Sequential (Dave Smith Instruments)
Sequential is an American synthesizer company founded in 1974 as Sequential Circuits by Dave Smith. In 1978, Sequential released the Prophet-5, the first programmable polyphonic synthesizer, used by artists including Michael Jackson, Madonna, and John Carpenter. Sequential was also pivotal to the development of MIDI in 1982, which synchronizes electronic instruments by different manufacturers.
In 1987, Sequential went out of business and was purchased by Yamaha. Smith continued to develop instruments through a new company, Dave Smith Instruments. In 2015, Yamaha sold the Prophet and Sequential Circuits brands to Dave Smith Instruments, which rebranded as Sequential in 2018.
1974 —1980: Founding and first Prophets
Engineer Dave Smith founded Sequential Circuits in San Francisco in 1974. The first Sequential Circuits product was an analog sequencer for use with Moog and ARP synthesizers, followed by a digital sequencer and the Model 700 Programmer, which allowed for programming on Minimoog and ARP 2600. The Model 800, launched in 1975 , was controlled and programmed with a microprocessor.
At the same time, Smith had a full-time job working with microprocessors, then a new technology, and conceived the idea of combining them with synthesizer chips to create a programmable synthesizer. In early 1977, he quit his job to work full-time on a design for the Prophet-5, a programmable polyphonic synthesizer. He demonstrated it at NAMM in January 1978 and shipped the first models later that year. Unlike its nearest competitor, the Yamaha CS-80, the Prophet-5 had patch memory, allowing users to store sounds rather than having to reprogram them manually.
The Prophet-5 became a market leader and industry standard. It has been used by pop and hip hop musicians such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Dr Dre, and by film composers such as John Carpenter. It was followed by the larger Prophet-10, which was less successful as it was notorious for unreliability. The smaller Pro-One, essentially a monophonic Prophet 5, saw more success.
In 1981, Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi contacted Smith about creating a standardized means of synchronizing electronic instruments manufactured by different companies. Smith and Sequential engineer Chet Wood designed an interface using Roland's Digital Control Bus (DCB) as a basis. This standard was discussed and modified by representatives of Roland, Yamaha, Korg, and Kawai. The protocol was named Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) and unveiled by Kakehashi and Smith, who received Technical Grammy Awards in 2013 for their work. In 1982, Sequential released the Prophet 600, one of the first MIDI-equipped synthesizers.
In 1987, Sequential Circuits went out of business. Smith blamed the decision to move to computer audio in 1985: "We were too small and under-capitalized, and we were a few years too early in the market ... It drained our resources, so by the time we pulled back to professional instruments, it was too late." Sequential Circuits was purchased by Yamaha, who shut it down in 1989. Smith moved to Korg, where he worked mainly on the Wavestation synthesizer.
2002 —2014: Dave Smith Instruments
After several years working on software synthesis, in 2002 Smith opened a new company, Dave Smith Instruments (DSI), to build new hardware. Its first product was the Evolver synthesizer in 2002. In 2008, DSI launched the Prophet '08, conceived as an affordable analog eight-voice synthesizer.
2015 —present: return to Prophet and Sequential
In January 2015, Yamaha returned the Sequential Circuits and Prophet brands to Smith in a goodwill gesture. This was at the encouragement of Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi, who had worked with Smith to create MIDI. Kakehashi said: "I feel that it’s important to get rid of unnecessary conflict among electronic musical instrument companies. That is exactly the spirit of MIDI. For this reason, I personally recommended that the President of Yamaha, Mr. Nakata, return the rights to the Sequential name to Dave Smith."
In 2015, Smith announced the Prophet-6, described as a spiritual successor to the Prophet-5. In May 2018, Sequential announced the Prophet-X, featuring both sample playback and digitally controlled oscillators. On August 31, 2018, the 40th anniversary of the Prophet-5, Dave Smith Instruments rebranded as Sequential.