Review of the Proteus 2000
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Review of the
Proteus 2000

 And Free Patches and Resources

by Rich the TweakMeister

 

Pros
  • 128 Voice polyphony
  • Multiple outs
  • 32 MIDI channels
  • 3 expansion slots
  • Hip, clean sounds
Cons
  • Pianos and Strings not as good as other synths (can be expanded with better roms though)
  • Not GM Compatible

I think I was the first in line to buy the original proteus/1 XR in 1989. Then I had to have the Proteus 2 and then the 3.  So I am no stranger to the Proteii.  I've been watching the Proteus 2000 for quite some time, weighing pros and cons of getting one.  I finally did bite the bullet after a few months of marveling over the XTreme Lead-1.  I found myself maxing out all 16 channels in nearly every new song and decided it would be better to get a P2000 than wait for an XL-1 Turbo board (which is unfortunately way too pricey and has to be installed at Emu.)  And there was a lot to like in the Proteus 2000.  Its eons beyond the old Proteii.  and does not sound like them thankfully. This is not to say the old units are bad, when you want honest sample playback these units still cut the mix, especially the PII.  However, the Proteus 2000, though marketed as a "Generalists Module" sounds to my ear more like a dance module.  And with the addition of the Audity 12th order filters (which were included in the OS Upgrade 1.10 currently available at Emu's site) I can give this module the nod for tweakability.  If you have an older OS (check at power up) you should be going to get the upgrade as you only have half the filters in your box. 

 

Hardware Generale'

 

128 voice polyphony.  Very cool to be able to stack things without much worry.  Plenty of outputs.  You get the Main L/R stereo and Sub-Outs 1/2 and 3/4, similar to the old Proteii.  The cool thing is you can add external FX boxes and even pedals to these jacks and if you do it right, noting the tip/ring/sleeve signal flow you can route the FX back into the P2k and hear the FX at the stereo out.  Or if you want you can use them as additional outs at the board and isolate your kick and snare to get that perfect mix. Or if you are short on mixer channels you can actually route two other synths into the P2k and hear them all out the L/R mains.  You also get a digital out, unlike the XL-1, which is bound to come in handy as the studio grows.  I'm particularly thinking of mating it to my esi32 turbo to sample some of the bizarre space FX I am getting in the P2k.   

Free! 
127 Presets from the TweakHeadz
"electronica collection"
courtesy of the TweakMeister

Presets and Possibilities

 

 

 

Space FX?  The P2K has not been noted as strong here, but I am finding it's darn near perfect, and way better than those tweezy DX/TX's everyone boasts about.  Programming the P2k will yield sounds by the tonnage and its moderately fast.  Naturally, the bottom line in any synth you want to program is the number and quality of samples.  Emu had to make some choices here between giving us a few hundred long quality samples or over 1000 shorter ones.  They chose the latter.  There are 1173 instruments in the box--some multisamples, some single samples.  I like that, though for those wanting to make super quality strings and lush pads and ensembles, you ought to go elsewhere.  (Now you can do some pretty interesting pads, but these are more of the ear candy electronic variety than the beatific emulative type). The Piano is good enough for inside a mix or even by itself.  It will not rival the famed Alesis piano in the QS, but its closer to Roland's session piano, though a bit colder.  Usable.  And they provide an exhaustive variety--too many, I think.  But I am glad they didn't break the ROM bank making it, which left plenty of room for synth waveforms, basses, FX, and drums and percussion.  There's  strings, brass, organ, hitz and EP samples too.  As is almost expected nowadays, you can audition each preset by pressing a button and one of the many "riffs" will play the patch.  I really like Emu's way of implementing that.   

 

Here's a song made with my custom Proteus 2000 patches

 

There are some beautiful electric pianos and organs.  The B3 sounds are excellent! "Green Eyed" took me back to my teen years.  Anyone doing gigs may want these as they are just brimming with character.  The brass--well, yawn, its OK I guess, with the exception of a few standouts.  I particularly like "Movie Brass", with its twinges of the OBX.  Biggest letdown was the "Pipe Organ" 

The bottom line for me is that the P2k excels as an electronica construction kit, for making brash new dancey sounds.

The brass hits are cool.  Lots of dance hits.  I am a sucker for these because they make cool noises when you transpose them down.  The bones and trumpets, well nothing surprising here.  The strings are OK for some things, but are lacking in the variety of the original Proteus 2, much less the more contemporary Roland Orch board or even the JV1010. However, again we have some standouts which shows what the P2000 can do when programmed.  Patch 002-0 "Orchestral" is a standout, but the other ensembles are passable. Synth strings are a different story--I think its quite possible to program some great synth strings on the p2k. "Dark Moods" is one fine example, and the basic Mellotron sound is nice and tapey. The woodwinds are fairly acceptable. The oboe samples are nice and the ocarina is very pretty. I think all synth manufacturers should give up on Sax's once and for all, try as we may.   I've heard better and worse winds in other modules.  But you have to remember, this is the basic set for the P2k.  There will eventually be a an orchestral board which should ease the shortcomings here.  And if you can't wait, there is the Protezoa board which will give you all the instruments in the P1,2,3.  I can vouch for the usability of the Proteus 2 samples, and in the P2k--well, we'll see, I have it on order.  

 

Drumz and D'Bass

 

The point I wish to make is that while the Proteus 2000 does OK at emulating typical instruments, it's not it's best suit.  It's stronger suit is basses and drums.  There are hundreds of basses, some say too many.  I don't think so.  When writing a song days-of-electronica you absolutely need two things:  Drums and Basses.  The instrument designers were wise to include and incredible variety of each.  (There's over 500 drum samples in the box!).  Heh, a little aside.  I recall in 1985 with my RX-15 thinking--gee, wouldn't it be nice to have "every" drum sound represented in a machine.  Looks like its finally come around.  One wonders what another 15 years will bring when modules come with a gigabyte (s?) of ROM, if we are still using samples. Crystal ball says--nope! 3d Models. Of course we'll have to go back to boxes with 15 "totally real" sounds first. :)

OK, back to the review. Some of the kits are old Planet Phatt and Orbit kits.  If you have those modules you will instantly recognize the sounds.  Good thing, because you'll be relying on ear to pick them out.  Emu, dudes, please tell me the logic of naming a drum kit "Kit 11", "Kit 18"?  And geez, when you try to program drums sounds you get some evocative sample names like "snare 42", "snare 31" "snare 4". Next time, emu-folks, can we spend a few hours making some names up?  At the least, tell us which drums are looped. 

You'll find many of these drums in the Phatt, on Emu's samples CD's and in soundfonts if you are into that.  I could criticize Emu here, but I will mention a few worthwhile arguments.  First, Emu did set the trends with the Phatt and Orbit and those drum are now legend.  Second, the box would be accused of being incomplete if it didn't have them as after all, this is a generalists box.  So they gave us the whole set.  The problem is they included sounds that I feel are not deserving of such great honor like the record scratches--erg, they are so recognizable they are unusable.  The Phatt guitar hits are, umm, getting a bit worn after being in how many emu products..?  Granted, it is expensive in time an money to provide all new samples.  Sooner or later someone has to dust off microphones and fire up the sampler.  

OK, I've ranted.  Back to the newer kits.  "CookUsAHit" 087-3 is dynamite!  "Deep Booty" is pretty impressive for a sound module.  "Jazz Quartet" is very nice--have to rank that as one of the best I've heard.  "Shag" is a well made world kit.  "Swing Hop1 and 2 and 3" all well done--nice work!

I also have to mention the wide variety of percussion sounds.  Lots of exotic stuff.  This will be fun to use in the years ahead. 

 

Synthesis

 

Ok, you have all the drums and basses you want.  Now lets get to synthesis.  This is the strongest suit of the P2k IMHO.  Because there are so many basic waveforms included, all modifiable by the many filters, its possible to get incredible tones.  The four layer architecture is also great, and if by chance that's not enough you can link presets together for massive washes.  The bass gets very cone rattling low and the emu filters are very good at achieving thousands of shades of midrange, for ear piercing tweeter rips to the delicate and sublime.  A note of warning to all programmers.  Be careful and don't use headphones when programming filters--particularly when tweaking and changing emu-style filter types. The filters are capable of abrupt and dramatic shifts in dynamics when switched.  This is good, overall, for sound creation, as many new electronica sounds rely on incorporating peaks and resonance.  There's no arpeggiator in the P2k, yet it makes tones that are well suited for one, and can imitate one.  It's capable of a fast clear attack and a fast release, which is what you need to do electronica.  You can sync LFO's to midi clock, which is a great feature for programming arpeggios in a patch. 

 

The Sound of the Box

 

Early notes:  I've programmed it for 4 days as of this writing and have 32 second revision patches.  Indeed it is possible to make great sounds with the box, yet I am scratching my head on a number of issues.  The first is about headroom, the lack of it.  All synths will distort unpleasantly if tweaked too hot and this board will too.  The trouble comes in with some of the 12th order filters.  When the midrange peaks come out, it's just too easy to burst the roof, and with real time control, its not easy to get usable knobs that don't.  Yet reducing the volume to where the box can handle such peaks leaves the sounds rather thin. The only way around it is to program with total awareness about the headroom.  I think the box sounds best when using only a small amount of FX.  The reverb muddies the sound and the delays, while OK, don't give me the sound I want in my head.   But, so what.  In this 4 bus FX architecture with no insert FX, the effects have limited value.  You are much better off using the 6 outputs to route to external sends and returns.  Making sounds without filters and effects is a breeze, and they sound great.  With the filters and fx even better results are possible, but I am learning a light dusting often does more than a heavy dose.

Some of the coolest sounding patches the box can make, however, are various filter sweeps, arpeggios (yep, while there is no beats mode like the XL-1, there are plenty of tools that allow the construction of phrases--the thing is though, you have to program them).  No it won't sound like a modeled analog synth with an arpeggiator at the end but the results will be useful. Tweaked properly, the box is phat.  The classic lo pass filter has great resonance and by modulating LFO's you can get some great vintage sounds.  I'm not surprised there are so few of these among the factory presets.  They are not easy to make right.  I am surprised at how good a carefully tweaked filter can sound.         

The bottom line for me is that the P2k excels as an electronica construction kit, for making brash new dancey sounds. I don't think this was an accident, either.  There is no General MIDI mode, which is surprising as it would not be too hard to make a good sounding general midi bank out of the instruments.  This shows me at least that they made the choice to be more forward thinking, and give us a module that can be used to explore the unknown.  The addition of the Audity filters ices the cake for TweakMeisters..

 

Comparisons with other Synths and bang for the buck:

 

Lets look at the competition.  For around the same price you can get a JV1080.  Older sound set and only 640 presets unexpanded.  Roland synthesis is beautiful and may even nudge out over emu for pads and emulative sounds.  Yet 640 sounds does not cover the range of the P2000, and you'll be adding at least 2 expansion boards to get close.  The Korg N-series has some items in this price range.  Personally, for me, N means Noh Way!  Ditto for the trinity rack, which is a bit more than the P2k.  Higher quality samples in the TR, but it sounds "older".  Now if you are scoring movies, there might be an exception, but if you are doing electronica--P2k wins easy.  The Alesis QSR is significantly cheaper and offers lots of sounds if you add a Ram card.  Of course, there's no resonant filters in the Alesis QS engine so you can forget about dynamic filter effects.  Yet for those who desire quality emulations of piano and orchestras, as well as great EPs and organs for gigs, the QSR does not weaken in the mix next to the p2k.  The JV1010 also competes on the underside.  Here it can get tough as the JV1010 is a well thought out module with over 1000 sounds.  I find the 1010 to be meticulously programmed, even more so than the P2k with comparable sound.  The 1010 falls short with only one stereo out and no digi outs, fewer (though possible better) samples, an no front panel programmability.  

Yet bang for the buck, I think the real choice is between the JV1010 and the P2k and then the XP30 which gives even more sounds with the inclusion of the Orch I and Techno boards as well as the Session board.  As a generalist module, the P2k cannot touch the quality of the sound of the XP30 keyboard except on drums and basses.  For drums, the P2k blows Roland's more modest JV1010/2080 kits back to the bush leagues. (Not so with the 3080 series though which has great realism, but that's a little less than twice the price).  Orchestrally, the XP30 wipes the P2k off the map.  In terms of overall electronica, I'll call it a draw, with a afterwards leaning to the P2k.   In terms of programmability, I'll give the P2k a nudge.  Of course the XP30 is a keyboard with an arpeggiator and it will cost you $200 more.  But bang for the buck, that's the real competition.  You just need to do without the extra outputs the P2k offers and the possibility that when fully expanded, the P2k will probably break the XP30 in two, depending mostly on whether Emu can actually come up with new quality material for their coming expansion boards.  

Proteus 2000 Cool Links:

Tweak's Free Proteus Patches  Yep, here's where the free bank is.

Rob Papen - Sound Designer for P2K Techno/Ambient ROM

 

 

OK, lets talk expansion boards.  The boards the P2000 will hold can hold up to 32 meg--nice!  They

 effectively blew Roland's JV-80 8 meg scheme a kiss goodbye--or did they?  Roland has responded with its flavor of 32 meg boards, but funny thing--where's the boards?  Sure each manufacturer has plans, but as New Yorker's used to say "Where's the damn beef? Its a tremendous commitment to make a fresh 32 meg board and as Tweak knows, a lot of work.  By the way, friends, I am probably going to make and sell 32 meg boards if I can find the roms cheap enough.  I am up and getting used to the P2k architecture.  You heard it here first!

OK! So far, Emu gave us Protezoa (yawn) and hired Rob Papen for techno sounds (there's some interesting mp3 demos on his site of the set--they sound clean and well-programmed).  There's a few more options The Holy Grail Piano (16mb) (great, if you need pianos, I am satiated, no thanks!) and sounds of the ZR (from Ensoniq's library--which includes William Coakley's Perfect Piano--I'm curious, (though not for another piano).  I've always liked Ensoniq programming tastes since the VFX).  There's talk of a Orchestral board with "new stuff"--and the Xtreme lead, true? (See below)  The definitive B3 set is already announced. Here's the link to Emu's info on the boards available.  The challenge for the P2k lies with Emu, and whether they can actually deliver some new sounds not already in their emulator 3 library (or in the many re-works from it.)   I'll be disappointed if the World card is a rehash of the Earth Tones CD Rom (which was a rehash of the EIII World Percussion and Instruments CD Roms)  Of course, this might not matter to you unless you've been around as long as I have.

Update: I'm informed there is an Xtreme Lead board in the works that will be bundled with the next major OS upgrade.  The Upgrade alone is due out mid September and will give Proteus 2000 machines the arpeggiation features of the XL-1 and Audity 2000. This is great news.  If you've played with these arpeggiators you know--they get high marks from me.  And, because the P2k has 32 midi channels that means you can have 32 simultaneous arps running! Tweak says, better make some arpeggiator ready sounds now!  Wasn't there a bank someone made somewhere?   Oh!  Some TweakMeister dude?  It's here?  Yep!  Here!

Update #2      I've now added a Pure Phatt card and a World Expedition card to my P2k and now I am totally impressed with the machine.  I still have one slot free and there are already over 2000 presets.  The 32 midi channels is great and the sub outs sure are useful.  You could use the P2k and some cards as your only synth if you wanted and could have diverse possibilities for your music.  Incredible power. 

I can tell you after programming nearly a full bank of 127 sounds that when you understand the p2k architecture and filters, the cords, tempo based envelopes and LFO's you can make this box sing the way you want it too.  

Final words:  I'm picky about synths because I program them deeply.  My pickiness notwithstanding, I have to give the Proteus 2000 high marks.  The box covers a huge ground and is open ended.  The ability to author Roms from Emulator samplers is a huge reason to get this box.  It's like quadrupling the power of your Ultra.  Go ahead and burn a Rom from you 1000 dollar orchestral set and pop it in the P2k.  Or you can burn Ice Kold Tekno or the Mystik Garage on a rom and have TweakHeadz sounds always online (shameless plug, I know).  For me, Rom burning is definitely in my future and it made the purchase of the Proteus 2000 darn near inescapable.  If you have an Ultra, it may be so for you too. 


 

All the Best,

Rich the TweakMeister

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