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[Q&A] Dave Smith



Gepokt en gemazeld
Lid sinds
4 januari 2002
I remember you participated in the Iron Man competition in Hawaii back in the eighties. For the ones that don't know, the Iron Man in Hawaii is a competition for men, real men. It's an XXL size triatlon where people compete under the harshests of circumstances. What do you do these days to stay fit and healthy? Matador

DS: Cycling; I try to go on a two week ride every year – last year to Corsica and Sardinia, before that the Dolomites. Also the Paris-Brest-Paris ride two years ago.

You started a company from scratch around 1975 which within three or four years was the top dog within its business. Aside from the technical wizardry that was needed to develop the SCI products, which were the hottest things in town by far back then, businesswise it was also one heck of an accomplishment. Do you have any advice for a starting business man on what it takes to conquer the world within 4 years? matador

DS: The business side was a big guess back then; I had no experience. For a technical person the best advice is to get a business person to handle that side of the company. That’s what I did.

Dave, since you have obviously worked in many (musical) company environments (Sequential, Korg, Seer Systems and now DSI), I was wondering: how does your earlier experience with these companies shape the direction and business model you would like for DSI? Which things have you learned from (for instance) what happened to Sequential; what are you trying to avoid, and what would you like to see happen again, in this regard? Hanz

DS: Definitely. This time around I have no employees, and I work from my house. The market for hardware is smaller now, so it is important to match your company size to the market size.

Dear Mr Smith, Let's face it!
Midi is in synth land more then 20 years now, indeed not bad for a 'system' in a world where any synth older then 5 years is dumped. Looking at it, it's a real success...
What are, in you opinion, the features which made it so successfully?
Do you think it will be ever replaced and by what? What should be the features of its successor? What could be improved?
Wout Blommers

DS: the success was due to the fact that everyone implemented it. It may not have been perfect, but since it was on every instrument, it was guaranteed to be around for a long time. A new version would be very difficult to do now, since there are so many more companies involved from computer and cell phones to instrument manufacturers. Everything could be improved, but it will be hard to decide what goes in – besides control, should it include audio? If so, how many channels? How about video? Maybe the whole thing should be wireless?

In retrospect, how do you feel about the Prohpet 10? Is it mainly pride (because the P10 is now a true monument in synth history) or does it seem a nightmare noew (because of the heating problems with the prototype that made the downgrade to P5 necessary and the subsequent troubles with the eventual P10 concerning its stability and its low sales numbers). In a way, it is 'funny' to see that, despite its troublesome history, the P10 is now considered one the Rare Great Synths. Cheimoon

DS: The original version was just one of those things that didn’t work out, unfortunately. But, the P5 did so well, and continues today to be used so much, that the old p10 is more of a footnote now.

Dear Dave,can you tell what makes the pro-one sounds different from the p5 ? Is there more distortion, other parts ? was a monophone p5 not a good idee ? guido

DS: I don’t know! It’s been a very long time since I have compared them. They use the same synth parts, so the sound should be very close. It was basically a one voice, non-programmable P5.

Hi Dave,this maybe a strange question but I'm curious about it so.....You personally changed the way music is made and thereby changed music.MIDI is probably the most radical development in music land for the ages. How does it feel to be so influential.........or do you realize it at all. Jena_mu6

DS: It has been fun, and people do remind me of this often. But, I tend to live for the future, and think more about whatever new project I’m working on at the time. It is very nice to have been part of so many major developments!

One simple question for you: what is your main philosophy when designing a synth or any product? Or does this vary with every project? Yoonchi

DS: I try to develop unique instruments with personality. I don’t like re-doing something I’ve already done. It all comes down to the sound, of course, and the usability.

Dear Dave, about 2 or 3 years ago we had a little chat on the German Musik Messe.
You told me in your booth that you had no plans to build another "big" synth like the P5, too expensive and too much effort were the reasons in that days. Lately you released the Poly Evolver Keys, what made you change your mind?
The Q

DS: It was just a natural evolution. I take my projects one at a time, and don’t plan out beyond the current design. For example, right now I do not know what I will do after the new Evolver keyboard.

I would have liked to ask you about your plans after the PolyEvolver, but I suppose you won't tell us that, so let me put it differently: where do you think the synthmarket is heading (regarding echonology en design) and where in that future would you put yourself and your company? Cheimoon

DS: The synth market has obviously gone to software. This is good since it is very cheap and accessible to more people, but they don’t sound as good as good hardware synths, and they definitely are missing the “look and feel” of a real musical instrument. But, more people are now re-discovering the benefits of a real instrument, though certainly not in the same numbers as the old days. I will be staying with hardware, since it is much for fun for me as a designer, and in the future there will be no money to be made with soft synths.

When we look at the digital hardware world, we can see that FPGA's have enabled a circuit designer to create a very flexible system where the functionality is more or less adaptable and loadable from a memory. Nowadays, this also seems to be possible (though limited?) in the analog world: programmable analog IC's are already available. Reconfigurability in this sense would perhaps reintroduce the analog synthesizer in the (far?) future - but with control, realisation and size comparable with a very complex VA synth with lots of polyphony, but i'm no expert on this subject. Hence my question: what do you think of this technology? Is it already viable? Will it ever be viable or are there serious limitations for synthesizer application? Do you have any experiences with it? chromisX

DS: The problem is the market is small for hardware synths, so a large development project like this would be difficult to handle. With any electronics-per-voice synth, it will always be more expensive than digital; look at the andromeda, which developed new analog Ics for more polyphony – it is still very expensive. I looked into some of these at one point, and determined that they are still more expensive than the Curtis Ics I use now.

Just before the FM synthesis revolution there was a development of analog type of synths with digital components. So called hybrids like Xpander/Matrix,Chroma etc. 20 years later when the patent on FM synthesis expired there is a surge of new breed of hybrid synthesizers. Is this just coincidence or not? fuse

DS: Not sure what you mean. Everything was digitally controlled analog since the prophet 5, until the DX-7 then the M-1. FM is being used in some soft synths now since it is not too difficult to implement, but I don’t think it is used that often.

Which other synths do you find interesting, for instance? And what other synth designers do you admire? Hanz

DS: I’m not very good at keeping up with other synth designs, so I can’t really answer very well. I tend to design instruments based on what I like, and I actually try to avoid checking every feature on every other instrument. This can cause instruments to get too convoluted as marketing departments try to squeeze in too many features just to match the competition, resulting in confusing instruments. I like concise instrument designs that don’t necessarily do everything, but are very usable.

I have not used any soft synths in years and have no interest, this is what you said. My question is why? I can't look in your mind, so... cns

DSI: Mostly because I don’t like operating a musical instrument with a mouse. And having to deal with all the hassles of installation, compatibility, etc. Maybe I’m getting old, but I like to touch knobs on the instrument. And, using a controller with a bunch of sliders or knobs in a straight line isn’t much better, since there is no logical layout, and it changes for every software instrument you use.

What do you think about the remake of the Prophet5 from Creamware... RockSteadyBeat®

DS: well, it’s basically yet another soft synth, this time put into hardware. I suppose “virtual analog” instruments have the advantage of lower cost than real analog, and it’s nice that it has a real front panel, but most people who play real analog instruments immediately appreciate the difference.