Dave Smith Instruments Poly Evolver

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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 Evolver series 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 expensive Mono Evolver, a monophonic keyboard version of the original Evolver.

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Quick first test... Poly Evolver analog synthesizer
Manuel Clément
ManualDownload the original owner's manual from SoundProgramming.net.


Polyphony - 4 voices
Oscillators - 16 (4 per voice):
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 - 16 total:
4 LFOs per voice, 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 per voice: 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 per voice.
VCA - 1 analog VCA per voice with ADSR envelope generator
Arpeg/Seq - Four 16 x 4 analog-style step sequencers that syncs to MIDI clock.
Keyboard - 5-octave, semi-weighted action keyboard with velocity and aftertouch.
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 (4 banks of 128) and 384 Combos (3 banks of 128).
Control - MIDI In, Out, and Thru; Poly Chain; Pedal/CV1 and Pedal/CV2 inputs: responds to expression pedals or control voltages ranging from 0 to 5 VDC
Date Produced - 2005

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Images from Dave Smith Instruments and Perfect Circuit Audio.

Reviewed December 2007