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Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2
Old 26th January 2016
  #1
Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2

There was always something special about the vintage mono synths I used to own, like the SCI Pro One and the Octave CAT. Maybe some of it is nostalgia, but that doesn't explain all of it. Even when I listen to old recordings of those synths it's easy to hear they had a sound quality that was hard to completely reproduce with newer synths.

Enter the DSI Pro 2. I listened to the demos and was impressed, but I had to play one in person to really know for sure if it had the right stuff. It does, and it's quickly become my favorite mono synth. It sounds amazing. It can be raw and brash, or liquidy and smooth, however you choose. And it does this with a digital oscillator section, which is quite surprising. I chalk up a great deal of the sound to the new discrete filter section.

Filters: there is a 2-pole state-variable filter borrowed from Tom Oberheim's SEM, and a new discrete 4-pole design from Dave that is supposed to be closer to the original Prophet 5 filter. The 4-pole definitely sounds similar to an SSM2040 chip, which was in the Prophet 5 rev. 2 (and also in the Octave CAT that I used to own). The cool thing is that these two filters can be routed in a number of ways, either used separately, in parallel, or in series. Experimenting with that can yield some surprising results.

Oscillators: the OSC section is entirely digital, with standard analog-type waveforms plus some complex digital ones. A slop parameter helps emulate VCO drift. Using the more complex digital shapes can achieve sounds that I might compare to an old Ensoniq SQ-80 (think along the lines of the song "Testure" by Skinny Puppy). There is also a Character section here that provides things like bit reduction and overdrive. An external audio input runs into the path here too. Running a sampler into the audio input has proven to be very fun.

Paraphony: in paraphonic mode, each of the four oscillators gets a "hidden" VCA turned on before going into the mixer section, and by default those VCAs are controlled by envelopes that follow the contour you have set up on with Amp Envelope controls. This means that within the digital sound generation realm you are getting true 4-note polyphony. The bottleneck comes when all four notes run into the analog filter and VCA sections, which are mono. One trick I like to use is to hold the analog VCA section open with a steady DC offset (conveniently available in the mod section). This lets the pseudo-4-note polyphony ring out with long release times.

Sequencing and CV: a 16/32 step multi-track sequencer rounds out the feature set. One track is dedicated to note data, while the other tracks are designed for modulation destinations. Recording a sequence via the keys is simple enough, and rests or legato notes can be entered via button presses. Editing can be done using the small OLED screen afterward. The Pro 2 also has a set of CV (control voltage) inputs and outputs (four each) that can be routed to and from modulation destinations or the sequencer. I've used this to control my small Eurorack modular and it works great. The performance controls such as wheels and sliders can also be sent to the CV outputs.

Overall: build quality is solid and all controls feel sturdy. There are enough dedicated knobs on the front panel to keep menu diving at a minimum, which is very important to me. In the end the main thing is that it sounds great. I haven't been much of a DSI fan because the filter chips used on earlier gear just weren't my cup of tea. The new discrete filters sound amazing and I hope he continues to use them on all future DSI synths.

What could be improved: I would really like to see sequence storage separated from patch storage. At the moment they are tied together. It would be really handy for example to have patch #07 called up, then experiment with modulating from sequence #11 or #42 , or whatever you like. There have also been reports from users about MIDI sync problems with the sequencer (as of the current OS version, future updates may resolve the issue), though I rarely ever use MIDI sync in my setup. It would also be nice to have a true Duophonic mode, and since the two filters can be ran in parallel this should technically be possible. The only thing preventing it right now is that each key press re-triggers the same envelope going to both filters. A software mode would need to be added that allows alternating key presses to send two different envelopes to their respective filters.
Old 26th January 2016
  #2
A Powerhouse

The Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2 Synthesizer really needs no introduction. DSI does a great job with their products, and the build quality is fantastic. Personally, I was looking to downscale my studio to one hardware based synthesizer that would act as both my midi controller, and as my main synthesizer. After careful selection, I landed on the then recently released DSI Pro 2.

Build Quality
Excellent. The body itself is firm, and heavy. The wood sides give the synthesizer a very serious and professional look. The labeling is really nice, and was a much needed upgrade from their previous synthesizer models. The knobs are smooth and work nicely. The keys are very comfortable to play, not too noisy, but still have some firmness to them. The aftertouch is really nice. The screen is simple but bright and easy to read. The font can be small, but is large enough to see while playing.

Features
I can't even really begin to list the amount of features this thing has and what it can do. It is certainly extraordinary and is really a swiss army knife in terms of compatibility with most other synthesizers, especially eurorack. The sequencer is very intuitive and fun to use. My only major qualm is that the sequencer does not retrigger automatically on time or in synch on the next step when you hit a different key. So if you are playing live, you really have to be aware of your timing when making changes.

The duel filters on this synthesizer is one thing I definitely want to mention. They are absolutely why this synth is worth the money. The Low-Pass Prophet 6 style filter is warm and round. It can easily dial in very vintage Prophet 5 and Pro 1 esc tones. However, the State-Variable filter is my personal favorite. It is also warm but much more gritty. When linked, they sound very unique together. Lastly, the ribbon sliders on the left are a lot of fun and very expressive.

Sound
Huge. It can be VERY angry and VERY gritty. You can dial in warm, round, vintage inspired tones pretty quickly. But really, the sharp, punchy, industrial sounds are where this synthesizer soars. I was inspired very quickly to work with some of the presets and turn them into my own unique variations. Designing patches is fun too. However, I would say that it definitely takes some time to learn the ins and outs of this synthesizer. Because it so deep in terms of features and the ability to assign all sorts of different mod routings, it can feel like there is always something new to learn about this synthesizer.

Price
$2000 can be expensive, but when you look at how much your getting in terms of features, coupled with sound and build quality, you really are getting a great bang for the buck. I found my DSI Pro 2 used for $1500, and I've even seen them go for less.

Overall
The DSI Pro 2 is the brain of my studio. While it can do a very limited form of chords, the Pro 2 lacks in it's ability to play polyphonically. This is because the Pro 2 is a paraphonic synthesizer. However, other than that, it really isn't lacking in any other department. It is a sound architects dream to work with this synthesizer as I feel like any sound I can hear in my head, I can dial in pretty quickly. It is easily the most powerful synthesizer I have ever worked with in terms of features and options. I look forward to a possible desktop model, one I can interface and expand my Pro 2 with.
Old 31st January 2016
  #3
Like a modular...

...in flexibility. The flexible Matrix, audio and CV and MIDI i/o options are top class and for me it substitutes a complete modular. It could act AS the braun of a modular or just extended with single or few modular components.

The only thing i still miss is linear FM and ring mod, but even without i would give 5 stars for features. Since Firmware 1.1.4 the Pro 2 got boosted a step forward and got usable on DAWs.

I like the flexibility and reliability the digital oscillators offer which are just impossible on full analog oscillators. For more analogish power i use other synths - i.e. DSIs Evolver Ort the Tempest.
Old 2nd February 2016
  #4
DSI Pro 2

Sound Quality: The sound quality of the Pro 2 is fantastic and with all its features you can really bring out all kinds of wonderful sounds from it. It is a hybrid synth with digital oscillators and dual analog filters. The first filter is a 4-pole Low Pass filter and the second filter is a 2-pole state variable SEM-like filter which sounds terrific. There's a Filter Routing knob that allows you to mix between serial and parallel modes as well.

Features: This synth has a ton of great features that allows you to go really deep into sound design. I really like all of the modulation options (4 LFOs, Mod Matrix, Step Sequencer), the dual analog filters described above, four oscillators + sub, and a really terrific paraphonic mode as well. It is really easy to get completely absorbed in sound design on this synth you can get very complex sounds from it.

Build Quality: The build quality of the Pro 2 is really fantastic. It is very sturdy, has tons of knobs and buttons, has a very informative and responsive OLED display (although its a little bit small), and is one of the best designed and great looking synths in my opinion.

Overall: The Pro 2 is my first DSI synth and it has quickly become one of my favorites from its vast feature set and excellent sound quality. At around $2000 brand new, it isn't cheap but I would find a way to replace it right away if anything were to happen to mine.
Old 5th August 2020
  #5
Lives for gear
 
rids's Avatar
 

What happens when you aren't completely sold on a synth by the merits of it's Oscillators (OSC)? Well, that's a great question and something I'll look at in this review. That can be a common mistake people make when they demo a synth by just listening to presets and maybe selecting a few different OSC types. This synth begs to be dug into and it can indeed reward those willing to do so.

First thing is first. Dave Smith and company have done a masterful job with this synth. Two big factors for me when buying this synth were features/modulation and the sequencer. What I didn't realize is how much I would like the interface of this synth. It's one of the best out there. If you look at Dave's past products, such as the Poly Evolver, you'll see similarities, but also a solid progression from synth to synth. Like the Poly Evolver, the Pro 2 fits the scenario of the whole being greater than the sum of it's parts. Whereas I felt the parts of the Evolver were a little weak (when I compared them to other synths out there), I don't feel that way with the Pro 2 with the possible exception of the raw OSC tone. Like many synth's pure waveforms, especially digital synths, the Pro 2 OSC waveforms don't jump out at me (which is to be expected), but they are absolutely solid performers. I only say this because some synths are completely about the raw OSC tone and sound fabulous with it's basic tone.

Alright. Nuts, then bolts.

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OSC:
There is a solid amount of digital Oscillator waveforms to choose from in the Pro 2. You get 5 standard waveforms like sine/saw/supersaw etc, plus 12 new waveforms, 12 super waveforms based on the last 12, and some interesting noise flavors. Not a bad offering and a lot can be done with these. I personally would have liked to see more offered, but that’s usually the case for me with most hardware that isn’t a sampler. Like I said before, the modulations are killer on this synth and the OSC section doesn't disappoint. You have FM and AM possibilities here and it's completely modular in how you want to do it. So you can take any of the 4 OSC and modulate any other OSC however you want. I don't hear this talked about much, but the Drive feature in the character section really adds a lot of sparkle to the Oscillators. Imo, this should always be used in your patches, even if just modestly. It gives it that extra bit of oomph or kick to the sound. And you also get some other nice character effects like hi and low boost to enhance the signal along with decimate and hack for dirtying things up. You can really add beef to your sounds with the Sub OSC. This is definitely a worthy successor of the Pro One

Btw, this is a Wavetable synth and a Wave Sequencing synth. Each OSC can have a Left and Right waveform assigned to it, so you can morph between the shapes like wavetable synths do. You can also assign the sequencer to play a different waveform per step of the sequence, aka Wave Sequencing.

A really cool feature of the Pro 2 is being able to play patches paraphonically with the Oscillators, but not for the fact it's paraphonic (playing chords). But the fact that you can set each Osc to a different waveform is fantastic. Your pads will be pads but with each note potentially having a completely different tone to the next. Or if you play single notes in paraphonic mode, it will cycle through the 4 different OSC waves (you already set) giving interesting variation to your sound. Very cool!

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FILTERS:
Unlike the Evolver series of relying on the sum of the parts to excel, the filters in the Pro 2 sound much better. I especially like the SEM style 12db filter. The Lowpass filter does sound better than lowpass filters in the Evolvers and it’s a solid workhorse in use. So yes, the filters are much more prominent here than on the Evolver series. On top of that, the filter Boost parameter adds a nice edge and gives your sound more body. Definitely a parameter not to be overlooked.

As you probably already know, the filters can be run in serial or parallel to each other. Crazy thing is you can morph/modulate between serial and parallel. The Link button is also really nice to have your Cutoff and Resonance controls match in each filter. Filter sync! Having dedicated controls for both filter envelopes on the front panel is quite nice.

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MODULATION:
Modular modulation. That's one of the most interesting thing about this synth. You can literally modulate anything with anything. It's amazing. Funny thing is, it has 4 CV ins and outs (with Gate Out) to modulate your modular or have your modular modulate the Pro 2. The possibilities are mind bending for a standalone synth with presets, which there are 396 user and 396 factory presets onaboard. One feature I miss in synths is having loopable envelopes. Not here. There are 5 envelopes and all are loopable with the Env Repeat parameter.

I tend to love LFOs on DSI gear because 4 is the right amount IMO. So much motion can be had mixing these 4, modulating one with the other. Not sure why other companies don't offer at least 3 on synths.

The modulation section is also really easy to bring up with Source and Destination buttons along with Amount knob directly on the front panel. I love the modulation section. Easy yet powerful. And setting up modulations is a pleasure with the crisp display screen.

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INTERFACE/SCREEN:
Ah yes, the screen! It's very crisp and clear to see in light or dark environments and it doesn't hurt my eyes to look at it either. Can't say that about those big blue Kurzweil screens of yesteryear. The screen on this is dynamite in combination with the whole interface. Buttons on the interface can bring up 4 parameters to edit with the knobs above the screen. The interface as a whole is extremely well laid out and quick to use. I was surprised how well thought out this interface is. For the amount of parameters, the interface does an excellent job of giving you access to everything and not burying things. There are Tabs on the screen to select different parameters of the section your in, but it's logically laid out.

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EFFECTS:
The 4 Delay Lines on this synth allow you to achieve various effects from Reverb, Flanger, Chorus, of course Delays and anything between. Page 38 of the manual will assist you with programming these effects as there’s simple examples of how to achieve each of these effects. From there you can make your own variations and experimentations.

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SEQUENCER:
The Sequencer is insanely powerful. I think this is a stroke of genius right here. It's not just fun to play, but it's so well thought out. It's intuitive and has some nice tricks like holding down multiple notes to make a tie as well as ratcheting. And yes the Skew parameter will give you slides ala 303, in which case you could also use the CV outs to sequence another synth for 303 synth lines. Though the Pro 2 can do acid as well. Being that you can have each step of the sequencer modulate up to 16 different parameters, while having any length up to 32 steps long, you can make some really dynamic sequences. Just plain awesome.

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OVERALL:
Bottom line is that I've never played a synth as deep as this while still being so easy to edit. The interface is fantastic. Everything always feels like one button press away if you have to use the screen. Otherwise all the main important parameters have dedicated knobs. Oh and to show you Sequential is on the top of their game, you can hold one of the LFO or OSC selection buttons and the screen will show you a common parameter for all 4 LFOs or OSCs! This is brilliant.

The crazy thing is, with all this said, I still think it's possible for Sequential to outdo themselves still in future synths. Sequential keeps upping their products, not just rehashing the same thing we’ve seen before. While the Pro 3 adds something different with the 2 analog OSCs and 1 DSP OSC , the Pro 2 stills holds it's merits with the 4 DSP OSCs and parallel/serial filters.

Wanted to make an amendment to this review and say that there are so many features onboard, it's hard to review everything this synth offers. The tuned feedback is awesome and something I've taken for granted being that I've owned all the Evolvers except the rack. This is a feature that provides so much gratification when tweaking. And that's the case with this synth. This is a 'kid in the candy store' type of synth that you can just keep tweaking and coming up with new sounds. Sometimes I'll be tweaking from the same preset and save 3 or 4 new ones from just the original sound I was tweaking. True fun to be had here.

Sequential did an outstanding job with designing the Pro 2 interface and making every parameter easily accessible. I had written this review years ago and never posted it, but with the Pro 3 being released, I thought I would put things in perspective with a more recent review. The Pro 2 is a monster of a synth and can produce monstrous tones. Yet it’s so accessible to tweak with it's easily accessible interface. Really impressed.

Customer support has been great each time I’ve used them as well.

Last edited by rids; 6th August 2020 at 11:34 AM..
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