If you're looking for authentic analog synth vibes in the box, few developers have a more impressive track record of delivering stellar results than Urs Heckmann and his team at u-he. The company is responsible for a slew of wildly popular vintage emulations, none more notable than Diva, which many producers consider the best-sounding virtual analog plugin ever made.
Whereas Diva is a 7-in-1 instrument which models a range of the most popular synth designs of the past 40 years, u-he's latest release—Repro 5—is singularly focused on recreating the legendary Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, a synth with a rich history and one which easily makes it into a discussion of the greatest analog synths of all-time. In this review, we'll take an in-depth look at Repro 5 and see how it stacks up to its analog predecessor. As is typical for u-he creations, it comes stunningly close to the real thing for a fraction of the cost.
Setup and First Impressions
If you're not a fan of iLok or Syncrosoft dongles, Repro 5 will be right up your alley; simply install the VST/AU plugin, enter your personal serial number, and you're up and running, no hardware required.
While Repro 5 isn't a pixel-by-pixel recreation of the Prophet 5's faceplate, it's awfully close; the synth's front panel has more been rearranged than redesigned, and the faux-wood paneling and white notched rotary knobs will be instantly familiar if you've ever used the real thing.
Although Repro 5 is a near spot-on clone of the original hardware, it's also worth noting that u-he has taken some liberties now that we're in the digital age. The max polyphony of the synth is now 8 voices (up from 5 in the original), there's an entirely new modulation matrix, and Repro 5 includes an impressive built-in stompbox effect rack, which is capable of transforming dry patches into truly epic, massive sounds.
Any discussion of u-he synths would be incomplete without noting their considerable CPU drain. I've been using Diva for years, and while it's easily one of (if not simply) the best virtual analog synths I have, there's no question it's a CPU hog—if you have a 6-year-old production machine, it's likely not your best pick. Similarly, Repro 5 isn't exactly light on CPU, and users should be aware of this going in—I'd definitely recommend grabbing the free demo and playing around to see if your machine is up to spec. That being said, u-he's synths are CPU hogs because they simply do a better job of recreating the magic nonlinearities of analog gear better than the competition, and I don't mind the CPU drain here: if you want a no-holds-barred best attempt at creating the magic of the original Prophet 5 in your DAW, this is the ticket.
The Prophet 5—and Repro 5—are based around two oscillators with slightly different feature sets; oscillator A offers both pulse and saw shapes with variable pulse width and hard sync, while oscillator B offers saw, pulse, and triangle shapes with variable pulse width and an optional Lo Freq mode which adds additional LFO possibilities. Oscillator A and B levels are set in the Mixer, which also contains an amplitude control for a dedicated Noise oscillator. Once Oscillator levels are set, they flow into the legendary 24dB/octave low pass filter, which is much of what gave the original Prophet 5 it's tone; much like classic Moog models, higher resonance values on the filter trigger self-oscillation, although unlike a Moog, Prophets will begin reducing output volume as self-oscillation increases. Much like the original Prophet 5, Repro 5 offers independent ADSR envelopes for both Amplitude and Filter, both of which offer velocity modulation.
While the oscillators and filter(s) of any analog synth are largely responsible for its overall sound, the original Prophet 5 had another very unique trick up its sleeve to increase expressiveness—the Voice Mod panel—and u-he has recreated this brilliantly in Repro 5. The Voice Mod panel allows variable amounts of the Filter Envelope and Oscillator B's frequency to be sent to Oscillator A's frequency, Pulse Width, and Filter Cutoff. Most importantly, this modulation is polyphonic—in other words, it differs slightly from note to note—creating a highly unique modulation sound which can't be found in other analog designs. The original Prophet 5 was beloved largely because it can easily be pushed into 'weird' territory through the use of the Voice Mod, and Repro 5 is no different; whether you're after subtle modulation or truly bizarre sounds, this synth can accomplish both with ease. For producers who are largely accustomed to the modulation options in thoroughly digital synths—for example, Xfer Serum or Native Instruments Massive—the Voice Mod is unlike anything you've used before, and it's capable of delivering sounds that are very clearly not from a Rompler or stock DAW plugin.
It's also worth calling attention to arguably the biggest digital-only feature that Repro 5 offers—Tweak Mode—which essentially lifts the faceplate off of the Prophet 5, allowing for in-depth tweak-ability of almost every core aspect of the synth; amp and filter envelopes can be toggled between a variety of settings, LFO implementations can be changed, the filter can be switched between 4 different models, and most importantly, the two core oscillators can be adjusted using a range of different models, greatly expanding the flexibility of the synthesis on offer here.
So, how does it sound? Unsurprisingly given u-he's absolutely stellar track record in this category, Repro 5 sounds phenomenal; this is, point-blank, the closest you will get to a Prophet 5 without shelling out $5K or so for an original vintage unit—and the difference between u-he's digital recreation and it's original analog counterpart are truly minuscule, especially in the context of a full mix. In my experience, all types of analog-modeling plugins—whether they seek to recreate a famed EQ or a legendary synth—usually get the overall tone right but break apart easily when pushed hard. Whereas analog often sounds richer, fuller, deeper, and wider as it's driven hard, most plugins begin to sound tinny and brittle, making it clear you're not using the real thing. Much to u-he's credit, there's really none of that to be found in Repro 5; the oscillators sound absolutely massive (especially when modulated and detuned), the filter sounds incredibly rich and analog-like, and driving the filter into self-oscillation emits none of the obviously digital artifacts you'd expect.
It's also worth noting that u-he doesn't skimp in the preset department, and Repro 5 is no exception here either, with 950 presets from elite sound designers included. Presets run the gambit from the simple to the extreme; whether you're after bass, keys, leads, or strange sounds of indeterminate origin, Repro 5 has you covered.
The pedal effects—which include a polyphonic distortion unit (with soft clip, hard clip, foldback, and corrode models), tape saturation, vintage delay, resonator/EQ, plate reverb, and a 'sonic conditioner'—are all top notch, and they go a long ways towards recreating the magic of sending a beautiful analog keyboard into a boutique pedal rack. One of the crucial missing links many producers overlook when trying to recreate the magic of analog in the box is the output stage and processing of an analog synth; many of your favorite analog sounds weren't sent directly from a synth's output section right into Pro Tools—rather, they were typically driven through pedals to add vibe, tone, and space—and Repro 5 makes this easy to accomplish in one simple interface.
In Conclusion/Recommended For
I'd unreservedly recommend Repro 5 for any producer looking to recreate the magical, vibey, lush sound of the famed Prophet 5 in the box—this is as good as analog emulations get, and the u-he team has another hit on their hands here. Highly recommended.
- Beautiful, lush sound
- Stompboxes sound phenomenal
- Spot-on recreation of the Prophet 5 vibe and tone
- Extensive under-the-hood tweak-ability
- CPU intensive