The Prophet 5: How to Re-Create the Classic Synth With Free VST Plugins
There are few synths as iconic as the original Sequential Prophet 5. So many legendary artists have used it on chart-topping tunes, it was a staple in many hit-making 80s studios.
Today the Prophet 5 is a huge source of inspiration for so many modern synths—it set the standard for polyphony with intuitive tactile sound design. It also just sounded great.
So it’s no surprise that plenty of young producers are looking for ways to get their hands one—or to at least somehow re-create the sounds of the Prophet 5 for their own purposes.
In this article, were going to unpack what exactly makes the Prophet 5 sound like a Prophet 5—and we’ll explore some budget-friendly ways of creating these sounds in your DAW
Let’s dive in.
What is the Prophet 5?
The Prophet 5 is an analog polyphonic synthesizer with 61 keys that launched in the 1980s and was originally manufactured by Sequential Circuits. The synth is notable for being the first to use microprocessors that could save and recall patch settings.
The synth features a selection of fairly standard analog synth sound design capabilities—including sections for its oscillator mixer, amp envelope, filters, LFOs and much more.
A short history of the Prophet 5
After launching the Prophet 5, Sequential was sold out almost immediately—there were notoriously long waitlists and it could take months to get one made and delivered to your studio.
Sequential couldn’t keep up and eventually lost the trademark to Korg—soon the Prophet series of synths fell out of production.
But the synth remained a highly demanded instrument and only recently has Sequential re-acquired its trademark for the Prophet 5, meaning that today you can buy brand new hardware editions of the synth.
As well, Sequential has launched a similar series called the Rev series which is a re-issue of the Prophet 5’s counterpart the Prophet ’08.
It’s no wonder that many producers today are curious about synth, especially with all these reissues of analog hardware coming available.
What makes the Prophet 5 sound so good?
The Prophet 5 is the first polyphonic synth that allowed users to sound design in real-time and save their settings to instantly recall from memory. This marked a huge change in synthesis because users could return to the exact patch they’d made without having to start from scratch.
Aside from that, the instrument was meticulously engineered to sound really, really good.
Producers could return to the exact patch they’d made without having to start from scratch.
Dave Smith, who designed the instrument, used microprocessors that were state-of-the-art at the time to build its original circuits and make patch saving possible.
The result was a versatile synth that could be easily morphed into a huge array of sounds and reliably change from patch to patch.
Going from ethereal pads, to funky bass sounds, to bristling leads was easier than ever before and marked a new paradigm in music production.
The Prophet 5 today
The Prophet 5 is still very much a sought-after instrument today.
The original 80s edition of the Prophet 5 fetches high prices on vintage gear websites. You’re looking at a minimum of $10,000 before shipping and taxes—and that comes with no guarantees about the condition of the 40-year-old instrument.
The Prophet 5 is still very much a sought-after instrument today.
Sequential has also released a modern re-issue of the Prophet 5 alongside its Rev series. Currently Sequential is on its Rev 4 edition of the Prophet 5.
The modern Prophet 5 synth is excellent—it comes with all the original analog circuits but include all the trappings of a modern synth like USB, digital MIDI and some added sound design features including a “vintage” knob and larger patch banks.
Still, the re-issued synths fetch high prices—you’re going to shell out a few thousand dollars if you want one of these in your studio.
What Prophet 5 inspired plugin is best for you?
If you’re on a budget though, you really don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on hardware synths.
With today’s modern DAW, you can easily install software emulations of legendary synths at a fraction of the price—and in many cases for free.
There’s a handful of paid plugin re-creations of the Prophet 5 synth that do a fairly good job of authentically emulating the Prophet 5.
But if free is the best option for you right now there are a few free synth plugins that’ll satisfy your Prophet-5 needs.
Let’s take a look at a few plugin options you have to digtally re-create the synth in a DAW.
Best Prophet 5 plugin: Arturia – Prophet 5
Arturia’s version of the Prophet is a particularly notable paid plugin that comes in around $74—it’s easily the best one out there, so if you’re willing to pay for a plugin get this one.
Many have tried to digitally emulate the sound of the Prophet 5—but Arturia’s version consistently gets good reviews since it’s the best at getting closest to the fat, punchy warmth of a real analog synth.
Plus, it comes as part of Arturia’s incredible V-Collection that includes 28 authentic recreations of esteemed vintage synthesizers.
Hot tip: If you’re looking for the most affordable way to use pro-quality Prophet-5 based sounds in your tracks check out Analog Lab Lite from Arturia. This stripped-down version of V Lab offers thousands of presets built with the legendary synth library. Analog Lab Lite comes with yearly LANDR Studio subscriptions, alongside a curated collection of powerful plugins, access to LANDR’s industry-leading AI mastering tool, unlimited digital distribution, royalty-free samples and much more!
Free Prophet 5 plugins: analog modeling synths
If free is the best option for you right now you have a few choices.
While modern analog-style polysynths are heavily influenced by the Prophet-V to this day—flexible wavetable VSTs can give you some Prophet flavor if you know how to program them.
Just don’t expect the analog warmth, fatness and punch of a real hardware unit.
Here’s four free plugins we think do a good job of modelling analog synths.
1. Ableton Analog
If you’re an Ableton user you might already have a fairly capable analog modeling synth at your disposal.
Ableton has put a lot of engineering into recreating the sound of analog circuitry with genuine physical modeling synthesis technology.
Plus, with its considerable bank of expertly designed presets, you’ll find a good starting point for sound design pretty quickly.
If you’re currently on an advanced edition of Ableton this plugin should come stock with your DAW— but if you’re not you’ll need to download it at a cost of $119.
2. Tyrell N6
The Tyrell N6 from plugin maker U-He features a more similar interface to the Prophet 5.
Although it’s a less visual way of doing sound design like Helm—it instead uses buttons and knobs that have been organized into various sections for each part of the synth.
You’ll find a section with controls for two oscillators—knobs to select waveform and modulation amount. You even get a dedicated oscillator modulation section for added control over modulation.
Aside from oscillator modulation, the plugin comes with two LFO sections and an LFO matrix for sending modulation to parts of the synth like filter and amp envelope.
The synth also comes with a mixer, filter and ADSR sections that are somewhat similar to the Prophet 5.
The Tyrell N6 was built with hardware synths like the Prophet 5 in mind, so it makes an excellent free option if you’re looking to emulate analog sounds in your tracks.
Helm is a synth plugin with a decidedly visual interface, making it an incredibly user-friendly synth that shows you exactly what you’re doing as you make changes to its sound.
If you’re just getting started with sound design having a visual interface like Helm’s is super useful.
Like the Prophet 5, Helm is a polyphonic synth and features a handful of the same sound design features—like ADSR, filter knobs, waveform selectors, two oscillators, LFOs and more.
Helm comes with 200 presets for you to dive into as well—making it a great tool for getting inspired with starting points for crafting your own sounds.
If you’re impressed with Helm, you might want to get your hands on Vital—it’s the other free synth plugin developed by Helm creator Matt Tytel.
Vital is a bit different from the more analog style of Helm since it’s technically a wavetable synth, but it still features the heavily visual interface that Helm is known for.
But even though it’s a wavetable synth it’s still got all the capabilities that you need to do an honest job of emulating a Prophet 5—arguably it’s capable of that and even more!
Vital comes with three oscillators, filters, LFOs, an ADSR section, and filter options. The free version comes with 75 presets and tons of customizability.
This plugin is fairly new to the free plugins landscape so if you haven’t scooped this one up definitely grab it.
The prophet has spoken
The Prophet 5 is one of the most iconic synths ever made. There’s a reason why it’s such a sought-after synth by so many producers.
Of course, procuring an expensive piece of analog gear isn’t possible for everyone—so plugins are, as always, an excellent alternative.
So if you want to try and get a Prophet 5 sound in your tracks, definitely at least try these free plugins—or grab Arturia’s excellent emulation!
Alex Lavoie works as a staff writer at LANDR by day and moonlights as a drummer for folk-rock outfit The Painters.
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