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Dave Smith Instruments  Mono Evolver 

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When buying one, watch out for: dirty / dry / abused encoders that skip values.


"Excuse me, Mister, what exactly is this... Evolver thing?"

My adventure with the Evolver started on a chilly night in a hotel room. Rowdy businessmen in white shirts and hot chicks in mini skirts treaded around the lobby. Seeing my guy with his loose pants and untidy hairdo came as a relief. He was on a tour and brought his Poly Evolver 375 miles from up north for me to test. But when I learned after one second of playing it that it has 4 voices of polyphony, I was stunned. My ignorance about the DSI reality knocked me off my feet. What the fuck am I supposed to do with 4 voices? For me it's either 1 voice or 8 voices and above; no other arrangement makes much sense. You know, I can take the Korg MS2000 with its 4 voices for $600, but the 4-voice PEK at $3000 does not fit any of my fun schemes or music plans. So the 4 voices plus some bad knobs in that individual unit turned me against the Poly option and in that very moment, in that hotel room, I decided to buy the Mono version (and I felt like a dick for refusing to take the guy's burden off his back after the long, long journey). Yes, yes, I know about the condition(s) of analog technology in the 21st century and the costs involved, but if the Poly Evolver had 8 or more voices it would be a mass fucking murder machine...

And as far as killing machines are concerned, I had problems at the bank when sending the international money transfer, because the title said EVOLVER and the clerk thought it was a revolver and you know... bullshit anti-terrorist safety measures got activated.


(I admit at the beginning that I love synths with widely routable sequencers);

Hooooly Shit !!! Dave Smith IS THE MAN!!! This thing from the first minute sounds so rad and alive! Like a blow of a firepoker between your eyeballs. If there is anything that could be objectionable in the overall tone it's that it lacks some meaty-low-end juiciness of synths like Roland JP-8000 or Waldorf Q/XT (let alone Moogs) but I don't find it a hindrance in this case - quite the opposite, as the balance is just right and the low-middle-end is not muddy. The situation is not as smooth at the high end - the DSI tone gets quite metallic and inorganic (stiff), especially when using the waveshapes. Which is a matter of taste and preference because I bet some people will call it "nice digital-wave-ish" instead of "metallic". But when going analog, MEK is the closest sounding synth to the Nord lead (VA) and Roland SH + ARP Odyssey (traditional) although don't be so silly as to expect the Odyssey level of vitality and warmth. The DSI's clinical sound will always stand out; it's no old analog synth brought back to life by Dr Frankenstein. Better look at it as more modern than vintage type of synth (with its own distinct & individual modern sound).

The engine is deep but the Mono version takes a little bit away from the overall potential. I can only imagine pressing 6 keys to make a fabulous pad using all those waveshapes and evolving modulations. Anyways, the Mono will suffice for basses, leads, oldschool type  FX noodling and crazy rhythmic sequences; zzzzzz-brooom-bam-bam-swoosh! If this machine was teleported back to 1985 and given to an aspiring industral musician, he would dump all his women for ever to worship this new orgasmatron, that's how wicked the MEK can get, especially with the delay section where I found as much as 3 delay lines that can be modulated by anything and everything (and also work as chorus). Oh, and the grunge / output hack; most of the time it sounds meh, like a broken guitar farting, but when applied befittingly the results are fucking rock 'n' roll (I think I have just used up the limit of the word fuck for this year's worth of reviews).

The reason I decided not to give this synth a full 3/3 for the engine and modern sounds is that it lacks things like multimode filter, interconnectivity in modulation routes (total freedom in all directions and assignments), lfo phases and syncing in the FM department - things that are the joy of life for a synth freak like me. AND, dissapointingly, the shape within the waveshape cannot be modulated either (all this followed by, and in part translating to lower plasticity too). So even though the exterior design and interior gadgets may seem super-cool-modern, the $1600 synth I'm holding in my arms lacks this final ingredient & visionary element that would make it truly spectacular ("superb"). But it's a very, very strong proper - one inch from superb. 90% of people won't give a f... a damn.

Okay, for all the love of Jexus Christ this synth can get from its already big fan-base, it must be admitted that the interface surprises us all with some iffy quirks;
1. If you buy it brand new, you also need to buy a monkey to sit and tweak it round the clock, because the heavy resistance of the knobs takes away the fun of tweaking;
2. If you buy it second-hand with loose knobs, they might be skipping values due to overtweaking, so watch out;
3. You're unable to see where you're saving patches to, so in my case the ancient method of keeping track of valuable patches on a piece of paper returns;
4. The LEDs blink so magick-bright that I had to attach a strip of opaque Scotch tape lining the knobs so that the lights don't hurt my effing eyes! Seriously, this is a minor / major problem. Count in the cost of the tape. And Grandpa Dave forgot to test the construction of the pitch-wheel. Mine doesn't come back to absolute zero position and skewes the pitch of the sound! Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeow. Enough. Kill me, I talk like an old grandpa myself.

So the interface can be excellent at first impression and for lite-tweaking, but only satisfactory later during deep-mangling. But guess what. Mr Smith listens to such voices out there and decied to put the traditional potentiometer option as a choice in new products. Neat. This and other things make me appreciate the DSI. It a small company; it's a real address with a house and garage you can see on Google Maps; there's a person checking and responding to emails on her laptop every day; the synths are designed by a passionate freak and they are manufactured the "old way", which means that they are sweaty men amongst clean-shaven metrosexual mannequins spawned in corporate cesspools of wholesale strategies and manufactured demand.

In the "modern-vintage creative mono" category, the MEK definitely passes the exam with flying colors and easily constitutes a to-die-for whole. It combines a great interface with the wholesome sound of a Nord Lead, balls of ARP Odyssey, savageness of Polivoks and a Waldorfish spirit of deep synthiness thanks to its wide modulation capabilities; and yet retains its own originality that will draw every attention and, when pushed to limits, will blow your mom and dad's heads off and make them think you're Satan.
Right, let's clarify it; being Satan, if you ask me, is a compliment. But other people don't like Satan because he (she?) makes evil mess. So make sure you accept the Satan inside the DSI and don't get annoyed by this tinny, harsh, mosquito-ish aural quality which surfaces every now and then. It's prone to ugly distortion and can get you frustrated and your music making process disturbed dangerously easily. To quote a classic, it's far more dangerous than a hydrophobic dog.




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