Prophet 5

The Sad Guy

Musician and engineer Dave Smith bought one of the first Minimoogs in the early 1970s and designed a sequencer for it. This raised the interest of many musicians and he founded the company Sequential Circuits to produce and sell his products comercially.

In the late 1970s, another company, SSM introduced compact IC chips containing the electronic components of entire synthesizer parts like oscillators, filters and envelopes. This made it possible to build polyphonic Synthesizers that were more affordable and much more convenient to use than Oberheims early attempts to combine several complete monophonic synthesizers to a polyphonic unit (check the Oberheim SEM page to learn more).

At the same time, microprocessors were introduced, that made it possible to scan and store the values of each individual knob and switch on the panel. Combining these two inventions, Dave Smith built the first easily controllable polyphonic Synthesizer wich could store the sounds you created. That was groundbreaking at the time and made it a huge success when it came out in 1978.

Initially the synthesizer was intended to be called Model 1000. It was again Rick Wakeman, who suggested to give it a real name and brought up the Prophet idea. The 5 in the final Prophet-5 name stands for the number of Voices it can produce simultaneously.

Dave Smith continued to stay on top of innovation and co-developed the MIDI standard in the early 1980s, that up to this day realizes the digital communication between different musical instruments.

It seems he was not only a constant innovator, but also a very spiritual person at the time. When I opened up my Prophet 5 to replace a defective envelope chip and install a MIDI kit, I was presented with all kinds of buddhist symbols imprinted in the circuit boards. Researching that, I found out about an even more breathtaking hidden gem:

The sound memory described earlier used a routine programmed into the Z80 microprocessor that repeatingly checked each knob and switch on the panel for its value in a circular manner, dozends of times per second. It was only after decades that someone analysing the code of the programe running this routine discovered some additional mystery „commands“ at the end. Checking these, he found out that this was hex code of the Tibetan mantra „Om Mani Padme Hum“

Now I know why I was ever so attracted to that particular synth: It silently sings the Big Mantra. Over and over, all the time it is switched on!

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