The Prophet-5 is an analog synthesizer manufactured by Sequential. Designed by Dave Smith and John Bowen, the Prophet-5 was the first fully programmable polyphonic synthesizer and the first musical instrument with an embedded microprocessor. Between 1978 and 1984, about 6,000 units were produced across three revisions. In 1981, Sequential released a 10-voice, double-keyboard version, the Prophet-10. Sequential introduced new versions in 2020.
|Price||US$3,995 (Rev 1, 2)|
US$4,595 (Rev 3)
US$3,499 (Rev 4, 5-voice, 2020)
|Oscillator||2 VCOs per voice|
|Synthesis type||Analog subtractive|
Analog FM (Poly-Mod)
|Filter||4-pole resonant low-pass|
|Attenuator||ADSR envelope (2)|
|Aftertouch expression||No on Rev1 to Rev3, Yes on Rev4|
|Velocity expression||No on Rev1 to Rev3, Yes on Rev4|
|Storage memory||40 patches (120 patches on later units, 200 patches on the Rev4 iteration)|
|Left-hand control||Pitch and modulation wheels|
Proprietary serial interface
MIDI (Rev 4 only)
The Prophet-5 has been widely used in pop and rock music. It has been emulated in software synthesizers and analog hardware.
The Prophet-5 was created in 1977 by Dave Smith and John Bowen at Sequential Circuits, who aimed to create the first polyphonic synthesizer with patch memory. Initially, they developed the Prophet-10, a synthesizer with ten voices of polyphony; however, it was unstable and quickly overheated, creating tuning problems. Smith and Bowen removed half the electronics, reducing the voices to five and creating the Prophet-5.
Smith demonstrated the Prophet-5 at NAMM in January 1978 and shipped the first models later that year. Unlike its nearest competitor, the Yamaha CS-80, the Prophet-5 had patch memory, allowing users to store sounds rather than having to reprogram them manually.
Three versions were built between 1978 and 1984. The first, Revision 1, was hand-assembled and produced quickly to generate initial revenue; only 182 were made. Revision 2 was mass-produced in quantities over 1,000; this model was more robust, added cassette patch storage, and replaced the koa wood casing with walnut. Revision 3 replaced the Solid State Music (SSM) chipset with Curtis Electromusic Specialties (CEM) chips, necessitating a major redesign. According to Sound on Sound, Revision 3 "remained impressive and pleasant to play, but was slightly cold and featureless by comparison to earlier models". In all, approximately 6,000 Prophet-5 synthesizers were produced.
In 1981, Sequential Circuits released the Prophet-10, featuring 10 voices, 20 oscillators, and a double manual keyboard. Like the Prophet-5 Revision 3, it uses CEM chips. The first Prophet-10s used an Exatron Stringy Floppy drive for saving patches and storing sequencer data. Sequential later moved to a Braemar tape drive, which was more reliable and could store about four times as many sequencer events.
The Prophet-5 was equipped with a proprietary serial interface that allowed the user to play using the Prophet Remote, a sling-style keytar controller, but the interface cannot connect the Prophet-5 to other devices. Sequential produced a MIDI interface that could be retrofitted to later versions of the Prophet-5 Revision 3. Third-party MIDI interfaces have also been offered.
In 2020, Sequential announced a new version of the Prophet-5, the Rev 4. The Rev 4 adds features including USB and MIDI connectivity, velocity and aftertouch sensitivity, and a "vintage" knob to recreate the pitch drift of older versions. Sequential also announced a new Prophet-10, a ten-voice monotimbral version of the Rev 4, unlike the earlier double-manual bi-timbral Prophet-10.
The Prophet-5 became a market leader and industry standard. It has been used by musicians including Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Tangerine Dream, Madonna, Patrick Cowley, Dr Dre, Too Short, Radiohead, John Carpenter, Alan Howarth, and John Harrison. Brad Fiedel used a Prophet-10 to record the soundtrack for The Terminator (1984).
Early Prophet-5s used voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO), filter and amplifier chips designed by E-mu Systems and manufactured by Solid State Music (SSM). Revision 3 Prophet-5s used Curtis CEM chips manufactured by Curtis Electromusic Specialties. Some owners maintain that SSM oscillators produced a richer timbre. However, the SSM oscillators rendered the instruments unstable and prone to detuning over time. CEM chips have remained more stable.
The Prophet-5 uses five voices of polyphony. Each voice is assigned two VCOs. Both oscillators can generate sawtooth waves and square waves (with variable pulse width), and the second oscillator can also generate a triangle. The oscillators can be played in sync, or in "Poly-Mod", with oscillator B and the filter ADSR envelope modulating the frequency, pulse width, and filter of oscillator A. A dedicated low-frequency oscillator (saw, square, or triangle) is also present to modulate the pulse width and/or pitch of oscillators A and B and filter cutoff frequency.
Arturia developed a softsynth version of the Prophet-5, the Prophet V. Prophet V also includes a recreation of the Prophet VS, a synthesizer manufactured by Sequential Circuits in 1986. Elements of the two synthesizers can be combined in a "hybrid" mode. The softsynth closely recreates the layout of the original analog synthesizer, though there were some differences in programming, notably through some restrictions on the envelope generator.
In January 2015, Smith announced that Yamaha's president, Takuya Nakata, had granted him rights to the Sequential brand, which he had been unable to use following the company's acquisition. The release of the name coincided with Smith's debut of the Prophet-6, a new synthesizer based on the Prophet-5 with additional features.
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- Seth Stevenson, What Is the Time Signature of the Ominous Electronic Score of The Terminator?, Slate, Published 26 February 2014, Accessed 27 February 2014.
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