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Dave Smith (1950 - 2022)

Sequential Circuits and Dave Smith Instruments founder dies aged 72

Dave Smith at Synthplex.Dave Smith at Synthplex 2019.

Musicians across the world have paid tribute to Dave Smith, legendary synth designer and founder of Sequential Circuits and Dave Smith Instruments, who passed away on Friday 3rd June 2022, aged 72.

Sequential Circuits

Born in San Fransisco, California in 1950, Dave went on to study electrical engineering at Berkeley, California. His first music product came in the form of the Model 600 Analogue Sequencer, a 16-step analogue sequencer that was born out of his desire to create a sequencer for his Minimoog synthesizer. A small number of the Model 600 were produced, leading to the creation of Sequential Circuits. Over the next four years more products aimed at expanding the capability of synths of the time would follow, such as the Model 800, a digital sequencer that was able to store 16 banks of 16-step sequences, and the Model 700, a programmer for the Minimoog and ARP 2600 instruments.

In 1977 he began work on designing his own synthesizer, and less than a year later in 1978 the Prophet-5 was released. This now legendary instrument was the world’s first fully programmable polyphonic analogue synthesizer, and the first musical instrument to utilise an on-board microprocessor. Produced until 1984, the Prophet-5 was embraced by musicians from a huge range of genres, with its iconic sounds finding their way onto countless hit records. The Prophet-10 followed, essentially doubling up the Prophet-5 into a single 10-voice instrument with a dual keyboard and a cassette interface for storing and loading patches. In 1981 Sequential released their first monophonic synthesizer, the Pro-One, which featured a single voice from the Prophet-5 combined with its own sequencer and arpeggiator.


In 1981, concerned by a lack of compatibility between synthesizers produced by different manufacturers, Dave and a small number of designers began working on a solution. Dave formally presented a paper at the Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in New York, proposing a possible solution in the form of USI (Universal Synthesizer Interface). He then organised a meeting between all keyboard manufacturers present at NAMM in 1982 to further pursue the idea, although it was met with disagreement and resistance from many manufacturers. Undeterred, he met with four companies: Roland, Korg, Yamaha, and Kawai. Together they refined the specification, resulting in a new standard interface coined by Dave as MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). The Prophet-600, released in the same year, became the world’s first MIDI product.


After Sequential Circuits, Dave went on to become the President of DSD, Inc, an R&D division of Yamaha, where he worked on physical modelling synthesis and software synthesizer concepts. He also started the Korg R&D group in California, which produced technology including the Wavestation. In 1994, as President of Seer Systems, he developed the first soft synth for Intel, followed in 1997 by the release of the first professional soft synth, Reality.

Dave Smith Instruments and rebranding

In 2002, Dave founded Dave Smith Instruments to once again concentrate on developing hardware synthesizers, starting with the Evolver digital/analogue hybrid instruments. A number of products were designed and produced under this name, including the Prophet X, Prophet Rev2, Prophet-6, Pro 2, Prophet 12 and the OB-6 (a collaboration with Tom Oberheim). As well as synthesizers, a collaboration with Roger Linn also resulted in the release of the Tempest drum machine. In 2018, DSI rebranded as Sequential, bringing Dave’s legacy full-circle after re-acquiring the trademark from Yamaha.

Sequential have released the following statement:

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Dave Smith has died. We’re heartbroken, but take some small solace in knowing he was on the road doing what he loved best in the company of family, friends, and artists.”

Paul Wiffen, SOS contributor and long-time friend of Dave Smith, has written his own tribute to the great man here.

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