Genuinely new drum machines don’t come along very often, but that’s precisely what the Tempest is. It has the analog soul of a classic Dave Smith synthesizer, with the user design of a modern drum machine conceived by Roger Linn, the man who many believe fathered the genre. After fits and starts in this collaboration, most importantly, it’s real – not an early, non-working prototype . A finished version will ship mid-year, with an expected list price of US$2000. (That’s steep, perhaps, for a drum machine in a recession, but it’s a very fair price indeed for one with six analog voices.)

The Tempest will actually be the first of two new drum machines this year, the fruits of the Linn-Smith collaboration. That collaboration started four years ago, as the Dave Smith booth at NAMM teased a concept they called the BoomChik. A non-functional prototype followed a year later, but the project stalled.

Dave Smith called for a reboot, and the result will be not one but two drum machines. One will be released by Dave Smith Instruments, and another by Roger Linn Design. The designers each called the shots on the instrument that will bear their name, but they also worked on the other’s creation – a bit like musicians trading remixes.

Dave and Roger walked CDM through their creation and provided details of the design. The specs, in short:

  • Six analog voices, each with two analog oscillators and two digital oscillators provide deep, rich sound capabilities.
  • Dave’s lowpass filter, a new highpass filter, analog VCA (voltage-controlled amplifier) with feedback, five envelopes, two LFOs, various analog modulation routings.
  • In addition to percussion, you can tune sounds and play scales from the pads, or connect a MIDI keyboard and use it as a 6-voice analog keyboard synth.
  • There’s a small display – 256×64 OLED – but onboard controls are designed for real-time music making (a topic Roger covered with me in more detail, along with his philosophy for how to make drum machines instruments).
  • 2×8 pads, each pressure- and velocity-sensing. Roll function, which doubles as “stutter” when a beat is assigned to a pad.
  • Two touch sliders, each with pressure sensitivity, for more real-time control.
  • Pure analog signal path, but without skimping on effects – stereo analog compressor and distortion, beat-synced delay that actually uses note effects, and beat-synced stutter.
  • Real-time swing controls.

The design could be, for many, the best of all possible drum machines. The 2×8 drum pads are eminently practical. The workflow is really Linn-conceived, but with Smith-style control of analog synthesis that will please synth enthusiasts. The layout is clean and Linn-like, but with fit and finish that makes it look at home with other Dave Smith instruments. You get a rich range of analog voices, but coupled with digital oscillators. (Details are forthcoming, but those digital oscillators should provide a range of wavetables for even more sounds.)

In short, it looks like the sound and fun-to-play aspects have been merged into something that I think will have immediate appeal. My prediction is, a lot of folks will be working on how they can set aside two grand.

I’ve spoken extensively to Dave and Roger, and will post that separately, because even if you won’t get one of these, seeing into their minds is a great treat.