching it to the panel; I myself made some printouts and now the remapped knobs have new labels, and to the left of the keypad there's a kind of mod-matrix table (knob-source-destination cross reference), just like in the Alpha Juno, Korg MS-2000 & DW-8000 or Oberheim Matrix 6 (see the picture below). And guess what: now the LCD displays the changes in values real-time, so the 0-255 knob resolution - easy to observe by the user - makes the instrument much more interactive.
That's not all; I'm not going to repeat from the manual all the MIDI improvements though.

If you love your old Prophet then I can only quote another adage which states that "perfect is the enemy of good". However, if you're less than satisfied with its performance, yet fear upgrading it it for whatever reasons, I say this: buy it, do it, or have it done - it's really worth it. Get the Teensy for $30, pay another $30 to somebody who can solder (really does know how to solder properly) and has proper tools for the entire procedure and this will be the best $60 deal you ever made on any of your synths. The great news is that now the price really reflects the Prophet's technology and value - the bad news might be that it won't be that way for long, because such good news will prompt the community to drive the demand & prices upwards.



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