It’s inevitable that, sooner or later, someone would make a comparison between the two main lines of DSI synthesizers. Let’s face it: the Evolvers are on one side and the Prophet ’08 and the other little instruments derived from it are on the other. I’m always debating within myself the vices and virtues of each line, so this morning I put one against the other – the P08 against the MEK – each with identical monophonic patches. For my test, I didn’t use the Evolver’s digital oscillators.
My only authority was my musical ear, and I only compared those aspects of the instruments that musically matter to me. This is not a technical comparison, but one based merely on general impressions. That’s my disclaimer.
The obvious differences between the two instruments are objective enough: the envelope times of the Evolver are perhaps double that of the Prophet. You can walk away from the Evolver and leave it singing for a good while; the Prophet can’t come close to this. But the Prophet has a crisper filter, and brass-type settings have more of a snap, while the Evolver is looser, with notes slightly running into each other, in spite of a short release time. This is true also for sounds with instant attacks: the Prophet’s zero time seems more immediate and exacting, whereas the Evolver has a slight pluck to it. In other words, regardless of the setting, the envelopes of the two instruments behave differently.
The resonance also differs on each instrument, with the Prophet sounding a bit richer, especially when the filter is wide open.
The LFO’s on the Evolver increase by smaller increments, so that you can introduce a subtle vibrato. The Prophet fails in this area, because the smallest LFO amount is already too deep. However, adding a delayed vibrato from the third envelope reverses the situation, in that the Evolver’s increases by too much even from the first increment.
The Prophet’s keyboard touch sensitivity is finer and more responsive to subtle pressure, whereas the Evolver’s keyboard responds more like an on/off switch. It’s difficult to gradually introduce a subtle amount of vibrato with pressure. I had to keep the LFO amount set to only “1,” so as to avoid amusical amounts of modulation from suddenly appearing. Yet even with this, it was difficult to very slowly increase the modulation depth.
Interestingly, I would consider the Prophet ’08 to be a finer monophonic instrument than the Mono Evolver Keyboard, except for that obnoxious clicking that sounds primarily when the P08 is in unison mode and you’re using pulse width modulation and no glide. But otherwise, the P08 in mono is quite nice, especially with its roomy five octave keyboard, which I would say is the highest quality keyboard on any DSI synthesizer so far. With only a few minor improvements, then, the P08 would make a superb full-time mono synth, especially considering that the stack mode gives you four analog oscillators with which to work – just like the MEK. Contrary to this, I find myself running out of keys on the MEK. Oh, for a low B flat! Three octaves is just too few.
The real test for me, though, came down to a classic synthesizer sound – very basic and very revealing: two sawtooths closely tuned to each other with a moderately bright filter setting, medium attack time and short release time, and vibrato provided by the modulation wheel and keyboard pressure. I programmed each instrument with the exact same patch and compared the two overall characters. The truth is, I could hardly tell them apart. I had expected the Prophet ’08 to sound substantially richer than the Evolver, but it didn’t. The Evolver matched it almost perfectly. In fact, I could detect ever so slightly a lower frequecy that added a faint rounded mellowness to the Evolver sawtooth. It was as if a soft triangle waveform had been added, or perhaps a sawtooth-triangle combination. This is where I’d like to have verified on an oscilloscope what my ear told me. Are the two instruments really identical in their waveforms? No, and I’m suppose it comes down to a matter of A/D-D/A converters on the Evolver.
Although there’s no doubt that the Evolvers can far surpass the Prophet ’08 and its descendents in sonic versatility, in the end, the Prophet ’08 comes out the finer musical instrument., in my opinion. The two DSI lines compliment each other well, in that they sound very much alike but excel in different areas.
I had lazily held to the much-repeated opinion that the Evolvers are digital-thin, compared with the Prophet ’08. Well, I put this presumption to the test – kneeling down in front of the speakers and listening from different angles – and found the presumption to be wrong. After my sawtooth test, I could not call one instrument thick and the other thin. They were substantially equal. I suspect that the supposed thinness of the Evolver sound comes from the digital oscillators’ influence on the analog oscillators, and perhaps on the Evolver resonance as well. The resonance issue may be key. I suspect also that the Evolver filter, when opened wide, is somewhat sterile sounding, compared with the Prophet ’08. But in many filter settings, the two instruments are like twins.