The Evolver Keyboard is a performance-oriented monosynth based on the hybrid analog-digital Evolver.
Legendary synth designer Dave Smith has released the Evolver Keyboard ($1,329), a 3-octave performance version of the 1-voice tabletop Evolver. Like the original synth, the Evolver Keyboard includes two analog oscillators, two digital oscillators, highpass and lowpass analog filters, three envelopes, four LFOs, a 16 × 4 sequencer with extensive routing capabilities, a variety of distortion effects, audio inputs for external signal processing, and an analog delay. EM associate editor Geary Yelton's extensive review of the Evolver from June 2003 is available online at www.emusician.com, so I will cover only the features of the keyboard version.
All the Mod Cons
Yelton commented on the Evolver's lack of a headphone output, a power switch, and a master volume knob; this has all been corrected on the Evolver Keyboard. Additionally, the original Evolver's 3-LED display has been replaced with a 40-character LCD, and the buttons and knobs on this unit feel very sturdy.
The Evolver Keyboard's rear panel has two audio inputs and two audio outputs as well as a headphone jack; a sustain pedal input; two control voltage inputs; MIDI In, Out, and Thru; and a MIDI Poly Chain Output port (which I will discuss in a moment). And thanks to its reduced size (26 inches wide by 12 inches deep and weighing 13 pounds), the Evolver Keyboard is perfect for gigging.
The instrument is powered by a universal wall-wart supply, which runs on 100 to 240 VAC at 50 or 60 Hz. Although I understand the economic necessity of using an external power supply, I prefer an onboard power supply with IEC power jacks. That is particularly important at gigs, where wall warts have an unfortunate tendency to vanish.
Where the Action Is
Dave Smith designed the Evolver Keyboard to be a monosynth with minimal menus, clear signal routing, and deeply expressive synthesis capabilities. The attractive user interface not only makes the signal flow easy to understand, but it also invites experimentation. Although the instrument has a nice collection of 512 presets, if you buy the keyboard solely for its preprogrammed sounds, you are missing out on all the fun. This instrument is a sound tweaker's delight.
As a Hammond organist, I am quite picky about the feel of a keyboard's action. Smith did not scrimp with the Evolver Keyboard, choosing a high-quality action built by Fatar in Italy. Although it is only a 3-octave keyboard, dedicated transposition buttons allow you to quickly access the full 7-octave range.
The keyboard action is light and springy yet solid, and it generates Velocity and Aftertouch. The mod and pitch wheels are made of thick rubber and feel great under the fingers. The 58 knobs are continuous-turn digital encoders, which means you won't have crackly pots ten years down the road. They have a bit more resistance to the touch than most synth knobs I have used.
Touching any of the pots brings up the corresponding parameter name and value instantly in the LCD window, which is very useful. The 35 buttons are a bit smaller than a pencil eraser and light up bright red when touched. Add to that the instrument's bright blue LEDs, and the Evolver Keyboard is almost as much fun to watch as it is to play.
The Evolver Keyboard's single voice can certainly be a limitation at times. However, on a recent recording with this synth, I overdubbed six separate passes in order to achieve the polyphony I was looking for. The resulting chords sounded huge and interesting, with subtle sonic variations that I wouldn't get by simply playing the six notes of a chord simultaneously on a polyphonic instrument.
For those occasions when more voices are needed, the Evolver Keyboard can serve as a front end for other instruments in the Evolver family, using the MIDI Poly Chain Output port. Once connected, the Evolver Keyboard's knobs and buttons will control the parameters of the other instruments.
It's a Winner
The Evolver Keyboard's superb sound quality, terrific controller layout, and high-quality keyboard action make it a synthesist's dream. Add to that a reasonable price point and its ability to control other Evolver synths, and the Evolver Keyboard earns a perfect score.
Value (1 through 5): 5
Dave Smith Instruments