Dave Smith Instruments Evolver

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver Image

Released in 2002, Evolver is the first instrument to come from Dave Smith Instruments. Dave Smith is considered a legendary figure in the synthesizer world, he founded Sequential Circuits and designed such classics as the Prophet 5 and Prophet VS, and he was a pioneer in bringing MIDI to synthesizers. After a stint working in Software Synthesis for Seer Systems, Dave collaborated with Roger Linn on the Adrenalinn, and then officially came back to the world of hardware synthesizers. And the world was happy to find him back designing synths for a new generation of players - starting with Evolver!

So, there's no keyboard on this thing! Well, it's a hands-on desktop sound module and audio processor. The Evolver is a true analog synthesizer that incorporates many of Dave and Sequential's old secrets, circuits and technologies. It's monophonic with four oscillators - two analog DCOs 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 wavetables straight out of the Prophet VS (plus 32 user wavetables, loaded via MIDI software editors such as Motu Unisyn).

Evolver 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.). Stereo audio inputs let you process external audio through the Evolver's filters, envelopes, LFOs and effects.

One of its coolest features is the MIDI-syncable 16-step, 4-parameter, analog-style sequencer (with each patch able to store its own sequence) which really brings the Evolver to life with animated evolving sounds. The LFOs, step sequencer, and three separate delays can all be synced for massive, rhythmic, time-based effects in stereo. As for programming and tweaking all these functions, Evolver's easy-to-navigate matrix-style interface allows for quick editing and real-time control of 8 parameters simultaneously.

A major unique feature of the Evolver is that although it is monophonic, it has a true stereo signal path. The reason many things come in multiples of two here is because each channel gets its own independent analog oscillator, lowpass filter, highpass filter, VCA and effects. It's sort of like two independent synths - one on the left and another on the right. This allows for pretty nice stereo imaging effects not possible with most other mono-monophonic synths. Some of the factory patches will make your jaw drop - sometimes it's really hard to believe it has only a single voice!

It's no surprise the Evolver was a hit when it came out. There just are no other modern analog-digital synthesizers in its price range, it sounds wonderful, and is one of those synths that has no real need for external effects or sweetening. Evolver literally is a rebirth of the best of Sequential Circuits, updated to meet the needs of today's musicians. The internal computer and DSP chips can be reprogrammed via MIDI, for easy bug fixes, OS updates and feature additions. Other forms of the Evolver that have evolved: Mono Evolver (a keyboard version), Poly Evolver (a polyphonic keyboard version), and Poly Evolver Rack (a polyphonic rack module).

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48 Visitor comments
February 14, 2010 @ 6:26 pm
Given how incredible one would imagine this synth to be...I will say that it simply doesn't have as much of a punch as I would like. I found it to be very good at making drones and interesting melodic sequences (given the overload of delays and lfo's) but it simply doesn't sound good when it comes to more straightforward synth (especially bass) lines. It's a shame...because it is so close to being to coolest desktop synth ever...but I would never buy one for more than 200 dollars. Mabye with some extensive doctoring (e.g. - compression/eq/verb or analog delay) it is worth it..but I prefer to judge a synthesizer on it's raw un effected sound, and this one falls short
January 31, 2010 @ 6:39 am
@ confused... The analog oscillators are converted to 24bit 48hz at the pan stage as it, the HPF, and the delay are digital. An analog bypass would be nice, but the delays are nice as well. A s/pdif out would also be nice, but it's just one stage of AD/DA at good quality. The digital oscs are converted to analog in order to pass through the VCF and VCAs (a good thing) and then pass back to digital at the pan stage. As the digital oscs use the original 12 bit waveforms from the 1986 Prophet VS and are valued for their grainy, aliasing goodness, the extra 24bit D/A conversion is hardly a crime. End result is DA/AD/DA. Sounds like digital analog hybrid to me. Also, who cares? Either u listen to it and like it, or you don't. You worrying about whether it's a "pure" analog/digital hybrid must the funniest thing I've ever seen. Is this really where we've come to with analog elitism? It's a brilliant sounding analog synth with near modular flexibility for $375 used. Hard to complain tbh.
January 28, 2010 @ 12:14 am
im confused. the signal flow diagram in the manual indicates that all audio signals -including ones generated by the 'analog synth' portion- go through A/D-D/A 's at the panning/delay stage (and the 'digital synth' signals go through 2 sets of A/D-D/A 's ??!). is there any way to bypass the panning/delay stage A/D-D/A 's?. if not, why even call it an analog/digital hybrid synth when it cant generate a signal that wasnt sampled one or more times in the signal path?
September 22, 2009 @ 2:00 pm
One of the best synths i heard....but you need time and effort to create something really smooth. Its the real synthesizer...starts with something noisy and ends with nice and cool sounds. If you dont want to spend time with synthesis just buy a rompler or sampler with everything done, this is for Yuri! he must doesnt understand what is synthesis so i hope everyone forgive him :) and you Pablo please my friend dont compare the Evolver with the Sh32. The evolver is much better, try to buy something like a groove box for your rythms and bass lines and connect the evolver with Sequencer playing.
Stefan K Larsson
September 18, 2009 @ 3:40 pm
Matt Young: I think the most beautiful sounding filters are the ones in Polivoks (this soviet synth is often mentioned but there's some other bad-ass sounding ones people should check out.) and the korg MS series but the curtis filters are nearly if not equally as good, in my opinion.
VSE Rating


User Rating

Rated 4.19 (522 Votes)

  • Check Price
  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - Monophonic
  • Oscillators - 2 digitally controlled analog oscillators (DCOs) with selectable sawtooth, triangle, saw/triangle mix, and pulse waves (with pulse-width modulation), and hard sync;

    2 digital wavetable oscillators with Prophet VS waves and wave sequencing capability, FM and ring modulation.

    White noise generator.
  • LFO - 4 LFOs each with sawtooth, triangle, ramp, pulse, and random waves. Each LFO can be routed to any destination in the matrix. Can sync to MIDI clock.
  • Filter - 2 Low-pass filters: 1 analog Curtis filter per channel, selectable 2- and 4-pole operation (self-resonating in 4-pole mode) and ADSR envelope generator.

    2 digital 4-pole Highpass filters.
  • VCA - 1 analog VCA per channel with ADSR envelope generator
  • Arpeg/Seq - 16 x 4 analog-style step sequencer that syncs to MIDI clock.
  • Keyboard - None
  • Effects - Digital delays: 3 separate, syncable, stereo delay lines.

    Dual (left and right channel) tunable feedback loops with "Grunge": use feedback as a pitched sound source.

    Distortion! Digital, one for each channel, can be placed before or after analog electronics; and "Output Hack."

    Separate Glide per oscillator.
  • Memory - 512 fully editable programs (four banks of 128).
  • Control - MIDI In, Out, and Thru
  • Date Produced - 2002 - present
  • Resources & Credits
  • Images from Dave Smith Instruments

    Additional info provided by Miles Bader and David Bryce.

    Reviewed December 2007

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