Mitch Gallagher sits down with synth pioneer Dave Smith here at Sweetwater Sound. Dave was visiting Sweetwater for GearFest ’15, featuring a special panel discussion between Dave Smith, Roger Linn, and Tom Oberheim.
Legendary synth designer and Grammy-winner Dave Smith was the founder of Sequential Circuits in the mid-’70s. His Prophet-5, the world’s first fully programmable polyphonic synth, was the first musical instrument with an embedded microprocessor. Dave is also known as the driving force behind the development of the MIDI specification. He has continued to innovate, and recently unveiled his latest synth creation, the Sequential Prophet-6.
In 2005 Dave Smith Instruments released their third Evolver – The Poly Evolver. Their flagship instrument, it’s a four-voice synthesizer (essentially four complete Evolvers) with a 5-octave keyboard, pitch and mod wheels, and a ton of knobs and switches in a clean, clear, easy-to-navigate layout. It can be a four-voice poly synth, four mono synths (each with its own sequencer), or any combination in between. The Evolverseries resurrects some of the oscillator, filter and other component technologies from the classic Sequential Circuits Prophet-VS and Pro-One synths. The Evolver was a huge hit the moment it appeared and this is the super-hands-on-real-time-programmable-polyphonic version of the little beast.
Each voice is a complete Evolver with four oscillators per voice: two analog and two digital – it’s a true analog/digital hybrid synth. The analog oscillators feature multiple classic waveforms plus pulse-width modulation and hard sync, and they sound really nice and big. The digital oscillators feature FM synthesis, Ring Modulation and 96 Prophet VS wavetables plus 32 user wavetables (loaded via MIDI only). Each voice also features two Curtis voltage-controlled analog low-pass filters which are fully resonant and switchable for two- or four-pole operation, two digital highpass filters and real analog VCAs. Modulation capabilities are handled by four LFOs and three ADSR envelope generators (for the filter, the amp, and one is user assignable). There are dedicated onboard effects (feedback, delay, distortion, glide, etc.). One of its best features is the MIDI-syncable 16-step 4-parameter analog-style sequencer (with each patch having its own sequence) which really brings things to life with evolving sounds. The LFOs, step sequencer, and three separate delays can all be synced for massive, rhythmic, time-based effects in stereo. A major unique feature of the Evolver is its true stereo signal path. For each Evolver voice, the left and right channels get their own independent analog oscillator, lowpass filter, highpass filter, VCA and effects. This allows for pretty nice stereo imaging effects.
The Poly Evolver essentially quadruples all those Evolver specs! In Program mode, all four voices play the same sound. In Combo mode, voices can be allocated however desired: stack all 4 for a huge unison sound, split or layer the keyboard in any configuration, and/or play one or all sequences at the same time. Each voice can also respond to a different MIDI channel. Each voice has its own stereo output jacks in addition to the mix output. Stereo audio input can be routed to any or all of the voices, enabling parallel audio processing of external stereo or mono signals. The output of one voice can be routed to the input of another for interesting double-processing effects. And multiple Poly Evolvers can be daisy-chained for increased polyphony!
Full of hundreds of jaw-dropping preset patches, the Poly Evolver offers four times the punch of the original Evolver. The Poly Evolver finally answered prayers for a truly hands-on, programmable synthesizer version of the Evolver, and Dave Smith went all out on this one. The keyboard is semi-weighted with velocity and aftertouch, the wood end caps and overall design make for a great, classic look. The Pitch/Mod wheels are back-lit. With 77 endless-turn knobs and 59 switches, pretty much all parameters are within easy reach. There is a Poly Evolver Rack version of this keyboard, but where is the fun in that? Unless, of course, you “Poly Chain” one or more Poly Evolver Rack models to a master Poly Evolver keyboard for tons more polyphony and Evolver madness! The Poly Evolver would soon be followed up by the much less expensiveMono Evolver, a monophonic keyboard version of the original Evolver.
The Prophet 6 is Dave Smith’s tribute to the poly synth Sequential Prophet-5. The Prophet-6 takes the best qualities of the original Prophet-5—true voltage-controlled oscillators, filters, and amplifiers—and adds enhancements such as studio-quality effects, a polyphonic step sequencer, an arpeggiator, and more. The result is ‘pure, unadulterated analog tone’, with the stability and reliability of a state-of-the-art modern synth.
Background video description:
Rate! Subscribe! Comment! (if you’re polite and cool). Sonic tour of the not-yet-released Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 6! This was sent to me to do some factory patches and I got the official Okay to create a video. So here it is – enjoy! This is one really SWEET sounding analog synthesizer.
Dave Smith Instruments ‘Tetra’, details below:
This is a version of a composition by Arvo Pärt, which I’ve recorded a couple of times over the past few years. I only acquired this synth yesterday, so I thought I’d figure it out a little by making my own patch in ‘program mode’, then recording it in ‘combo mode’ (4 independently sequenced voices) using the ‘quad’ output option, so that I could record the 4 voices separately and give them their own panning positions in Reaper (DAW). Pantheon reverb was also added.
I did an earlier version with a Doepfer Dark Energy multi-tracked 8 times, which I think I still prefer, but it’s really nice being able to do something like this on one instrument and in one take.
Earlier versions here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2bFF… – Dark Energy
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu_XU… – First recording
Keyboard magazine visits Dave Smith for an extended demo of the new all-discrete analog Prophet-6 synthesizer.
The Prophet-6 is Dave Smith’s tribute to the classic sequential polysynth, the Prophet 5. But it’s not simply a reissue of a classic. Rather, as Dave puts it, “It’s the result of our effort to build the most awesome-sounding, modern analog poly synth possible.”
The Prophet-6 takes the best qualities of the original Prophet-5—true voltage-controlled oscillators, filters, and amplifiers—and adds enhancements such as studio-quality effects, a polyphonic step sequencer, an arpeggiator, and more. The result is ‘pure, unadulterated analog tone’, with the stability and reliability of a state-of-the-art modern synth.
Details on the Prophet 6 are available at the DSI site.
Dave Smith Instruments / DSI POLY EVOLVER (12 voices) synth demo. Playing melodic chiptunes-style improvisation music on 12-voice DSI POLY EVOLVER digital/analog synthesizer keyboard + 2 racks.
Six-Voice Polyphonic Analogue Synthesizer
The Dave Smith Instruments Sequential Prophet 6 is expected to ship in May, priced at about $2,800. See the DSI site for more info.
Sequential is back! 100% analog signal path with discrete voltage controlled oscillators, filters, and amplifiers. More info at www.sequential.com
Vintage with a Modern Twist
The Prophet-6 is Dave Smith’s tribute to the poly synth that started it all—the Sequential Prophet-5. But it’s not simply a reissue of a classic. Rather, as Dave puts it, “It’s the result of our effort to build the most awesome-sounding, modern analog poly synth possible.” The Prophet-6 takes the best qualities of the original Prophet-5—true voltage-controlled oscillators, filters, and amplifiers—and adds enhancements such as studio-quality effects, a polyphonic sequencer, an arpeggiator, and more. The result is pure, unadulterated analog tone with the stability and reliability of a state-of-the-art modern synth.
Classic Tone, Classic Vibe
Central to the warm, punchy sound of the Prophet-6 are its two newly-designed, discrete voltage-controlled oscillators (plus sub-oscillator) per voice. Continuously variable waveshapes provide the tonal palette with triangle, sawtooth, and variable-width pulse waves. There are two discrete filters per voice—a four-pole, resonant, low-pass inspired by the original Prophet-5 filter, and a two-pole, resonant, high-pass filter. Voltage-controlled amplifiers complete the all-analog signal path.
The dual effects section provides studio-quality reverbs, delays (standard and BBD), chorus and phase shifter. While the effects themselves are digital, with 24-bit, 48 kHz resolution, a true bypass maintains a full analog signal path. There’s also an independent stereo distortion effect, which is 100% analog.
Poly Mod and Poly Step Sequencing
Also present from its classic predecessor is a Poly Mod section, with enhancements. True to the original, modulation sources are filter envelope and oscillator 2 (both with bi-polar control). Destinations include oscillator 1 frequency, oscillator 1 shape, oscillator 1 pulse width, low-pass filter cutoff, and high-pass filter cutoff. Another welcome reprise is Unison mode, which features configurable voice count (1-6 voices) and key modes. The polyphonic step sequencer allows up to 64 steps and up to 6 notes per step. You can create sequences polyphonically, with rests and sync to an external MIDI clock. The full-featured arpeggiator can be synced to external MIDI clock as well.
Easy to Program
The knob-per-function front panel offers instant access to virtually all Prophet-6 functions. Included are 500 permanent factory programs in 10 banks of 100 programs. In addition to these, you can create and save up to 500 user programs of your own. Toggling off the Preset button enables live panel mode, in which the sound of the Prophet-6 switches to the current settings of its knobs and switches. In this state, what you see is what you hear.
Easy to Play
All of this awe-inspiring sound is packed into a four octave, semi-weighted keyboard with velocity and channel aftertouch that’s an ideal combination portability and power for the project studio or the gigging musician.
Here’s a presentation and demo of the Sequential Prophet 6 by Dave Smith himself at the NAMM Show 2015.
“Past is Prologue”
Perhaps a hint on Tempest, since the quote above has links to Shakespear’s work with the same name…
“The shape of things to come…”