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Design Background Some words from Dave Smith
First of all, I've gotten rather tired of software synths. After making the first pro soft synth (Reality from Seer Systems) a long time ago, and having more than 10 million earlier soft synths shipped, I'm finding that I'm tired of computer-based products, and I much prefer working on real hardware. Caveat - of course software and computers are the future, I'm not arguing that. There's just something more fun as a designer to be working again on dedicated hardware that I can touch and hold. Maybe I'm also slightly influenced by the fact that there are gobs of other soft synths out there now, and more every day. And considering the fact that software, especially music software, is regularly and easily ripped off, a hardware product becomes the ultimate dongle.
I also got excited about hardware while helping Roger Linn on his Adrennalinn project (check it out at www.RogerLinnDesign.com). So, I started designing Evolver last summer, and so far it's been a lot of fun - it's been quite a while since I've done a solo project.
Is It Retro???
Well, that's not my intention, though I suppose anything with real voltage-controlled analog filters would certainly fit in that category. I've received many requests over the years to re-do old Sequential gear, and later to design software versions of old products. As a synth designer, I really have no desire to re-do a product. If you want the old stuff, it's still around. I like new stuff. New sounds.
The concept of Evolver is to generate new sounds that, well, evolve. Sounds that change, subtly or dramatically. Look back at the Prophet-VS and Korg Wavestation as previous examples of instruments that are never static. And, I have to admit, analog still has a warmer, more natural sound, partially because it is never perfect; it has that natural slop. Yes, there are some very cool digital synths out there also; even some that mathematically emulate analog synths have a nice edge to them. I don't think analog is always better, or that digital is always better; they're just different.
So, Evolver has the analog components, and also some digital components. I'm trying to generate new sounds via the interaction of analog and digital electronics. Best of both worlds. I've always liked feedback in synths, so there is extensive use of tunable feedback in Evolver, interconnecting the digital feedback loops with the analog electronics. I like sounds that blow up, predictably or not. When sounds blow up digitally, it can hurt your ears - I've done that enough times designing the soft synths! However, when Evolver goes ape, the analog circuitry actually keeps the signal in line just enough that the result is wild sounds, not pain. Plus, the feedback constantly moves, and differently in each channel (each channel has their own independant feedback path), giving some very cool stereo ambience to the sounds.
In fact, the product name came from playing with the synth. Originally the product name was Noise, just because I've always wanted to design a synth with that name. But, a day before the NAMM show in mid-January, I stopped development long enough to make a few sounds for the show, and was blown away by the organic nature of the synth. Organic is a stupid word to use most of the time, so the name Evolver popped up (thanks Denise!).
Why a monophonic synth? Why a low-cost, small, desk-top instrument? Well, simpler products can be designed faster, easier, and cheaper. Plus, mono synths can be a lot of fun - there are benefits when you eliminate all the polyphonic baggage. You'd also be surprised how much sound you can get out of one voice, especially with four oscillators. It also allows using the synth as an effects processor with stereo inputs and outputs. Overall, we're talking bang-for-the-buck.
Evolver is a monophonic (one voice) synthesizer.
Four oscillators in total: two analog, two digital
Analog Oscillator waveshape are Sawtooth, Triangle, Saw-Triangle, and Pulse (with voltage-controlled analog Pulse-Width modulation)
Digital Oscillators select from 96 wavetables from the Prophet-VS (128 x 12 bits), and 32 user-loadable (via MIDI) Wavetables (128 x 16 bits). The Digital Oscillators get trashy as the frequency gets higher, as with the original VS.
Hard Sync on the analog oscillators
FM and Ring Mod on the digital oscillators
Separate Glide per oscillator
Real voltage-controlled analog lowpass filters - not digital recreations. 4-pole/2-pole switchable, fully resonant (in 4-pole mode). There are two separate filters, one for the left channel and one for the right.
Analog Voltage Controlled Amplifiers (VCA), again one for each channel.
Dual digital 4-pole Highpass filters (one per channel); place before or after analog electronics.
Stereo audio inputs; Noise generator
Envelope Follower and Peak Detect from External Input to use as modulation sources
External Input can be used to gate envelopes and/or step the Sequencer
Three snappy ADSR envelopes
Four LFOs (sync with sequencer and MIDI)
Dual (left and right channel) tunable feedback loops; modulate frequency and amount
Delay with 3 taps; each with separate time and amount modulation. Syncs to sequencer/MIDI. Normal feedback and additional feedback path through analog filters
Distortion! Digital, one for each channel, can be placed before or after analog electronics
3 Banks of 128 Programs for 384 total Programs - dump to/from MIDI
16 x 4 Analog-style sequencer - syncs with MIDI
Extensive Modulation capabilities, including audio-range modulation. Bipolar (+/-) modulation.
Easy to program matrix-style front panel with 8 endless-turn rotary encoders
A bunch of MIDI stuff
The internal computer and DSP chips can be reprogrammed via MIDI, for easy feature additions
Evolver is 10.75" wide, 6" deep, and 1.5" high (27 x 15 x 4 cm). Yes, it is small!