Monday, July 7, 2014

Sequential Prophet VS "When an innovative new technology..." ad, Keyboard 1986

Sequential Prophet VS "When an innovative new technology..." full page colour advertisement from page 89 in the April 1986 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

While working on that recent Yamaha CX5M blog post I made the mistake of flipping through that April issue and came across this beauty. Almost simultaneously, in another tab of my browser is a link to Dave Smith Instruments latest big announcement on their new beauty - the PRO2 mono synth.  "One voice to rule them all" - Hell Yeahz!!!

There's just too much "synth-sexy" popping up on my screen! :)

Anyways, when chatting with other gear heads about vintage Sequential Circuits Instruments gear - the Prophet-5 is almost always where the conversation tends to veer. And for good reason - sweet machine. But more often than not, I will make an attempt to pull the conversation towards the Prophet VS.

That machine is just as sweet.

So it makes sense that when Sequential made the decision to reintroduce the Prophet name in a kick-ass new instrument, they must have known they had something awesome. And thus the Prophet VS was born. That "VS" in the name stands for "vector synthesis". And if you were around *before* the Prophet VS came into existence, chances are when you finally did hear one for the first time in a music store, you had probably never heard anything like it coming out of a single synthesizer. It can sound analog as heck in one patch, and as crispy digital with its bells and clangs in the next. But it could also "swirl". Yeah.... that's right. SWIRL.

Keyboard Magazine's Jim Aiken reviewed the Prophet VS in the August 1986 issue of Keyboard. And I think the opening paragraph will give you a good idea on just how incredible the VS was.
"Sure, it's a radical new approach to synthesis. But does it sound good? Yes, it sounds good. It sounds very, very good. If Sequential's new Prophet VS sells as well as it sounds, it's going to be the success story of 1986."
Jim's three page review ends with similar praise:
"From the moment we turned the Prophet VS on, it was apparent that Sequential has a winner on their hands. The factory presets sound wonderful, and many of them have a distinctive character that differs in subtle ways from anything we've heard before... There are a lot of fine synthesizers out there these days, but Vector Synthesis really does put the VS in a class by itself."
So, its obvious that at the time it was introduced, it was receiving high praise from everyone and their dogs (and cats). But that Keyboard review is from 1986. And history really ended up doing a number on Sequential, as well as a number of other American manufacturers finding themselves up against the deluge of synths that were being pumped out of the rest of the world.

To see exactly what happened, we can jump ahead a decade or two and take another look at what was being written about the Prophet VS. One of the best VS "retro" review articles I've ever come across on the Web is a Sound on Sound retrospective on the machine that appeared in the November 2001 issue written by Rob Alexander. Rob was definitely a fan. Probably more of a fan than me.

Sure, he does an awesome job explaining the machine and in particular vector synthesis, but for me it's the article's opening paragraphs that really helps give readers (and you!) a great synopsis of the time period and the synth market environment Sequential found themselves in the 80s. 1983 gave the world Yamaha's FM synthesis, '85 presented us with Casio's Phase Distortion and Korg's DWGS (Digital Waveform Generator System), and Roland pulled LA (Linear Arithmetic) synthesis out of their hat soon after. In Rob's words, "Such was the rather muddled state of the synth market in the summer of 1986."

Yup. Sure was.

The article goes on to explain that although the VS was definitely one of the best sounding synthesizers on the market, the high US dollar led to a rather high price tag in other parts of the world. Also, Sequential couldn't make units fast enough due to financial restrictions within the company at the time.

The result... well, I'll let you read the rest of the article to find out how it all turned out, but if you are a fan of Sequential and Dave Smith Instruments, you already know. Happy ending indeed with the new PRO-2.

I haven't really talked about the ad itself and it deserves a bit of attention. The layout is as clean and well laid out as the Prophet VS's own front panel. Even with the amount of content needed to explain exactly what this "radically different" synthesis method is all about, the designer managed to keep the photo of the Prophet VS relatively large, with that VS joystick front and centre.

The ad is almost as rare as the instrument itself. According to that Sound on Sound article I mentioned earlier, only about 2500 Prophet VS keyboards were produced and 900 or so racks. This particular Prophet VS ad only seems to have appeared in Keyboard Magazine in the February, March and April 1986 issues.

One other thing about the ad content I just have to find out...

I wonder if Dave Smith really did almost name the Prophet VS the "Tsunami"?

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