Dave Smith Instruments – Pro 2 Mini-Review

So, I bought a Dave Smith Instruments Pro 2 synthesizer.

DSI Pro 2 Synthesizer

A few months ago, I bought a Eurorack modular synthesizer system (a Pittsburgh Modular Foundation 3), and at the same time, I needed a new controller keyboard for my computer setup. I wanted something really small, that would fit on my desk next to my (qwerty) keyboard. I chose the CME XKey for the small-controller purpose.

But I also wanted a keyboard with CV capability, to control the modular. I had a MIDI keyboard and could use a MIDI-CV interface to do this, but I wanted a bit more CV control than that. The DSI Pro 2 has multiple CV outs, and many modulation sources (including the keyboard, the onboard step sequencer, LFOs and envelopes) can be routed to them. So I sold the MIDI controller and bought the Pro 2.

After some delays, my Pro 2 finally arrived yesterday. I won’t go over the specs, which can be easily found at the manufacturer’s website, or sound samples, which can be easily found there and on dealer websites, but just give my general impressions.

Build Quality

The first thing you notice is the build quality, which is impeccable. The housing is metal and walnut, and is very solidly built. The mod and pitch wheels feel great. The buttons are solid and click nicely when pressed, and light nicely when pressed. The pots are smooth and the rotary encoders have nice detents. My only complaints are that the some of the sequencer buttons are very slightly unevenly aligned, and that sometimes I have a hard time dialing in very small increments with the rotary encoders.

Sound Quality

This synth sounds fantastic. The sounds are punchy and present. If you are familiar with modern Dave Smith instruments such as the Prophet 08, Tetra and Prophet 12, you won’t find any surprises here. The four oscillators are digital wavetable oscillators, with a variety of traditional analog waveforms (saw, sine, triangle, pulse) and a few others. You can morph between the waveforms, and oscillator 1 has a sub osc as well. The oscillators can modulate each other (sync, FM, AM), can can be stacked (four oscillators in a single voice routing), split (two oscs to one filter, two to the other), or paraphonic. There are two filters, which can be serial or parallel; one is a traditional lowpass and the second is a state-variable filter which can be lowpass, highpass, bandpass or notch. The audio path past the filters is analog.

Programming

Programming is a breeze. Turn the knob you want and the parameter changes. Related parameters are displayed on the OLED, and you can adjust them with the soft knobs above the display or the soft buttons below it.

There is a large modulation matrix, with dozens of scalable (scale source X by Y and apply to destination Z) and fixed modulations available, with dozens of sources and destinations, including internal parameters and LFOs and envelopes, and external CV/gate inputs and outputs.

Sequencer

Each patch has a sequence associated with it, which can be key-latched or triggered by the play/stop button. The sequence can reset with keypresses, or continue playing. Pressing a key transposes the sequence. The sequence can be 32 steps x 8 tracks, or 16×16. Track 1 is always used for note triggers (with pitch and velocity); tracks 2 and up can be routed to any parameter you can use as a modulation destination (including external MIDI and CV outs).

I have a few minor initial complaints with the sequencer but overall I am very happy with it. My minor complaints are:

  • I’d like to be able to set a gate length for each step of the sequence.

  • I’d like to be able to easily enter a rest while entering a step sequence, instead of having to enter a placeholder note and then turn off that step later.

  • I’d like to be able to focus the editor on a specific step to adjust its value without turning off the step. (Edit: To do this, press and hold the step button instead of tapping it.)

  • I wish the scale of the “Osc X Pitch” track destinations was in semitones or in some other musical unit. I’m not sure what the scale is, but to get a musically useful interval you have to turn a knob and tune it by ear.

Software

The OS is very well done. Turning a knob or pressing a button brings up the corresponding parameter page on the display. The OLED display is sharp and high-contrast, and is very easy to read from just about any angle, in high or low ambient light.

My only complaints about the software are that, as I previously mentioned, it can be tough to dial in a specific value on a rotary encoder (the only time I care that precisely is if it’s a bipolar value that I want to set to 0, so a “zero this knob” button might be nice), and that I’d like to be able to initialize a patch to a set of standard parameters with a button press (and zero out all the mod slots for example).

Overall

I’m really very pleased with the Pro 2. Someone online said that they thought this was the Minimoog of the new generation of analog monosynths, and I don’t think that’s an unfair comparison at all. I can tell that this machine will stay in my studio for a long time (just a little to the right of my Moog Voyager Anniversary Edition).

(And if I were in the market for a new polysynth, I’d give some very strong consideration to the Prophet 12, which has similar voice architecture and programming.)