Behringer Pro-800 — Voice of the Prophets
The latest addition to The Disaster Room is Behringer’s super-clone of the Sequential Circuits Prophet-600. Like the original, it packs a serious price/performance punch!
Background — Prophet-600
Original Prophet-600s, released in 1982, were quite similar to the Sequential Prophet-5 but with six voices of polyphony instead of five, and nearly all of the Prophet-5’s features. Utilizing the same CPU-controlled synth concept, it relied chiefly on more and better integrated circuits to come in at a significantly lower price. Additionally, the Prophet-600 also offered one significant feature not available on the Prophet-5 at the time: MIDI.
Jointly developed by Dave Smith (founder of Sequential and designer of the Prophet-5 and Prophet-600) and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi, MIDI quickly became an industry standard communications protocol for electronic musical instruments. The Prophet-600 was the second synthesizer to come with MIDI as a standard feature, Roland’s JX-3P being the first.
The voice architecture of the Prophet-600 was nearly the same as the Prophet-5, with two VCOs, one low pass VCF, one VCA, one LFO and two ADSR envelope generators. The Prophet-600 VCOs were actually slightly more featured than the Prophet-5, with both the A and B oscillators offering all of triangle, ramp and pulse waves. One of the envelope generators was dedicated to the VCA, with the other being hard wired to the VCF. The “poly mod” controls allowed a mix of the filter envelope and VCO B to be routed to the VCO A frequency (called cross modulation by Sequential) or to the VCF cutoff frequency. The LFO offered triangle and square waveforms, and was routable to VCO frequency (both VCOs), VCO pulse width modulation, and VCF cutoff frequency. Performance controls consisted of a 61-key keyboard (without velocity or aftertouch), plus pitch and modulation wheels.
I sold/traded my Prophet-600 away long before GliGli’s upgrades were even dreamed of, and regretted it almost instantly. When I heard that Behringer was going to make a Prophet-600 “clone”, I committed to buying one immediately.
Behringer’s take on the Prophet-600 aims to be a much-improved version. In addition to having 8 voices of polyphony, it incorporates an upgraded system processor and includes the rewritten, feature-rich operating system by GliGli. First released in 2014, GliGli set about improving overall performance of the Prophet-600, specifically the envelopes and LFOs, which were controlled using a Zilog Z80 CPU. GliGli replaced the Z80 with an Atmel-based Teensy microcontroller and custom code, and over the years added numerous features to the upgrade. Behringer worked directly with GliGli to create the Pro-800.
My initial impressions of the hardware:
- It feels reasonably well made. The chassis is made from real metal and wood, and feels really solid. The front panel, though, might be plastic.
- There’s a little “flex” to the knobs, although they all feel really smooth and have a consistent stiffness to them that’s pretty pleasing.
- The slide switches are all about as nice and solid as slide switches can be.
- The membrane switches feel pretty good, but their longevity remains to be seen. Unlike the original Prophet 600, they are integrated into the front panel. On the Prophet, since the front panel was steel, the switch pads were applied as separate components. On the Pro-800, the button pad is neatly inset into the front panel.
- It feels like everything is about 2/3 the size of the original — necessary to get it into their standard chassis, and of no real concern, although some of the knob spacing feels a little cramped.
Playing and Patching
This is not your father’s Prophet-600. Well, it’s not my Prophet-600 anyway. Sure, it sounds a lot like I remember the Prophet-600 sounding, but I didn’t have the GliGli upgrade (as I said, it came out long after I sold mine) and so this really is a bit different instrument. Having two more voices really doesn’t make a huge difference, mostly, except when in unison mode making big, juicy saw or pulse patches.
I did set the Pro-800 to use the fast-attack filter envelopes with the supposedly longer release, but otherwise, I’ve left it pretty much as it came, and set about to record some samples. Of course, there are lots of buzzy, filter sweeping sounds that come pretty easy, but I also tried some things I might not have even tried in my earlier days. I also remembered a friend playing a serviceable organ sound with his Prophet-600 back in the day, so I tried to recreate one.
The filter is highly resonant, and can be tuned quite easily, making it fully “playable” on its own or as a third, polyphonic oscillator.
I also noticed that the oscillators do tend to “beat” against each other slightly — or at least it sounds like they do. I’ll need to investigate that in more depth — it was pretty late at night when I noticed.
A look at the waveform from the above sample shows some slight discrepencies…
There are a plethora of YouTube videos that highlight the Pro-800 presets, so I spent some time and came up with a few original sounds to share here to give an idea of what the synth sounds like when you start twisting the knobs yourself. All of these were started from the “init” preset.
Behringer has done a really nice job of capturing the essence of the Prophet-600 with the GliGli upgrade and even taken it a couple steps further. It is most certainly worth the $400USD price tag if you’re in the market for a great sounding, real analog, vintage-style synth module! There are, however, a few of things to be aware of. First, this is a fairly faithful reproduction of an early-eighties analog synth. As such, it’s output is monaural (meaning not stereo). Second, it has no onboard effects processor. While I haven’t tried it yet, I strongly suspect the Pro-800 would pair really nicely with something like the Zoom G3n multi-effects processor. There are a few modulation limitations, too. For instance, the LFO level can’t exactly be adjusted in all instances. And, unlike newer synths, the routing options are a bit limited.
But, my gawd, the thing can make some luscious fat pads and screaming leads and even great DNB kicks.
Another thing to bear in mind: it is obviously a module, so you’re going to need a MIDI controller to play it. Of course, there are pros and cons to the module format that Behringer have been using of late. As I mentioned above, it’s quite compact. And, it ships with the parts necessary to convert it to Eurorack mounting, and there’s also the ability to convert it for standard 19″ EIA rack mounting. However, it lacks CV inputs for note and gate control, although it does have a filter cutoff CV input and a Eurorack-level audio out jack (in addition to the standard 1/4″ line-level output on the back panel).
If you were to ask me how the Pro-800 (or a GliGli-upgraded Prophet-600) would stack up against the Take 5, I’d honestly have to tell you that the Take 5 is a vastly improved synth. The Take 5’s got a lot more capability and better sound quality, as well it should considering its design is 40 years newer and it costs almost four times what the Pro-800 costs. But nothing else I’ve heard brings 1982 back and still manages to sound relevant as well as the Pro-800.
More Pro-800 and Prophet-600 For Your Enjoyment…
As usual, I’ve also curated a YouTube playlist relating to the Pro-800 as well as the Prophet-600.