When Dave Smith Instruments introduced the Evolver, it was the first affordable synthesizer that successfully combined analog and digital oscillators
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Dave Smith Instruments'' Poly Evolver is a 4-voice rackmount version of the Evolver. Combining analog and digital sound engines, it offers four times the sound-generation and sound-manipulation capabilities of the original and adds various new features.

When Dave Smith Instruments introduced the Evolver, it was the first affordable synthesizer that successfully combined analog and digital oscillators and filters. Its fat sound and innovative architecture scored high marks that put it in a league of its own (see EM's June 2003 review at www.emusician.com). World-class inventor Dave Smith, indisputably one of the leading innovators in musical instrument design (originator of the Prophet-5, vector synthesis, the first commercial soft synth, and the MIDI protocol) has followed up the monophonic Evolver with a rackmount 4-voice version called the Poly Evolver ($1,495).

Hello, Poly

The Poly's predecessor, the Evolver, provides two identical signal paths leading to a stereo output. Each path has a real analog oscillator, a Prophet VS-style digital wavetable oscillator, an analog resonant lowpass filter, and a digital highpass filter. You can modulate any of 75 destinations with 24 sources that include three ADSR generators, four LFOs, and a 4-track-by-16-step analog-style sequencer. The Evolver can process external audio or internally generated signals with delay and various forms of distortion.

The Poly Evolver, with 16 oscillators, 4 noise generators, 16 filters, 12 ADSR generators, 16 LFOs, and 4 independent 4-track sequencers, is the Evolver multiplied by four in virtually every aspect. New features include a revised user interface, more signal-routing options, key-gated sequences, and the ability to increase polyphony by chaining the Poly with an Evolver or additional Polys.

On the Poly's rear panel are two outputs for each of the four voices; two outputs carrying all four voices (Audio Output); an input that routes external audio to the synthesis engine (Audio Input); and an input that simply mixes external audio with the main output (Mix Input, which is useful when chaining synths). Using the individual voice outs removes those voices from the Audio Output, allowing you to process one voice with another by routing its outputs to the Audio Input. All ins and outs are unbalanced ¼-inch TS jacks. Also on the rear are MIDI In, Out, and Thru ports.

Unlike the 3-digit LED, rows of buttons, and matrix-style programming of the earlier Evolver, the Poly's front panel has a 2-by-16 alphanumeric LCD, 11 dedicated buttons, and 2 reassignable infinite-rotation knobs. Also unlike the Evolver, the Poly thankfully has a power switch, a volume knob, and a ¼-inch stereo headphone jack. You access patches and parameter pages by scrolling with Page Up and -Down buttons and by turning the knobs to change whatever values appear in the display.

For feedback that's more visual, the Poly includes SoundTower Software's PolyEvolver SoundEditor (Mac/Win), an application supplied on CD-ROM and authorized online with your Poly's serial number. Along with the usual editor/librarian functions, the program lets you transfer 16-bit user waveforms to the Poly's digital oscillators. Unfortunately, the only documentation is online, and it doesn't go beyond explaining setup.

Good Golly, It's Poly

Program and Combo modes correspond to monotimbral and multitimbral operation. In Program mode, all four voices play the same sound. In Combo mode, a patch can layer Programs, split the keyboard, play one Program after another, or play each Program on a separate MIDI channel under sequencer control. The Poly provides four banks of 128 Programs and three banks of 128 Combos. The factory patches do an excellent job of showing off the Poly's talents.

When you sit down at the keyboard and scroll through the presets, you'll instantly recognize that the Poly has a sound all its own. Although the Evolver is sonically quite complex, the Poly multiplies that complexity exponentially. Many sounds are so overwhelmingly multifaceted that you'd be hard-pressed to fit them into a mix; rather, you'll want to build a song around them instead of adding them to preexisting tracks (see Web Clip 1). Nonetheless, there are plenty of exceptions — sounds that fit perfectly wherever you need obviously electronic timbres.

Poly Finale

The Poly Evolver could be the thickest, fattest-sounding synth I've ever heard. Conversely, it can also generate sounds of amazing delicacy (see Web Clip 2). Its sheer number of oscillators and filters, combined with its extensive modulation and signal-routing capabilities, make it possible to create sounds that no other synth module can. If you want to emulate traditional instruments or even re-create the sound of most other synths, you should look elsewhere. But if you want to stand apart from the crowd and make sounds that unmistakably cry out, “I play a Poly Evolver,” then this is the only instrument for you.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4.5

Dave Smith Instruments
Email: mail@davesmithinstruments.com
Web: www.davesmithinstruments.com