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Dave Smith (engineer)

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Dave Smith
Smith at the 2015 NAMM Show
David Joseph Smith[1]

(1950-04-02)April 2, 1950
DiedMay 31, 2022(2022-05-31) (aged 72)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Alma materUC Berkeley, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering
OccupationSynthesizer designer

David Joseph Smith (April 2, 1950 – May 31, 2022) was an American engineer and founder of the synthesizer company Sequential. Smith created the first polyphonic synthesizer with fully programmable memory, the Prophet-5, which had a major impact on the music industry.[2] He also led the development of MIDI, a standard interface protocol for synchronizing electronic instruments and audio equipment.

In 2005, Smith was inducted into the Mix Foundation TECnology (Technical Excellence and Creativity) Hall of Fame for the MIDI specification. In 2013, he and the Japanese businessman Ikutaro Kakehashi received a Technical Grammy Award for their contributions to the development of MIDI.


Smith was born on April 2, 1950, in San Francisco.[3] He had a music background from playing piano at home and in bands at college, and had degrees in both Computer Science and Electronic Engineering from UC Berkeley.[4]

Sequential Circuits and Prophet-5[edit]

He purchased a Minimoog in 1972 and later built his own analog sequencer, founding Sequential Circuits in 1974 and advertising his product for sale in Rolling Stone.[5][6] By 1977 he was working at Sequential full-time, and later that year he designed the Prophet-5, the world's first microprocessor-based musical instrument and also the first programmable polyphonic synth,[7] an innovation that marked a crucial step forward in synthesizer design and functionality. Sequential went on to become one of the most successful music synthesizer manufacturers of the time.


In 1981 Smith set out to create a standard protocol for communication between electronic musical instruments from different manufacturers worldwide. He presented a paper outlining the idea of a Universal Synthesizer Interface (USI) to the Audio Engineering Society (AES) in 1981 after meetings with Tom Oberheim and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi. After some enhancements and revisions, the new standard was introduced as "Musical Instrument Digital Interface" (MIDI) at the Winter NAMM Show in 1983, when a Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 was successfully connected to a Roland Jupiter-6. In 1987 he was named a Fellow of the AES for his continuing work in the area of music synthesis.[8]

In 2005, Smith was inducted into the Mix Foundation TECnology (Technical Excellence and Creativity) Hall of Fame for the MIDI specification.[9] In 2013, he and the Japanese businessman Ikutaro Kakehashi, the president of Roland Corporation, received a Technical Grammy Award for their contributions to the development of MIDI.[10] In 2022, the Guardian wrote that MIDI remained as important to music as USB was to computing, and represented "a crucial value system of cooperation and mutual benefit, one all but thrown out by today’s major tech companies in favour of captive markets".[2] As of 2022, Smith's original MIDI design was still in use.[2]

Yamaha, Korg and Seer[edit]

After Sequential, Smith was President of DSD, Inc, a Research and Development Division of Yamaha, where he worked on physical modeling synthesis and software synthesizer concepts. In May 1989 he started the Korg R&D group in California, which went on to produce the innovative and commercially successful Wavestation synthesizer and other technology.[11]

Smith went on to serve as president at Seer Systems[12] and developed the world's first software based synthesizer running on a PC. This synth, commissioned by Intel, was demonstrated by Andy Grove in a Comdex keynote speech in 1994. The second generation of this software synthesizer sold over 10 million copies, as a result of being licensed to Creative Labs in 1996; it was responsible for 32 of the 64 voices in Creative Labs' AWE 64 line of soundcards.

The third generation of Smith's software synthesizer, renamed Reality, was released in 1997. Smith was both the lead engineer on Reality, and wrote all the low-level optimized floating point synthesis code. Reality was the recipient of a 1998 Editors' Choice Award, and earned Electronic Musician Magazine's highest possible rating.

Dave Smith Instruments and return to Sequential[edit]

In 2002, Smith launched Dave Smith Instruments, a manufacturer of electronic musical instruments.[13] In 2015, Smith regained the rights to the Sequential name from Yamaha, and released the Prophet-6 under that name. Dave Smith Instruments rebranded as Sequential in 2018.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Smith was born in San Francisco, California, to Peter B. Smith and Lucretia Papagni Smith. His father was also a San Francisco native. His mother's family came from Italian grape growers and winemakers who had immigrated to Fresno. He had five siblings. Smith's father died in 1972, and his mother died in 2021.[1]

After college studies in Berkeley, Smith lived and worked in San Jose in the 1970s.[6] He was physically active, competing in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, and hiking tall mountains with his friend Roger Linn—another synth pioneer.[15] Smith married Denise White, and in 1988 they moved to St. Helena, California. They had two children, Haley and Campbell.[16]

Smith died of a heart attack on May 31, 2022, at the age of 72, in Detroit, Michigan, where he was attending the Movement electronic festival.[15][10]


  • 2015: SEAMUS Award[17]
  • January 2013: Technical Grammy (along with Ikutaro Kakehashi) for the creation of MIDI.
  • September 2012: Keyboard Magazine Hall of Fame
  • September 2005: Induction into the TECnology (Technical Excellence and Creativity) Hall of Fame at the AES show by Mix Foundation.
  • October 1987: Received Audio Engineering Society (AES) Fellowship Award, for having made a valuable contribution to the advancement in or dissemination of knowledge of audio engineering or in the promotion of its application in practice.[18]


  1. ^ a b "Lucretia Papagni Smith". Duggan's Mission Chapel. June 2021. Retrieved June 3, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Stokes, William (2022-06-03). "Dave Smith: the synth genius who made pop's instruments work in harmony". The Guardian. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  3. ^ Pareles, Jon (June 8, 2022). "Dave Smith, Whose Synthesizers Shaped Electronic Music, Dies at 72". The New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
  4. ^ "Dave Smith & Rival Consoles: When Prophets Collide". tapeop.com. Retrieved 2024-02-23.
  5. ^ Chadabe, Joel (1977). Electric Sound: The Past and Promise of Electronic Music. Prentice Hall.
  6. ^ a b Michael Nissenson (February 2013). "St Helena's Dave Smith Wins Grammy". St. Helena Star. Archived from the original on October 17, 2018. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  7. ^ Milan, Dominic. Vintage Synthesizers. Miller Freeman Books. p. 23.
  8. ^ "Awards".
  9. ^ TECnology Hall of Fame 2005
  10. ^ a b McArdle, Terence (June 2022). "Dave Smith, whose Prophet-5 synthesizer powered '80s pop, dies at 72". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 8, 2022.
  11. ^ Battino, David; Richards, Kelli (2005). The Art of Digital Music. Backbeat Books. p. 102. ISBN 0-87930-830-3.
  12. ^ "Reality PC", Martin Walker, Sound On Sound, Nov 1997
  13. ^ "One of Techs Most Successful Inventors Never Made a Cent". Fortune. Archived from the original on 29 July 2014. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  14. ^ "Dave Smith Returns to Sequential Brand to Mark 40th Anniversary of Prophet-5 Poly Synth". MMR Musical Merchandise Review. 4 September 2018. Archived from the original on 17 October 2018. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
  15. ^ a b Linn, Roger. "Dave Smith: 1950 - 2022". Roger Linn Design. Retrieved 2 June 2022.
  16. ^ Gentile, Dan (5 June 2022). "San Francisco musical pioneer dies at 72". SFGATE.
  17. ^ "SEAMUS Award | SEAMUS".
  18. ^ AES Awards: Past Awards Recipients

Further reading[edit]

  • David Abernethy, The Prophet from Silicon Valley: The complete story of Sequential Circuits, A Morris AM Publishing New Zealand, 2015
  • "Dave Smith". Music Technology. Vol. 5, no. 1. December 1990. p. 58. ISSN 0957-6606. OCLC 24835173.


External links[edit]