A sheep in wolf’s clothing
I don’t know why the phrase “A sheep in wolf’s clothing” came to me immediately when I was thinking up a sub-header for the Sequential Prophet REV2 (henceforth just called the REV2), but it did all the same and in a way, I feel like it is a bit fitting. First, let me forewarn you – these reviews aren’t meant to be technical introductions to the instrument nor are they paid reviews that explain how wonderful an instrument is.
In 2019 purchased a desktop REV2 (I think it was a Dave Smith Instruments device back then). I got it for $850 – and wow times change. Now in 2023 used 8-voice versions (which is what I had) go for $1300 or more. Back then, I didn’t think my desktop was worth $850 and was glad I hadn’t spent more money on it. I have a hard time thinking about spending twice that on the same thing today. Obviously global issues with supply chains stemming from COVID19 probably played a large role in this increase, or perhaps I just got an amazing deal on it back then.
Well – I guess I should start out by saying, why did I even want it? At the time, I thought “This should be almost identical to my Matrix 1000, but with better controls.” And, in one way it is. It has similar (or identical?) voice chips. I have compared them and found that the oscillators do in fact sound pretty similar. I remember being surprised by that. However, there did seem to be some weight or ‘body’ to the sound of the Matrix 1000.
So what was wrong with the REV2? Why did I part ways with it? I think it began when I started hearing this buzzing sound. The oscillators bleed through the filter (even when fully closed). It is very hard not to hear it when headphones are used. Below is a visual of how bad the bleed is. On the left is what you might see when you close the filter completely and play some notes. On the right is what the noise floor would be in that example without playing any notes. Do other synths have bleeding like this? Absolutely. I have heard it both on my Chroma Polaris and Matrix 1000. When I tried to understand how bad it was on the REV2 versus the Matrix 1000, I had calculated something like a signal to bleed ratio on the REV2 and Matrix 1000 and found a 7:1 versus a 20:1 respectively, meaning that the Matrix 1000 was around 2-3X quieter with oscillator bleed at a given volume compared to the REV2. DSI/Sequential maintained that this was completely normal behavior, that I needed to turn the master volume on my REV2 to 100% and set the gain on my mixer to minimum. This is something I usually need to do with all DSI/Sequential synths for some reason, but never have to think much about with other gear. When I showed DSI the below image and asked if it’s truly possible that this is normal behavior, they never replied to me. Well, anyway, that specific unit of mine was traded for a Chroma Polaris – in what I can consider a trade of curses.
The overall sound of the REV2
After selling the REV2, I didn’t really look back. Although any time one was listed I thought about buying it again, especially after having access to other DSI/Sequential synths. After the REV2 Desktop, I bought a Prophet 12, Prophet 10, then later a Poly Evolver. All of these sounded really good and I thought maybe I was wrong about the REV2. After all, I made one of the best sounding pad patches I’ve ever come up with on the REV2 (Youtube link below).
I have tried replicating that first sound on pretty much every synthesizer I’ve had since and just nothing did that sound much justice. I have even since purchased a Prophet 08 and guess what, I still can’t get that sound on it because part of the reason the REV2 sounds the way it does is due to the effects that I had used onboard (BBD delay) that was being modulated by the LFO, which the P08 doesn’t have. Oh well.
Thankfully, this year (2023), I was able to do a short-term trade – their REV2 keyboard for my Chroma Polaris. I loaded that sound up and tried to do something similar with the Prophet 12, which sounds similar, but again, isn’t perfect.
Comparisons and notable things
But now that I have the REV2 in my hands again – and having 4 years more experience, I can provide some extra thoughts on the overall experience, especially compared to the Prophet 12. First, I remember when I had the REV2 desktop and was blown away by how simple it was to interact with things. You just have to hold a button and twist a knob to link an LFO to a parameter. It was really awesome and something I missed once I sold it. I didn’t realize just how much better the UI/UX was on the Prophet 12.
On the Prophet 12, there is a huge OLED screen. The REV2 has just a small OLED screen – which I swear every manufacturer uses now. I don’t really like those small screens. They feel somewhat cheap, but then manufacturers can claim they’re using an OLED screen like it’s an important feature. I’d rather have one of those old 2×64 or 2×128 LCD screens (or whatever size they are). These screens are just so tiny.
Don’t even try to name patches on the REV2 – it is an awful experience. If you initialize a patch, you are left with “Program Patch A” or something. You then have to select each letter and twist counterclockwise to bring it back to blank (for that letter – and you have to do it for EACH letter). There appeared to be no way to blank the entire name and start over. On the Prophet 12, which was made prior to the REV2, guess what you can do? Yes, that’s right, you can clear the entire name, making it easy to rename a patch. If the REV2 had this feature – it wasn’t easy to see or access because of their nice new teeny OLED. Let me say that if you plan on making a patchbank or generally want to label your patches, please go to this website called F0F7 which I was absolutely lucky enough to find online which will let you load your patches and rename them. It isn’t the easiest website to use as I once accidentally deleted a few of my patches and had to reload them via SYSEX, so be careful. Whoever made that website is a saint.
The ‘sound’ of the REV2 is ok. I really don’t know what it is about the REV2 I don’t like. It just doesn’t have a very pleasing sound to me. “Stiff” is the only adjective I can come up with. The oscillators and filter work together in such a way that I don’t enjoy the overall sound. I found that the effects section really opened it up. In fact, in my patchbank that I made – I found that I needed to use the effects quite often. One trick I particularly enjoyed was throwing the reverb to 100% wet and that made for some really interesting piano type sounds, fitting for Minecraft-esk music. I am not sure if I like the REV2 or Prophet 12 more for sound. The REV2 has a far smaller pallet and to me is the less interesting synth, but the Prophet 12 also does some weird things with the filter to close it and reduce any aliasing at the higher frequencies which also sounds strange to me.
REV2 versus Matrix 1000
Without a doubt – the Matrix 1000 is the far superior sounding synth. It fails only in UI. I wish I had purchased the Matrix Programmer from Stereoping when I had the chance. The price when the Euro and US dollar hit parity was the perfect opportunity, but I chose not to go forward with it. I regret that decision and now it is no longer produced. The Alpes programmer is still available, but I often get confused on the website because it appears to need multiple parts and so I just don’t buy anything. In fact, I just went there now and saw things like “ECO” as though there’s a different build which I didn’t see, and then added cost to building it and I think it just all adds up. So, alas, I just don’t buy anything. Plus, it’s hard to sink $700+ into a controller for a synthesizer when you could just buy a synthesizer for that price, which is the larger reason I never bought a controller. Either way, I’d still take the Matrix 1000 over the REV2, regardless of whether or not I have a programmer. My iPad and Patch Base does the trick.
REV2 versus Prophet 12
This is an easy comparison too. I’d much rather have the Prophet 12 than the REV2. Even if the Prophet 12 ‘analog oscillator waveforms’ have some strange issues with the filter, it’s by far a better experience to use the Prophet 12 (P12). Any time I was editing things on the REV2, I thought it would be similar to how the P12 worked, but I found that it wasn’t. On the P12 the mod matrix has a nice matrix page with all of the slots shown in one screen that you can scroll through. On the REV2 it shows you one at a time. I also think the REV2 has way fewer slots (I think 8 instead of 16 on the Prophet 12). I am not sure whether the filter sounds better on one versus the other. I think they’re pretty much identical. Naming patches on the P12 is way easier, as stated above. Additional settings is very simple to find on the P12. On the REV2 you have to press a button to show extra parameters. It confused me so much trying to find where those settings were on the REV2, as it shares the same space as the knob settings if you change anything.
REV2 versus Prophet 08
I managed to get a Prophet 08 for fairly cheap recently, while I had access to the REV2 and did a comparison between them. I immediately found the P08 to sound better. I was shocked at how much better it sounded. However, I soon learned that the initialized patch is NOT identical between them. When I made all the settings identical, I felt like they sounded close enough that I figured the extra features of the REV2 made it a better purchase. These improvements include: Better keyboard and better UI (although I still think the LCD on the Prophet 08 is somewhat better than the OLED on the REV2). But one thing is clear: the Prophet 08 has a far superior ‘noise’ source. How is that important? Well, when you use noise as a modulation source, it has a really nice lofi type sound on the Prophet 08. On the REV2, it just sounds bright and obnoxious. I don’t know why they’re not identical but they are absolutely not the same, to the point that I’d rather have the Prophet 08 over the REV2. In fact, the Prophet 08’s noise sounds better than on the Poly Evolver or Prophet 12 too! I don’t understand why it sounds better, especially as a mod source, compared to the others. I’m not sure I have the interest in making a comparison video between the REV2 and Prophet 08, as my ‘comparison’ videos aren’t usually well viewed and my technical capacity and interest in making comparison videos is usually pretty low. I wasted all of my energy with the REV2 on making a sound bank for it instead, and that was quite a challenge.
REV2 versus Prophet 5/10
Someone asked me online how I compared these. I’ll just repost what I said to them:
I’d say it’s sort of like the difference between looking at a photo of a sunrise, and experiencing a sunrise. Yes, your brain knows what it is and probably how it should feel and seem, but ultimately you know it’s just a photo of the sunrise. The only way in which the REV2 is better is the fact that it has a lot more mod sources (which I don’t think make up for anything here), has S&H LFO, has an arpeggiator, and octave transpose buttons. Apart from those features, the P5/10 is better in every single way. Sound, being the most important of those features.
Revelations Patch Bank
With the time I had with the REV2, I decided to finish the patch bank I started when I had my first desktop unit in 2019. I didn’t realize how much of an undertaking this would be given that I needed to make 128 patches and only had about 15 to start with. Plus, we adopted a German Shepherd dog who is extremely full of energy despite being over 8 and a half years old, who was then attacked by my other dog resulting in $1200 in emergency vet bills, and then my wife losing her job as well. Needless to say, it has been a difficult task to create this patch bank in a month. But below is the result of that work.
To finalize, the REV2 is an okay synthesizer. I call it a sheep in wolf’s clothing because there’s nothing spectacular about it. It lacks the powerful raw sound of the Prophet 5/10, the interesting features of the Prophet 12, and some of the tone from the Prophet 08 and Poly Evolver. It would not be my first choice for a beginner, my third choice for an intermediate, nor a top tier synth for an advanced user. I don’t really know where it would fall in my choice category, because I don’t think I’d ever really want the REV2. That said, I think it sounds good and does the job and has a decent UI, I just think if you’ve got the money to spend, it would be best served with something else, especially at the prices they’re being sold second-hand these days.