Dave Smith: Synthesizer Pioneer
The world of synthesizer design has a few household names: people or companies whose game-changing inventions from decades ago shaped the development of every instrument that came after it. In some cases, these early developers changed the shape of the entire music industry, in such a way that their genius can be found in near every electronic music-related production and performance workflow altogether. We're talking about folks like Dr. Robert Moog, Don Buchla, and of course, Dave Smith—the founder of Sequential Circuits.
In its over forty years of existence, Sequential Circuits has shifted shapes many times—first appearing in the 1970s, evolving through the 1980s, reappearing in the new century as Dave Smith Instruments, and now producing forward-thinking synthesizers under the name Sequential. Throughout the decades, Sequential has followed the leadership of the late Dave Smith, a visionary instrument designer who designed some of the most important synthesizers of all time, and who was also a driving force in the development of the now-ubiquitous MIDI protocol.
But what makes Sequential so important in the history of electronic music?
Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 and Polyphonic Synthesizer Revolution
In 1974, Dave Smith put his engineering and computer science background to work to produce the first product offering from Sequential Circuits: the Model 600, an analog sequencer/"complex wave generator" designed to add extra functionality to popular synthesizers such as the Minimoog and ARP 2600. He continued to produce products to augment the functionality of popular analog synths, including a crude voltage memory module, and a microprocessor-based sequencer (the Model 800).
Indeed, Smith's familiarity with then-groundbreaking microprocessors was key to his success, providing him with new, unique solutions to complex issues in instrument design. Using microprocessors, it was possible to write code to handle complex logical problems, and it was possible to do so at an unprecedented low cost and small form factor. The first major turning point for Sequential Circuits was the Prophet-5: a five-voice analog synthesizer with digital program memory and microprocessor-mediated voice allocation. The Prophet-5 stood out in a marketplace comprised primarily of monophonic synths and early polyphonic behemoths like the Yamaha CS-80. Unlike its competitors, the Prophet-5 was fully programmable, polyphonic, comparatively portable and affordable—and of course, it sounded amazing. It was an instant hit.
In the 1980s, Sequential Circuits followed up the Prophet-5 with a number of other now-legendary instruments. The Pro-One was a monophonic Prophet-like instrument with a built in sequencer; the Prophet-10 was a bi-timbral, dual-keyboard Prophet 5; the Prophet T8 was a highly expressive, rich synthesizer with polyphonic aftertouch; and of course, the Prophet VS was a groundbreaking instrument with paired digital vector synthesis with analog filters for a now distinctly Sequential sound.
Eventually, Sequential Circuits went out of business, and Dave Smith went on to pioneer virtual synthesizer technologies with Seer Systems, Korg, and others. Eventually, he formed Dave Smith Instruments to once again bring hardware instruments to the public, revisiting his own legacy: powerful monophonic and polyphonic synthesizers that combine the best aspects of analog and digital approaches to sound design and interaction.
Sequential in the Modern Era
Today, Sequential continues Dave Smith's work with a wide range of instruments—primarily focusing on different flavors of hybrid and fully-analog polyphonic synthesizers for performers, composers, sound designers, and anyone looking for classic or creative approaches to sound-making.
Perhaps the most compelling new instruments are the reissued Prophet-5 and the ten-voice Prophet-10: each of which are faithful recreations of the classic instrument that started it all. With the added benefit of MIDI, keyboard velocity and aftertouch, and a selection of both original filter types, it's a sure way to tap into vintage inspiration.
However, the Prophet series has also spawned many newer generations of instrument. The Prophet-6 pairs analog oscillators and filters with a powerful digital effect engine, all in a more compact package...making a great-sounding, performer-friendly instrument. Its sibling, the OB-6 shares the same form factor and general features, but swaps the Sequential-legacy oscillators and filters with Oberheim designs, for a distinct sonic character. Both the eight-voice and 16-voice Prophet Rev2 provide DCOs, analog filters, effects, and bi-timbral functionality for creating splits, layers, and more. The Prophet X is perhaps one of the most interesting current members of the Prophet family, combining digital oscillators, a highly flexible sampling engine, analog filters, and digital effects in order to create a singular tool that meets the needs of stage keyboardists and sound designers alike.
Sequential's Take 5 is their most affordable instrument in current production, packing five voices of full analog synthesis power into a compact 44-key package, perfect for traveling musicians or studios that need the Sequential sound on a budget. And of course, the Pro 3 is one of their most interesting and powerful instruments: a hybrid monophonic/paraphonic synthesizer with analog oscillators, a wavetable oscillator, classic Sequential, Oberheim, and Moog-like filters, a robust effect section, and extensive modulation opportunities, including CV inputs and outputs...making it a great choice for artists who make use of modular synthesizers.
Sequential's current lineup is comprised of many varieties of world-class polyphonic and monophonic synths, each of which has a distinct sonic character. You'll find that they are some of the best synthesizers around, from true through-and-through analog to forward-thinking hybrid analog/digital designs. Given everything they've accomplished, we look forward to the next 40 years of their history.