Memorial Lecture at 141st: Dave Smith / Synthesizers: From Analog to Digital to Software to Analog

AES 141st Convention
Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
September 29 – October 2, 2016

Instrument designer, AES Fellow, and Grammy-winner Dave Smith will give the Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture at the 141st Convention.



Musical synthesizers first appeared in the ’60s – large modular beasts covered with cables. In the early ’70s, portable monophonic instruments became available, leading to a gradual acceptance by musicians in popular music. In the late ’70s, fully programmable polyphonic analog synths came out, and the synthesizer went mainstream. Things changed dramatically in the ’80s as digital synths appeared: first the FM-based DX-7 and eventually the M-1 sample playback synth. From that point onward, digital was the norm. In the ’90s, digital synths continued and were implemented in software as computers gained enough power for native signal processing. For 25 years, analog synths were generally not available. Things have changed in the last 10 years, though. Musicians started searching for old analog synths and began using them again. New analog synths became available. Modular synths are back, and very popular. Throughout this 50-year history of the synthesizer its impact on music of all genres has been very significant.


Instrument designer, AES Fellow, and Grammy-winner Dave Smith founded Sequential Circuits in the early ’70s. In 1977, he designed the Prophet-5, the first polyphonic and fully programmable synthesizer, and the first musical instrument with a microprocessor. He was the driving force behind the MIDI specification — in fact, he coined the acronym. After Sequential he was President of DSD, an R&D division of Yamaha. He also started the Korg R&D group in California. He was then President at Seer Systems and developed the first software synth for Intel in 1994, followed by the first professional soft synth, Reality. He returned to hardware starting Dave Smith Instruments in 2002. The DSI lineup includes the Prophet 12, Prophet ’08, Pro 2, Mopho, and Tetra synths, and the Tempest drum machine, co-designed with legendary designer Roger Linn. The Sequential Prophet-6 analog synth was released in 2015, followed by the OB-6 designed in partnership with Tom Oberheim.

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