Gear Review: Dave Smith Instruments Tempest

Dave Smith Instruments Tempest

When it was announced that Dave Smith (father of MIDI and Sequential Circuits) was to team up with Roger Linn (Linndrum) to create an innovative new instrument, it was rumored to take the analog community by storm. That storm has of course touched down, and ravaged all preconceived notions of what drum machines can do. For starters, this unit isn’t exactly a drum machine. It is a drum synthesizer. Which in short means that when you play sounds, you are not just simply recalling samples from a ROM chip, you are actually creating drums from analog and digital oscillators. How this exclusive style of sound design relates to music production is very crucial. With a unit like this in your studio, you are actually creating drum sounds that have never been heard before, and therefore renders your productions unique from the herd.

The sound engine for this unit starts with four oscillators per drum sound, two analog and two digital. With a wide variety of analog wave shapes and loads of digital samples to choose from, it is easy to get lost crafting the texture for your individual sound. Now multiply this by 32, and you can begin to see how massive this tool truly is. Moving on to envelopes, the Tempest is stocked with five envelopes per voice, that you can switch between AR (attack release) and ADSR (attack decay sustain release) mode, suitable for snappy drums or lush synth tones. Adding two LFOs to the equation, and your modulation possibilities become endless. One of the best implementations to this unit is the well-developed filter section. With a low-pass filter (LP) and a separate high-pass (HP) filter dedicated to each voice, taming and exploiting harmonic becomes the name of the game. The sound of the filter is about as good as it gets. Having years of analog circuit design under their belt, this team of electronic engineers are surely the elder statesmen of the synth world, and this filter is the flagship of their tenure. Once you get a sound going that you like, there are still several features that drive your drums to the next level. Adding a built-in compression, distortion and amplifier circuit, the modern day drum synth becomes a virtual studio in a box.

Don’t be dissuaded by the cost if creating legendary sounds and timeless music is your goal.

If all this drum and synth voicing wasn’t enough fun as it is, then programming your own rhythms will push to towards nirvana. With a powerful step sequencer on board, it is easy to step your grooves in just like you could with all the drum machines from the past. What makes the programming section of this unit so special, is that the 16 pads (2×8) are extremely sensitive to velocity and work very well for finger drumming. You can input rhythms by performing them live, and Tempest automatically quantizes them to the master tempo. There is also a added roll feature, which allow you to program MPC-style effects simply by pressing a pad. All of the expected edit functions are on here as well, so getting your groove right feeling tight just a few buttons away.

Truly living up to the revolutionary machine that it is, the Tempest comes equipped with a USB port on board, making for loads of MIDI and Sysex information to be transferred back and forth between computer and machine quickly and efficiently. Carrying quite the hefty price tag (MSRP: $1999), this monster of a machine may tempt you to look the other way, but don’t be dissuaded by the cost if creating legendary sounds and timeless music is your goal. Dave Smith and Roger Linn often get mistaken for being craftsmen of fine electronic music instruments; however, these prolific designers are actually engineering the future as we know it.