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Dave Smith Instruments Evolver

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver Synth Module

3.95 3.95 out of 5, based on 4 Reviews

The first of the DSI line, this set the template for what was to come--fusion of analog and digital, densely feature packed, great sound.

17th February 2012

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver Synth Module by Magpel

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 4 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4
Dave Smith Instruments Evolver

This was the product that DSI started with. Dave Smith himself, of course, was the man behnd the MIDI spec, the great Prophet synthesizers, the Korg Wavestation, etc.

The Evolver desktop is a monosynth (sort of...) with an awful lot porgrammability. It comes two very real analog oscillators with 2 digital waveshape oscillators banks that come loaded with the Prophet waveforms. All four oscillators are addressable separately in the modulation routings. There are also two low pass filters that can be used in a variety of ways, and they come in 2-pole (12db) and 4-pole (24db) varieties. There is a filter envelope, and amp envelope a freely assignable additional envelope, 4 free assignable lfos, three delay lines, a subtle feedback control and an entirely UN-subtle "hack" control (kind of like a decimator). Oh there's more. A High Pass filter and an awful lot of well designed triggering options, and audio input that comes in just downstream of the oscillators, and audio in level and env detection can be used as a source in the modulation matrix.

The sound is terrific--and extremely well documented on youtube and elsewhere. The longer I spent with the unit, the less I reached for Feedback or Hack, the less, in fact I used the digital oscillators at all. If you focus on osc-->filter--> amp, you've got yourself a straight up analog beast.

I've been delaying getting to a really major feature: the 4x16 step sequencer that just takes this thing over the top. This can be used for polyphonic composition, as each oscillator's pitch can be addressed by a different track of the sequencer, or the sequencer tracks can be used to modulate ANY parameter on the synth. While there are many great presets out there, if you want to her the sequencer used to max effect I recommend you track down the presets created someone who goes by the name Doctor T--masterful use of it, and it just shows how much today's arp and sequencer driven synths blur the line between sound design and micro-composition.

Great piece. Great piece even for folks like me who primarily earthy music with standard instruments--the analog-ness of the Evolver hangs well with aoucstic guitars and drums...

  • 1
26th March 2012

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver Synth Module by tone_rekooda

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 2 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 3.5
Dave Smith Instruments Evolver

Today my review is about Dave Smith`s first synthesizer that was released under his new companie`s name “Dave Smith Instruments”. It`s a monophonic desktop synthesizer called “Evolver”


Dave Smith, the synthesizer legend and sequential circuits head, released the “Evolver” back in 2003. The first version was a monophonic synth in desktop format. It consists of 8 encoders, a lot of little knobs and a small 7-segment-display.
So it`s just monophonic with 4 oscillators but you can do things with that little gear to get a nearly polyphonic sound out of it!

Midi In and Midi Out, Stereo Out and Stereo In. Stereo In can be used to send audio into the synth and use it as an effects unit.

On the front plate you see that all the parameters are reachable via a matrix. The top row with the encoders is the x-axis and the vertical row with the knobs is the y-axis (or vice versa =) ). This means that you can`t access the parameters very easy and intuitive. You have to access the row with the parameter of desire and then twist the encoder to adjust it. On the display you can see the parameter`s value and even it`s name. But you have to get used to that display because all the parameter`s names are printed there in a very cryptical way. In the manual you can look for the names and everything.

On top of the Encoders you can access some global parameters like sync times, transpose and much more.

Working with it
That`s were the awesome fun starts! When you finally got to know all the strange parameter names and you are used to the way of programming and working with the matrix you dive deeeeeply into sounddesign and modulation insanity.

There are 4 oscillator to use, 2 analogue and 2 digital ones with several adjustment possibilities like waveforms and even frequency modulation and ring modulation with the digital oscillators.

The lowpass filter is purely analogue and can be used as 2 pole or 4 pole filter (12db/24db). It`s sound is very very nice mates! It`s based on the famous Curtiss Filters and dudes, it`s sound just dope. Screaming resonance like hell if desired or smooth filtersweeps aren`t a problem.
The highpass filter is digital and 4 pole (24db).

Additional features
Additional features are feedback, distortion, hack and even delays.

Where this synth starts to absolutely shine above every other synth I´ve used is the modulation possibilities. It`s nearly a modular synth.
Just some facts : There are 24 modulations sources, 73 modulation destinations, 4 equally LFOs and 3 or 4 other modulations destinations/sources. You can literally modulate EVERY parameter and do the most awesome soundscapes or punchy and snappy drumsounds you just can imagine. Of course that are over-the-top-words for describing a synth and I am biased too, but mates, just try it out yourself and you are going to be impressed =)

Yeah, that`s the second unique thing on that synth. It`s sequencer is a 4x16 Step sequencer. This means you can sequence 4 parameters at the same time. You can imagine that a monophonic synth with 4 oscs and THIS amazing sequencer doesn`t sound like a mono synth.

Using as an Effects Unit
That`s the third awesome feature : I often plug into the Stereo Ins my drumbuss and create some weird sounds with the evolver witch are reacting on drumhits and so. Really nice possibilities with that feature. Things like envelope following and much much more can be achieved.

Sound quality
You can use the Evolver just with it`s analogue sound path and guess what? -> You are achieving a very nice and warm purely analogisch sound.
On the other hand you can use just the digitals oscs or mix digital with analogue to create almost every sound you need.
But I have to say that it`s often getting very rude… If you don`t care you can get sounds out of this beast which doesn`t sound so nice … Of course you can do that with every synth, but I have the feeling the Evolver has to be tamed to sound nice.

I often have the feeling that this synth isn`t behaving right. I checked everything, checked software, contacted the support (which is very helpful support), I think it`s working proper. But from time to time it doesn`t start when I hit play or the sequencer “swallows” some trigger points or what else… So I can`t really say what`s wrong but certainly something is behaving strange. Yeah of course it`s analogue and it`s likely to be that a sound created on day X doesn`t sound the same on day Y. Well, however, that`s a little bit annoying sometimes and surely tames the fun of working with it.

But nevertheless, the DSI Evolver has got the perfect name : EVOLVER! You can create evolving sounds and the gear itself is evolving too I think =)

31st January 2016

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver Synth Module by nielsd

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 3 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.25
Dave Smith Instruments Evolver

The Evolver gives it power after some deeper diggin into it's philosophy. As the "first" synth from DSI it have some limitations regarding sound quality , because of the digital 16bit ad/da part of the hybrid synths. The huge ranges of frequencies and dynamics and settings make it a bit difficult to sculpt sounds to a best sounding level, but with some experience this flexibility shows an animal behind the blue box.

Without soundtowers Software editor it is a bit hard to tweak own sounds from scratch, but it is possible after some learning too. If you use the knobs live, it makes sense to buy the better knobs in a set from DSI website.

I would by an poly if i could afford it.

2nd February 2016

Dave Smith Instruments Evolver Synth Module by analog greg

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 3 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4
Dave Smith Instruments Evolver

The concept:
By 2002, there were not many modern 'old school' grid&pot sequencers, so DSI decided to integrate one with a monosynth.
The strongest selling point of Evolver still remains (well I bought mine after hearing that) in very flexible sequencer, which is fully integrated with huge capabilities of the sound engine. Or in other words, sequencer can trigger many different sound parameters per each step! It even can trigger 4 different oscs at different pitches. For a monosynth, I call that impressive.
Where else can you get so much sound power and take it to a holiday trip together with a toothbrush?

Since this was the first DSI hardware synth, it seems that Dave Smith wanted to put *everything* in it. An approach that can get crowded, especially given the interface - that is why some users prefer to use it with an editor.
Still, it resulted in a real modular synth in a small box, which can be used off it's matrix panel, with only 8 knobs. (Probably because Dave knows a thing or two )
Drawback of this approach can be not only complexity, but also a fact that you can burry some little unintentional change that you can't easily find, as previous reviewer mentioned.
A horrific thing happened to myself: I did that right before a gig was about to start. I had the Evo only for a few months, knowing basic navigation. The performance was based almost entirely on the sequences written inside Evolver. While setting up in a club (no real tone check), I did *something* what rendered sequencer mute. My face turned white, and I told to a bandmate we'll have to improvise something… You get the picture.

Technical side:
Don't forget that before Evolver project, Dave Smith was into software. Much inside Evo happens within software domain indeed. On a small board there are some 4 large processors (some of them by Analog Devices) which serve as DA's, CPU, etc.
And the company is mysterious about the crucial part of the analog sound - the filters. One thing is certain, they (2 of them) are not typical CEMs of 80s. They would hardly fit the circuit board! Which is approx. half the A4 size, having much of the components double (it is sort of a dual channel monosynth). Interior of the device is an exercise in efficiency.
But no traces of any known CEMs. However, besides some op-amps and processors, there are 2 custom chips by DSI. Filters designed by Dave Smith's friend Doug Curtis, using topology of some older CEM designs?
I never studied the schematics to check where exactly these chips fit, but btw you'll find 4 of them in DSI Tetra too.
Speaking of different sound… Well there you go, with Evolver you don't get your usual CEM chips.

The sound:
it is cute and modern semi-analogue sound.
The digital side has somewhat distinctive sound - I can recognize it it many Evolver demos. And you can easily dial the digital oscillators down.
What's more interesting for me is the analog side. I bought Evo for sequences, something like 'Berlin school' basslines. It definitely fits that bill. While obviously not a 3-vco Moog, Evo offers some serious bass plucks. Of course it can be used for some leads too, maybe not perfect creamy monosynth leads, but ana/digi voicing combined would offer some interesting untypical sounds (check the quite usable presets).
If you want aggressive sounds - no problem there, but every other synth offers that today. But don't be fooled by many Evolver demos - there is softer and an analogue side to it.
On the other hand, now days (2016) concept of Evolver has much more competition than 14 years ago, among "pocket analogues" with sequencers. Cheaper synths like MicroBrute, miniature MFB Zwerg series or even Volca Bass, probably can sound (and this is only my opinion) slightly more organic and have clean analogue signal path, while Evolver still has way more sound territory, more functionality and better punch.
And don't forget that mentioned small synths can not give you fully 'produced' output; they sound just like monosynths and not like band-in-a-box, while super-flexible sequencer patches of Evolver can sound like almost like a finished production.


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