First look at the Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2

This year’s flagship control center synthesizer winner

I got my Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2 eight days ago from Sweetwater.com, a process made very efficient and informative by my sales engineer Chris Goldbach.

Dave Smith, in case you are not familiar with him, is the original founder of Sequential Circuits, and designer of the Prophet 5 synthesizer, the world’s first microprocessor-based musical instrument and also the first programmable polyphonic synth. He was also a co-creator of MIDI.

The Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2, introduced in 2014, is a descendant of the Sequential Circuits Pro-One, their first and only monophonic synth, a classic built in 1981. The Pro 2 is DSI’s flagship monophonic synthesizer, and Dave Smith says it is his “most powerful mono synth ever”. I believe him.

The first thing you notice about the made in the USA Pro 2 is, wow, this thing is really built. It is solid. My general perception of DSI is they don’t constantly discontinue models and release new ones. Their products seem to be very advanced at time of release and stay relevant for some time to come. With 4 years so far on the market, the Pro 2 software appears very stable and debugged. Mine came with the newest OS v1.3.0 installed.

I haven’t spent a great deal of time playing this synth yet but I did say to myself on day one, I really like this machine. It completely revamped how I thought a group of synths should be configured and what the pieces should be.

Gear acquisition syndrome, I’m sure it affects all of us. Previous to getting the Pro 2, I could easily envision have 10+ synths working together. Now I’m thinking fewer full scale synths but higher quality ones, and definitely with CV in/outs. Modular, an area I’m very interested in, different issue. That I am sure will be where gear acquisition syndrome finally kills me, but oh well…

A better master clock than the BeatStep Pro or a DAW

First of all having 3 MIDI ports (in, out, out/thru) is a real bonus. The way I use my hardware/software, I do not like to have all of it on constantly. Mostly I use the Pro 2 by itself, in which it is a good thing to be master clock, because if it is not the master and there is no clock signal because that hardware is not turned on, in slave modes the arpeggiator and sequencer do not work.

Currently I have MIDI Out going to hardware like my Roland TR-8 and Korg Minilogue. MIDI Out 2 goes to the BeatStep Pro which is sequencing a DAW (Tracktion or Ableton) with soft synth VST plugins. This seems to work out real well and is very stable.

I’m not an analog purist, however…

Generally I lean to analog, but DSI sold me on hybrid, that is to say it has digital oscillators and an analog signal path. It’s easy to make the Pro 2’s digital oscillators sound analog. To have near instant on status is a joy, and the additional wave-forms that digital oscillators add really rocks in my opinion. I’m going to do a cut & paste from the DSI Specs so you see what I am talking about:

OSCILLATORS

  • Four DSP-based oscillators plus one sine wave sub oscillator
  • Four classic wave shapes (saw, square, triangle, sine) per oscillator
  • Twelve selectable complex shapes per oscillator
  • Thirteen Superwaves
  • Three noise types per oscillator: white, pink, violet
  • Shape modulation/pulse width/superwave detune amount
  • Oscillator cross modulation: frequency modulation (FM) and amplitude modulation (AM)
  • Hard sync, individual Glide, Oscillator Slop

The paraphonic capabilities really are unique, not only allowing 4 oscillator/note polyphony but each oscillator/note has it’s own envelope, unlike every other monophonic/paraphonic synthesizer I know of , which share one envelope. The dual filters which can be run in series or parallel can also be split, oscillator 1 & 2 on 1 filter, oscillator 3 & 4 on the other.

There are 792 presets, half factory set and non-writable, and the other half user-writable (containing the same programs/sequences, you can modify, replace or delete as you wish).

The sequencer looks like a real gem

I’m going to post more about the sequencer later, but I will say this is an important part of why I decided to make the Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2 the control center of my setup. I have never been that impressed with lower cost synths’ sequencers, which is why I added the BeatStep Pro, which while a big jump from many sequencers, still doesn’t super impress me. Well OK I’ll give the BeatStep Pro a medium impress.

Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2 sequencer impresses me. We’ll see if I can get it to do what I am thinking… More later when I finish fleshing it out.

The biggest ‘problem’ I have with the Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2 is that in researching it I discovered the Dave Smith Instruments Prophet X. 4Gs, maybe not this year, ha! But I am seeing the value in it, more later.

Thanks!
-Yehuda

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Possibly final thoughts on the Korg Minilogue and a forward foundation

First a little history and pre-foundation

I’m an officially retired baby boomer now doing what I want to do with my life. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m working for my home community JPUSA, the homeless in Uptown Chicago and pursuing my musical dreams. I have no talent but I do prayerfully think this electronic music journey will become of some value.

I was in junior high school when I got my first guitar, had a few garage band type skirmishes but mostly went into adulthood focused on cares of the world and survival. In the early 80’s, I got a Micromoog or some kind of Moog (sorry those were blurry days) from a friend of mine in the industrial band Ministry. They had moved into polyphonic Yamaha DX7s, past analog monophonic synths (still blurry). I played with it, loved it, but again I mostly focused on the world and survival. I don’t even remember what I did with that Moog or my Gibson SG, more blur…

About 10 years ago, I thought I really shouldn’t have breezed past my major interest in music, so I bought an acoustic guitar, and then another one, my Taylor got stolen and now I have a Breedlove Cascade Series C25/Cre. Eventually a couple electric guitars as well, I still have a G&L ASAT Classic Telecaster.

A few years ago, I got to thinking I really enjoy guitar but I love synthesizers and electronic music. I began to school myself, first I bought a M-Audio KeyStudio which I still have, and played with the Pro Tools SE software.This really whet my appetite but I also realized soft synths were not the total sum or foundation I needed. I needed hardware. I’m an information technology professional so programming and computer work are attractive to me, but I needed more feel and instant gratification, ha!

The Korg Minilogue is a great synthesizer

A couple years ago I didn’t have the financial option for more than $500, which in retrospect was a good thing. I really didn’t know enough about synths and the wide array of choices to drop thousands of dollars intelligently. At that time I hoped one day I would be able to assemble the electronic hardware of my dreams and eventually my studies led me to conclude that the Korg Minilogue would be the best first step.

The last year of tinkering with it just reinforced my decision. If your whole synthesizer environment is gonna be $500-$2000, you couldn’t ask for more. 4 voice polyphonic, 2 analog oscillators and a noise oscillator. LFO, delay, 200 presets and a polyphonic step and motion sequencer.

Who can predict what tomorrow brings but my plan is to replace it soon. The negatives for me are not really negatives. I’m giving it to a relative I think highly of rather than sell it. I’d probably keep it if it were a standalone synth. I think Korg would have been well advised to make a model without a keyboard. I do not like mini keys. I’m too clumsy, adult fingered, untalented or all that and more but I do think the 37 key keyboard would be great for teens or many women.

I do wish it had pitch and mod wheels, and could transpose sequences. Other than those facets, it can be a little thin with some settings on the bass. Otherwise, wow, it’s a great machine, even with those limitations. I heartily recommend it.

Moving forward into other options

I learned a lot from that Minilogue. I had been wishing on a Moog Subsequent 37 CV for a while but those are discontinued now. I may still get a standard version Moog Subsequent 37, I love Moog bass. Moog is a little bit inconsistent in their product offerings from my perspective. If you like monophonic/paraphonic synths, wouldn’t we all love a Moog Minimoog Voyager XL, but at $4995, it’s out of my price range this year, ha!

In the end I chose the Dave Smith Pro 2 to be the flagship of this year’s synthesizer pile. In my next post, I’ll be blogging about that. The Korg Minilogue is pulling bass duty for now and I’m not completely sure yet what I will replace it with temporarily (I have some ideas though!). I’m hoping Moog will introduce a new Subsequent 37 level synth with fuller CV connectivity, both in and out, than the Subsequent 37. Sure seems like the wise thing to do considering this is where the market now is. But hey, my world influence may not cut it so we shall see!

Thanks!
-Yehuda

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Grey Goo Bots becomes Uptown Oscillators with more focus on larger community

My synthesizer pile with new additions of a Yamaha mixer and a Dave Smith Pro 2 that I will write more about later

The word ‘Community’ can mean many things

Most often when I use the word, it requires more definition.

Usually in my everyday life, when I say the word ‘community’, I mean where I live.

I live in a Christian intentional community or a Jesus Commune called Jesus People USA. Also known as JPUSA, it is a very musical place. Known to some as the birth place of Christian rock music, and the hosts of the Cornerstone Music Festival which 5 years ago transitioned to smaller local Uptown Chicago Music events.

Not only in local music, JPUSA is also active in the Uptown Chicago community with the homeless and poor. Some of us are also active as individuals in Uptown Chicago community politics.

Uptown Chicago is also ‘community’.

You can see many JPUSA and Uptown ministry, music, social media and personal website links in the footer of the Uptown Oscillators website below.

‘Larger Community’ in the headline means JPUSA, Uptown AND the entire Music World

Make no mistake about it, I’m trying to encourage more friendship and collaboration in all the ‘communities’. Electronic as well as acoustic music.

OK that settles that! Please, no matter where you live, no matter what your musical instruments or tastes in music are, no matter what your faith is, even none, please join us in the Uptown Oscillators music community, especially join our Facebook group listed below.

Add your friends, the more the merrier!

Feel free to share your music, gear and questions. Uptown Oscillators is a community site, not just mine.

Thanks!
-Yehuda

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Note: some Grey Goo Bots pieces are still being transferred to Uptown Oscillators

Grey Goo Bots is off & running!

Added Arturia Beatstep Pro MIDI Controller & Sequencer to Korg Minilogue & Roland TR-8

Still not quite at the beginning of my hardware/software vision for Grey Goo Bots Gear, but adding the Arturia Beatstep Pro recently made everything much more usable.

The Beatstep Pro is actually 3 sequencers, 2 melodic and 1 drum. Yes, the Korg Minilogue synthesizer has a sequencer but it is rather limited and not nearly as easy to program, especially on the fly, which the Beatstep Pro excels at.

The Beatstep Pro has 64 steps per sequence, 16 sequences per project, and 16 projects. The drum sequencer has 16 tracks for up to 16 separate drums. Additionally it can control the timing and start/stop of numerous other synths, midi devices, super useful.

The Roland TR-8 drum machine also has a sequencer which is maybe a little better. Eventually I will place it in timing and start/stop control only, and add a 2nd more digital drum machine.

Neither the Korg or the Roland sequencer really sequences other equipment well. Yes they make for some interesting one of a kind sounds and it’s useful for a temporary patched in situation but not as a master controller. The Beatstep Pro has other functions like transpose, well see the specs in the link above for greater details. Or even better, leave me a message in the Facebook group.

Thanks!
-Yehuda

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