Having cut my teeth on a big Buchla modular synth back in my college days, I have always wanted to put a modular analog synth into my control room. Two things kept me from doing this: space and money. Then I stumbled upon the Evolver at the last NAMM show, and my dilemma has pretty much been solved. The Evolver rocks!!! This little $499 box is the coolest piece of electronics I have come across in several years of going to trade shows and having things thrown in my face as being "the most amazing piece of gear ever made!" The Evolver is a little smaller than most hardback books and weighs about three pounds. If you replaced the functionality of the box with hardwired analog synth modules, it would probably cost several thousand dollars and take up the better part of a small wall in your studio. Here's a breakdown: Two real analog oscillators, a two channel analog VCF, a two channel analog VCA, and two digital wavetable oscillators. On the control and processing side is a whole slew of digital algorithms emanating from a high speed DSP chip (all audio processing is 24 bit/48k): three ADSR envelope generators, four syncable LFOs, five delay lines, distortion, pan and 'hack' processing, feedback loops, a white noise generator, an envelope follower and peak hold detector, and finally, four sixteen step sequencers! Now if you know your modular synths, you already know what you can do with the above components. If you're new to this, here's a very simplified overview. With four oscillators, you can play up to four pitches and process them through any combination of the filter, VCA , and on-board processing. You can trigger the synth from a MIDI contorller or the on-board sequencer(s). You can also make like Jim O'Rourke or John McEntire and process external audio through the stereo audio inputs through the VCF and VCA or use the envelope follow/peak/hold functions to trigger sounds from the Evolver from your external audio.

But, how does the Evolver sound? Despite Dave Smith's reputation as the designer of the classic Prophet Five, I was still a bit skeptical of a box that small being able to sound as good as a full blown synth rig. I got one on evaluation and within 20 minutes of plugging it in and listening to it, I called up Dave and gave him my credit card number. This thing sounds huge! I also used the box to process some external audio (drums from a 2" tape) with equally satisfying results. The supplied patches and sequences are super bitchin' as well. They sound so good, that it's too easy to use them stock without having to learn how to program your own patches. Watch out for a glut of CDs with stock Evolver sequences and sounds. Programming is easy. An XY matrix of eight switches and eight infinite pots control all aspects of this deep box. Just hit a switch for the row of parameters you want, and then grab the knob above the parameter you want to change. Evolver knows you've grabbed it and the display (a bit cryptic, but workable) changes to display that parameter. The only minor drawback to this interface is in trying to deconstruct an existing patch. Without knobs and patch cords to visually cue you to what's active, trying to figure out a patch can be a challenge. But, there is a free standalone editor as well as Unisyn and Sound Diver templates available that provide visual patch info. Whether you're a die-hard synth-head or just wanting to become one, you have to check out the Evolver. ($499 MSRP. www.davesmithinstruments.com, www.audiomidi.com)

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More