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Mono Evolver Keyboard: a Personal Review

Mono Evolver Keyboard: a Personal Review
« on: March 27, 2016, 04:50:12 AM »
My old toy, the "evolver Keyboard Pot Edition" from Dave Smith Instruments.

I like all kinds of synths, from vintage analogs to digital synths to software synths and handy apps from all sorts of manufacturers. They are all different beasts, and I can not say which is the best, I like 'em all.
There are many "fundamentalists" who dislike the alias noise of digital synthesis but I like utilizing them for creating strange sounds. Strange sounds always inspire me :) Of course, I like various analog synth sounds without alias as well. I've been playing synths from the '70s, and now have many synths/samplers in my home from KORG 800DV "MaxiKorg", ensoniq VFX-SD II, Roland V-Synth, Kurzweil PC361, Clavia nord wave, Arturia microBrute, D.S.I PRO2 etc. I have many software synths and dozens of synth apps as well.
And now, enter the D.S.I evolver Keyboard, though monophonic, itís the one that excels in producing constantly moving sounds, sounds moving through both time and space.

Other than the PRO2, there are a couple of models from D.S.I that physically resembles the old Sequential Circuits Pro-One in size, small 37 note-keyboard synth: mopho Keyboard and evolver Keyboard. Although they both sound different from the Pro-One, concept-wise the former is somewhat like the Pro-One being reappeared with today's technology, and the latter is like the advanced concept itself of Pro-One being actualized with today's technological and musical interpretations.
The lineup of D.S.I models now are mostly genuine analog synths. D.S.I is the only manufacturer that creates a line up of programmable analog poly-synth today. In fact, the evolver-series, once comprised of the first evolver sound module, poly evolver rack module, poly evolver Keyboard, and (mono) evolver Keyboard, are all out of production. It is perhaps the reissuing of the legendary prophet-5 that users wanted Dave Smith to do, thus it is reflected in their sales, and eventually the D.S.I's current lineup.

However still, there was an interesting article on D.S.I website's FAQ as quoted below:


Q. Will you ever reissue the Prophet-5?
A. Why would we? If you really want one, you can get one. A new, exact replica of the Prophet-5 would be prohibitively expensive to build (if it could be built at all). Remember, they cost $4,000 or more in 1978 dollars. And the result would be an instrument that is way more expensive, less reliable, and less capable than a Prophet '08. We like the old stuff and draw inspiration from it, but we're not really interested in resurrecting it (or the accompanying headaches).


I agree that the prophet-6, OB-6, prophet'08 and its sibling models are D.S.I's answer for those who demand for analog synth of today, and believe that the evolver-series are for those who look for something else, the hybrid of both analog and digital benefits, thus are the real incarnation of the once advanced technological spirit of Pro-One.

Being the first models from D.S.I, the evolver-series has a couple of full analog oscillators, a couple of digital oscillators, Curtis VCF, digital bit crushing "Hack" effects, multiple digital feedback system, 4 track 16 step sequencer/modulator, modulation matrix.....everything that Dave Smith had at that time, packed in.
My evolver Keyboard can act as a monophonic version of prophet'08, and creates wide spectrum of sounds from gentle analog ones to totally digitally distorted noise. It seems that the way how the digital distortions, sonic hacking, crazy modulations, various feedbacks behave is carefully designed by D.S.I. This is a very carefully designed instrument, perhaps started from tuning parts so that it will realize how users would want to sculpture sounds.

Once Dave created prophet-VS back in '86 that employed world's first Vector Synthesis, and Sequntial's first digital oscillators. Unlike Program Mode of later KORG synths including the latest KRONOS X that allows only two oscillators to be employed, the prophet-VS had four oscillator vector synthesis per program. Furthermore the VS had pan setting paramter for each of its eight voices, and when coupled with modulation matrix pan modulation was posible. Therefore, sounds that evolve through time and space were already possible with the VS and here is the distant conceptual ancestor of D.S.I evolver.
Perhaps the '80s music gave background effect to its design.

Unfortunately, the prophet-VS went out of production in the year next to its debut. Also it was very expensive in Japan, almost ten grands in US dollars, while it was US$2,999 in the States though. Thus it disappeared fast leaving only legends.
If you look at the time when prophet-VS was being sold, i.e from '86 to '87, you'll find YAMAHA DX7 being replaced with DX7II Series in '86, and their FM synths were in their heyday, Roland D-50 came out in '87, KORG with their DSS-1 and DW-8000 was a complete subsidiary of YAMAHA until M1 rolled out in '88, and it was the time many synth manufacturers were bringing all sorts of unique digital synthesis methods, like CASIO VZ-1 with iPD Interactive Phase Distortion synth and KAWAI with additive synthesis.
Too bad the VS lived through such short period of time, and disappeared before the diverse age of digital synthesis.

The D.S.I evolver-series has four oscillator configuration, and can mix analog and digital waveforms in various way via complex modulation matrix. Namely there are not so many synths that is designed to create sounds that evolves through time and space as weird as evolver-series.

Although it's a mono-synth, four oscillator configuration, analog-digital hybrid design, left-right dual synthesis, four track 16 step sequencer/modulator, modulation matrix, gentle analog synth sounds to harsh digital sounds, stereo audio input, multiple feedback circuits, three delays that allows Karplus-Strong phys-mo, tactile user interface with array of knobs that make sound designing so easy, fashionable appearance with a fleet of twinkling bright LEDs almost like a Christmas tree, and the sound that freely runs around in time-space continuum! All these make me feel that this evolver-series is the instrument that Dave have longed to create most, Dave the man who knows analog and digital, hardware to software, and thus the evolver-series should be a lot more highly rated than just by judging from small spec sheet on the web page.

Amazingly the evovler was the first instrument from D.S.I, thus were like a name card to introduce themselves.

« Last Edit: June 19, 2017, 09:06:30 AM by Sacred Synthesis »
DSI: PRO2, evolver keyboard, ensoniq: VFX-SD, Roland: V-Synth, JD-XA, TB-3, Clavia: nord wave, Kurzweil: PC361, Arturia: microBrute, KORG 800DV, monotribe, monotron, monotron DUO, kaossilator 2, MakeNoise 0-Coast, lots of iOS/Mac soft-instruments
Roland A-50, KMI QuNexus
Logic Pro, KORG SQ-1


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Re: Mono Evovler Keyboard: a personal review
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2016, 07:40:06 AM »
There's a great deal of brilliance packed into this old thing. It was analog coming back with way more ambition than usual, and the "kitchen sink" approach really works.

You have to learn to live with some bugs and quirks, especially when it comes to the sequencer. The Mopho's implementation was quite a bit more refined. But overall, it's a great instrument.

I almost took the MEK path instead of the Desktop path. At the time I was buying, it was hard to find MEKs, but I did have the option. I think my way of using the Evolver would have been completely different. The Desktop Evolver is very much a stand-alone instrument in its own right, and encourages a sequencer-based style.
DSI: DSM03; previously: Mopho Keyboard, Desktop Mopho, Evolver, DSM01
Hardware: Eurorack, Moog Little Phatty w/ CV Outs, Arturia MicroBrute, KMI QuNexus
Software: macOS, Ableton, MuseScore
Modular Grid:

Re: Mono Evovler Keyboard: a personal review
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2016, 04:54:43 AM »
Interesting to know that the desktop module version is different from MEK. Of course I was aware of the difference in UI, but never thought that it was such a big difference in usage, big enough to make your synth life different.

I wish if my MEK had four voice polyphony, I know poly-chain will do, but still I can't help stop wishing for it. Perhaps I should get a few evolver desktop modules to fulfill my dream, but then I also want to have Mutable Instruments Elements module also ;)
DSI: PRO2, evolver keyboard, ensoniq: VFX-SD, Roland: V-Synth, JD-XA, TB-3, Clavia: nord wave, Kurzweil: PC361, Arturia: microBrute, KORG 800DV, monotribe, monotron, monotron DUO, kaossilator 2, MakeNoise 0-Coast, lots of iOS/Mac soft-instruments
Roland A-50, KMI QuNexus
Logic Pro, KORG SQ-1

Re: Mono Evovler Keyboard: a personal review
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2016, 10:40:26 AM »
I remember I was all set to buy a Mopho Keyboard to polychain to the Tetra I had at the time. I wanted a more tactile interface. Well, the Mopho I tried in the shop actually sounded a bit rough and distorted so I passed on that, but next to it was a MEK. I'd never seen or heard one before. Next to the Mopho it sounded positively three-dimensional! I couldn't believe the strange otherworldly sounds coming out of the thing. So capable of both smooth organic tones and snarling electronic noise. Naturally I bought it instead of the Mopho. It's still the mono synth that I use all the time and I haven't found anything else with quite the same presence. Even the Pro 2 fell slightly short (if only it had the Evolver stereo VCA path).

Re: Mono Evovler Keyboard: a personal review
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2017, 09:03:25 AM »
I had a Mono Evolver Keyboard, but sold it in order to finance a second Poly Evolver Keyboard.  It's difficult to understand why, but a Mono Evolver is so much more than just one Poly Evolver voice, and a Poly Evolver is so much more than just four Mono Evolver voices.  The two instruments are surprisingly distinct from each other.  In other words, in spite of owning two PEKs, I still wish I had found some way of holding onto the MEK.  It's an exceptional instrument and I found it invitingly intuitive.  It was such a pleasure to program and sounded fabulous.  I can't say enough about it, and I've many times considered buying another one. 
« Last Edit: June 19, 2017, 09:13:30 AM by Sacred Synthesis »