Is The Dave Smith Poly Evolver The Most Interesting Synth In The Last 30 Years?

In the latest Alamo Music Audio Lab video, Zachary Marr takes a look at the Dave Smith Instruments Poly Evolver synthesizer, originally introduced in 2005.

The four-voice Poly Evolver Keyboard is a digital/analog hybrid. It features four oscillators per voice—two analog oscillators and two digital oscilators based on the Prophet VS. This is paired with classic Curtis analog low-pass filters, analog VCAs and digital effects.

Marr takes the position that the Poly Evolver is not just underrated, but that it’s one of the most interesting synths of the last 30 years. Think it deserves that status? Check out the video and share your thoughts in the comments!


0:00 Intro
1:06 Specs/History
12:28 Demos
28:31 Wrapping Up

33 thoughts on “Is The Dave Smith Poly Evolver The Most Interesting Synth In The Last 30 Years?

  1. 12 minutes in, guy repeated himself 12 times. on basic information. as I type this: first playing sounds good though 🙂

    p.s. i bought a used one online last year. i thought. I got myself ripped off. money payed no synth. boo-fukin-hooh!

  2. To be honest, I can relate. I never played PEK, but I own Modal 001 and 002 (and it is only instrument that I bought knowing I am getting same voice architecture), I have heard Pro 3 and PEK, and can imagine power that lays in this architecture.

  3. > two digital oscilators based on the Prophet VS

    Sadly, this is incorrect. The digital oscillators can do some very limited FM, or can play back the factory default 128 sample long 8-bit VS samples. But that is nothing to do with the VS anymore than samples from any other instrument make a third instrument “based” on it. Notably it doesn’t replicate the VS quad-sample panning architecture (aka VS) at all. Despite this the Evolvers are still great synths. But we don’t need to inaccurately describe them.

    1. Are you maybe conflating the VS oscillators with the VS mixer or VS synth architecture?

      Dave Smith based the Evolver digital oscillator wavetables on the VS oscillator wavetables. If you have digital oscillators with the same wavetables, other things being equal they’re going to sound the same.

      The Evolver architecture is very different than the VS, though. Like you said, very different from the VS. People give DCOs and digital oscillators a bad rap, but the Evolver is probably one of the most under-rated synths Smith has done.

      1. We don’t have to go into philosophical diquisitions on terms to claim that the Poly Evolver oscillators don’t sound like the Prophet VS.

        Anyone with minimal experience with the original knows that they sound different.

        There is nothing under-rated about the Poly Evolver. In fact, all of Dave Smith’s synths are highly overrated considering the build quality and virtually zero innovation they have introduced.

  4. Learned synthesis on one of these. It was 2007, not as many online tutorials, and there were not a lot of new analog synths back then. I needed knob per function. Eventually sold it to get a prophet 12. I kept all of my old recordings with this thing and they still amaze me. I assume though that the pro 2 is the modern successor. Is it not? The best thing is that knob sequencer.

    1. “the best thing is that knob sequencer”

      Really?!?! It’s got 2 analog oscillators, 2 digital oscillators, 3 or was it 4 envelopes, kickass distortion like no other synths, 3 delay lines, a built in feedback path, and so much more but “that knob sequencer” was the best part?!

      I have to admit – I’m against sequencers in synths for the most part. I’m hoping midi 2.0 will make external sequencing all it can be soon enough.

      1. Dave Smith sequencers I found are not really the same as a sequencer on other synths. This is a 16 step, 4 part sequencer that you can use for parameter automation, not just note sequencing. You talk about all of those different items like the oscs and filters and such, many of the parameters of those can be assigned to the sequencer lanes and you can easily turn a static pad patch into a crazy evolving (see what I did there?) pad sound with tons of movement and modulation in it. I used to not be a fan of sequencers as well until I got my evolver. Now I crave that kind of functionality on devices.

  5. One man’s underrated is another’s overrated. It depends on how you bond with it. The PE is a great synth, but I look on it as a stepping stone to the P12, which is a major player’s instrument. It was easy to see Dave selling more p6s than P12s, but he poured everything he knows into the 12 and it shows.

    Some people diss Roland for revisiting its older library. I became hooked on the Triton, so I lean on the Korg aroma more. There’s a Prophet sound as well. A pair of Tetras make me 3% happier in the world, so I’m in the club.

    1. Tetra was wonderful and affordable. I wish I’d bought two of them!

      I also wish the Prophet Rev2 were 16-part multitimbral like 4 Tetras…

  6. I had one after lusting after one for years. Was really disappointed in the sound. The filters and basic sound just didn’t do it for me surprisingly and the multi timbrality whilst editing was a ball ache. Made money selling it though!
    Much prefer the Microwave sonically..

  7. I don’t think mixing together analog and digital oscillators is nearly as interesting as what the Roland JD-XA does!
    It goes much further by being able to affect analog wave generation itself with the digital side!

  8. Underrated? Good luck to find one below $2500. Yesterday, I purchased a DW8000 for $200: 8 voices, 2 digital osc/voice, analog filters. Sure less fancy than the PEK, but 10 times cheaper. And by the way, I use a MEK for leads: great synth!

  9. I have an mek with a desktop module chained to it. More than a couple of voices and I think my head would explode.

  10. If he wants to declare a hybrid design as the most flexible synth of the last 30 years, why not considering the Korg Prologue or the Modwave?

    On the pure digital side, something like the Modal Argon (and to a lesser extent the Modal Cobalt) would have my vote for tonal flexibility.

    1. the modwave’s not a hybrid, it’s just a vst crammed in a raspberry pi. the filters are not analog, the marketing is slightly deceptive about that.

  11. Personally I think physical modelling is the most interesting new synthesis method in the last 30 years.

    So my choice would be the Waldorf Quantum, with many more synthesis options – and it also has analogue filters (or go for the Iridium for twice the polyphony) and resonators.

  12. Had one. It looked amazing but sonically I wasn’t impressed. I had a raft of problems including a strange distortion and it’s on board one was so temperamental

  13. I got this PEK.
    I got the VS too.
    They are totally different.
    The PEK filter, and filter envelope it’s rubbish: it sounds awful.
    Dave Smith did a terrible synth, and did not developed the software. As he did with the Tempest.
    Then, i just want to remember that ALL the units beed to replace the encoder board, with new pot board.
    Someone still trying to sell the old faulty boards on Reverb: please guys, delete those listings, you don’t look smart. I still got those boards, just in case sylicium price goes to the moon and i ‘ll get rich sellin that crap boards unuseful.

    4 voices? It need buy the PE Rack to get 8 voices. But at this point i switch on the Synthex, OB8 or Chroma.

    Conclusion: the PEK it’s a mediocre synth and this guy should looks like coming from in the city for the first time
    from the countryside.”Magic!” “Magic” Magic what?! Serious synths sounding goods are others.
    PEK is good to noys sounds with distrortion and delay, but if i have to switch on one of my units, the PEK it’s the last choice: it doesn’t sound classical, it doesn’t sound futuristic like a PPG Wave, a VS, a MB-6582, or an XPANDER.

    The Most Interesting Synth In The Last 30 Years? No. I got all the synths, and this is less than mediocre.

  14. Is there a good Poly Evolver demo on YouTube in which this synth sounds great? I have yet to find one. I’d like to hear/see a good demo. Someone please direct us to one, if such a demo exists.

  15. So Waldorf’s xt, Yamaha’s Fs1r, Kawai’s 5000s, Ensoniq’s Fizmo, Kurzweil’s k2000, k2500, emu’s ultra proteus, morpheus, etc are somehow loosing in the “interesting” competition from evolver? Is this remotely serious????

    1. Every synth you mention is very powerful, but also insanely tedious to program compared to the Poly Evolver. Very interesting synths sonically, but with massive amounts of menu-diving. The K2500 is one of the most powerful and versatile synths ever, but once you program a synth with a lot of knobs like the Evolver, it is very difficult to go back to 100-level menu systems like these older synths.

  16. All the people commenting, and many owners and YouTubers who own the PolyEvolver, DO NOT UNDERSTAND this synth, AT ALL. The PolyEvolver is NOT for making ‘Jump’ patches, or “pLaYiNg wItH tHe CutToFf KnoB”. It is for creating intricate, detailed sequences and sounds, making full use of the stereo signal path and the sequencer. Comparing the Evolver line to the Prophets, or to a Juno, is like comparing a computer to a paper note pad.

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