Monday, January 31, 2011

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-10 "The Ultimate Keyboard" ad, Contemporary Keyboard 1980

Sequential Circuits Inc. Prophet-10 "The Ultimate Keyboard" advertisement from page 10 in Contemporary Keyboard December 1980.

What the...?!?! Ewwww. Not pretty! Not pretty! Mattos - come back!

When I first saw this ad, I thought maybe it was the some ugly duckling from SCI's past. Like, from back in 1978 when this similarly ugly early Prophet-5 advertisement found its way in CK magazine.

But, in fact, it is not. This advertisement appeared in Keyboard in late 1980.

Now, if you recall the time line of other recent Prophet-10 ads in my Mattos artwork blog posts, you will see what I'm all in a tizzy about. The Prophet-10 advert time line looks like this:

Mid 1980--> late 1980 (ACK!) --> Mid 1981

So, why run a really awesome Mattos-based ad, then switch to a boring black and white ad with absolutely NO design, and then wait half a year to run a new Mattos-based ad?

My guess? SCI had needed to get the word out on the specs of this awesome beast of a synth. As great as those previous Mattos ads were, they didn't tell readers *anything* about the instrument itself. Still, replacing that "Theatre" ad with this ugly thing breaks my design heart a little bit. I'm surprised that SCI didn't have any budget money to spice it up at all. Although - they did keep one aspect of the earlier ad - the "Ultimate Keyboard" tag-line (it appeared at the bottom of the "Theatre" ad, and then at the top of this ad).

But as ugly as that ad is, I'm still drawn to it because it contains so much technical info on the Prophet-10 - and as you'll see below, it is also a symbol of SCI's determination to get this beast to market.

As mentioned, the ad is a treasure chest of reference material that readers of CK were most likely waiting a long time to get their hands on. I say that because the only other real info I can find in CK on the Prophet-10 dates back to July 1979 from the Spec Sheet section. And that was probably when SCI anticipated the release of the Rev. 2 Prophet-10, that according to's Prophet-10 page was dropped after the first three prototypes were made. So, CK gear-junkies had been waiting over a year to hear more about the Prophet-10.

That July 1979 Spec Sheet write-up provides some great reference info:
"Sequential Circuits Polyphonic Synthesizer. The Prophet 10 is a dual-manual (5-octaves each manual) ten-voice synthesizer with 32 user-writable programs available on each keyboard. Extra programs can be stored on cassette tapes. An optional five-voice polyphonic sequencer is also available with a built-in cassette interface for storing sequences. It operates on the bottom keyboard and can be retrofitted into units purchased without the sequencer to begin with. Other features include pitch-bed and modulation wheels, octave transposition switches, assignable voice modes (you can set how many notes you play on each keyboard; you can also control two separate tone colors from the same keyboard), voice-assignment LED indicators to let you know which voice is being triggered at any given time, automatic tuning, programmable volume control, a program increment footswitch, three-band programmable equalization on each keyboard, two assignable and programmable control voltage pedals which can act on each keyboard in the same or different ways, depending on how you program them, two oscillators per voice, ADSR envelope generators, polyphonic modulation section, upper and lower keyboard balance control, an A-440 reference tone, stereo unbalanced and balanced outputs (for separate amping of upper and lower keyboards), and a mono unbalanced and balanced output. Sequential Circuits, 1172G, Aster Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94086."
And as the saying goes - when it rain, it pours. This information-packed advertisement ran in October and December 1980, and then just a month later in January 1981, CK published Dominic Milano's Prophet-10 Keyboard Report. That write-up finally provided readers with all the Prophet-10 info they would ever need, and the introduction is especially juicy because it provided readers (and me!) with a lot more history on exactly what happened with the Rev.1 Prophet-10's overheating issue.

You may recall that Rev. 1 Prophet-10s were built into the same single-manual chassis as the Prophet-5. Well... Dominic tells it much better than I ever could in that Keyboard Report introduction:
"In January 1977, Sequential Circuits brought out a polyphonic synthesizer called the Prophet, which was initially available in two models, a 5-voice and a 10-voice. The two models were identical except that one of them let you play up to five notes at once and the other let you play as many as ten. The Prophet's voices were homogenous - that is, only one tone color was available at a time - and each voice consisted of two VCOs, a resonant 24dB/octave lowpass filer with an ADSR envelope generator, and a VCA with another ADSR. These circuits were tied in to a Zilog Z-80 microprocessor which was programmed to remember voltage values and could therefore store complete patches in its computer-type memory. The Prophet-5 became one of the success stories of the synthesizer industry, but the original Prophet-10 was quickly withdrawn from the market. Despite the fact that much of the circuitry was in microchip form, too much electronics had been crammed into too small a space to allow for adequate heat dissipation, so the oscillators weren't very stable. Only a handful of units were shipped before the 10-voice was discontinued."
So, what we have here is a great example Sequential Circuits' drive and determination. After the failure of the Rev. 1 because of heat dissipation, and the drop of the Rev. 2 prototypes when the switch from SSM chips to CEM chips was made, SCI kept at it.

And a good thing too - because otherwise the world would never have had such a wonderful beast. :o)

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