January 23, 2012

Dave Smith Tempest at NAMM 2012

Dave Smith has quite a synth development history. Dave was responsible for the Prophet 5. He is commonly referred to as the “father of MIDI” after his involvement with the development of the system. Pioneering physical modeling synthesis research and developing the Wavestation over at Korg are just a few stops in an amazing history of seeing Dave appear from one breakthrough to the next. you might have even had one of Dave’s creations in your old computer if you ever owned an AWE 32 or 64 from Sound Blaster; as these cards contained Dave’s first software based synthesizer to drive it’s 32/64 voices. Since opening his own brand, Dave Smith Synthesizers, Dave has created some of the most popular analog synths currently on the market and the devices bring a signature modern appeal to devices that feel as classic as the vintage beasts that inspired them.

Now that they’ve been going for a while, what started as a promise from a trusted name has become a well rounded line of synthesizers. The Mopho, The Evolver and an update to the Prophet design for modern times are among the devices in the line, each seemingly destined “classic” status. Now that Dave is sitting pretty with a stable of in demand synth models, what’s next? Well, it looks like Dave made the logical conclusion that it was time for a drum machine, built with the same focus on classic sounds and modern usability. Maybe it was Dave’s inability to do anything halfway that led him to draft Roger Linn (most famously responsible for the Linn Drum machine that is so present on so many classic recordings) for the development of the device. After a lengthy development period, the Tempest is a reality and according to Roger and Dave it is the most complex instrument they have ever built.

The tempest uses 6 analog voices (each powered by two oscillators) and two digital oscillators (with a large bank of included samples.) Each voice passes through a curtis Low Pass Filter, an additional high-pass filter and analog VCA (voltage controlled amplifier for those scratching their heads) with feedback. The systems offers five envelopes, two LFOS and a wide variety of analog routing possibilities. A 2 x 8 velocity sensitive pad grid powers these, designed to split the difference between standard step sequencing dialogues and the preferred 16 up pad entry arrays of today. A full complement of outputs (six direct, stereo mix and phones outputs) assists to connect this guy to audio mixers and sound cards, while midi and USB I/O assure that it can be interfaced with whatever drives your current studio.

It’s really one of those devices you need to see in action. I personally love that it is out. Analog subtractive synthesis created drum sounds have a unique sound and the way they behave really can’t be duplicated by sample banks. I think sculpting percussive tones is a great workout for the sound design minded and often assists one with thinking about the often overlooked factors of how pitch over time affects the perceived intensity/ impact of a rhythmic sound. Unfortunately, the Tempest isn’t necessarily priced as a learning aid, but it is one of those beautiful tools where the craftsmanship and cost of the components justify every bit of its price tag. Here’s a quick rundown on the specs and we have a video coming soon where one of the guys at the booth took one through the paces for us, so keep an eye out. Either way, you’ll likely be seeing this pop up in some big productions.

Dave Smith Tempest at NAMM 2012 UniqueSquared

  • 16 pressure- and velocity-sensitive backlit drum trigger pads in an 8 x 2 matrix
  • 6 analog voices, each with 2 analog oscillators and 2 digital oscillators, loaded with a large bank of included samples
  • Modulation path includes Dave Smith’s classic analog lowpass filter with audio-rate modulation, highpass filter, analog VCA with feedback, 5 envelopes, 2 LFOs, and an extraordinary variety of analog modulation routing options
  • Doubles as a 6-voice analog synth
  • 6 direct voice outputs plus stereo mix outputs, headphones outputs,
  • 2 inputs for foot switches or expression pedals
  • MIDI in/out
  • USB
  • 90 panel controls
  • Bright 256 x 64 OLED display
  • Realtime and step recording
  • ROLL button permits creating drum rolls or repeated groove patterns by varying pad pressure as
  • the beat records
  • ROLL button doubles as a momemtary “stutter” effect when the pads are assigned to play beats. Sustain button holds the note of tuned parts (like a keyboard’s Sustain pedal) or to choke drum sounds or drumbeats when the pad is released
  • 2 pressure- and position-sensitive Note FX slide controllers permit real-time recording of note or beat-wide sound parameter changes into the drumbeat as you play
  • A variety of unique effects:
  • Stereo analog compressor and distortion circuits affect the stereo output mix
  • Beat-synced delay is achieved by generating additional delayed note events within the sequencer
  • A beat-synced “stutter” effect is created entirely within the sequencer by looping short portions of the drumbeat on demand
  • Adjustable swing timing with realtime control
  • Dimensions: 15.4″ L x 9″ W x 2.5″ H