Posted on Wed 07 March 2012 in entries

Dave Smith Instruments TempestYou can read more reviews like this, along with Tony’s productions at his personal site -> Tony Long Music.


I must say, I do have a soft spot for a drum machine, but I have never found one that will do everything that I want. There seems to be less of them around today and those that are have been with us for a few years now. I think that some of the larger companies are concerned that they would not sell that well due to the fact that so many people are now hooked on software drum machines, and most people in the professional recording industry tend to prefer using live studio drums.

Using a hardware drum machine falls somewhere between these two scenarios, so any new product of this sort would need to having something extra special and unique about it to tempt users away from their more familiar method of working.

The famous Dave Smith and Roger Linn have set out to achieve this by building the Tempest, which produces its sound from six analogue synthesised voices and allows you to create and manipulate all of your own beats and grooves in real-time.


As I took it out of the box, I realised that the Tempest is a very solid (nearly 3kg in weight) and professional piece of kit, which looks and feels expensive. It looks a bit like a Prophet 8 module with pads and looking at the controls, it appears to be as much a synthesiser as it is a Drum Machine. It was also smaller than I imagined it to be with a size of 15.4" in length, 9" in depth and a shallow height of 2.5".

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Dave Smith Instruments Tempest"]Dave Smith Instruments Tempest](https://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/drums-20/drum-machines-202/dave-smith-instruments-tempest-analog-drum-machine-32451)[/caption]

The Tempest is packed with 90 panel controls, including 24 knobs and 48 buttons for direct, real-time editing and performance manipulation. It also has those traditional wooden end pieces, which not only add to its high-quality look, but usefully provide something to lift it with. The Tempest comes with a power supply that cleverly clips in connectors for different countries and it has a very long length of cable, which makes a pleasant change!

Lastly is the small A5-size manual, which is 72 pages long, but if you take out the usual stuff at the beginning and end, it gives you about 60 pages to digest.


Before I switch it on, I need to get connected up so let's have a look at the sockets on the back! Going from the usual left-to-right, first up is the power switch with a distribution input via 1.5 VDC 1.1A. Next is a USB B socket, which can be used for importing data from SysEx files. Next up are five-pin DIN MIDI ports for MIDI In and Out (but no Thru), followed by two ports for an expression pedal or footswitch. Then you have 6 mono voice 1/4" outputs and 2 x 1/4" Main L and R outputs. Lastly there is stereo headphone mini-jack socket.


As you switch it on, you have to remember that this is analogue circuitry and you should allow the components a few minutes to warm up. However, on power up you will notice that it lights up creatively around the unit and the bright 256 x 64 dot OLED display, although not particularly large, has really crisp clear text.

By this point I was extremely eager to hear it in action and so I started to play with the sixteen pressure and velocity sensitive pads. These pads (arranged in two rows of eight) are also back-lit and the sounds that I heard as I tapped them reminded me of the famous Simmons drums.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Dave Smith Instruments Tempest Back and Front"]Dave Smith Instruments Tempest Back and Front](https://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/drums-20/drum-machines-202/dave-smith-instruments-tempest-analog-drum-machine-32451)[/caption]

This is not your standard beat-box and I know that to fully understand it, I will also have to draw on my knowledge of analogue synthesis. However, as I started to delve a little deeper into its workings, I found that selecting and playing a pattern was not as self-explanatory as I had first hoped.

Of course, to 'play' a pattern, the obvious place to begin was by pressing the 'Play' button, which did start a very interesting eighties-sounding pattern, accompanied by illuminations of the individual pads as they were triggered. It certainly looked impressive! However, the instant user-friendliness of the Tempest had me a little worried and whilst some of the controls are blatantly obvious like 'compression' and 'distortion' on the main output, I still could not instantly work out how to play another pattern!


I need to understand how this machine is designed and with a little bit of research, I discovered that there are Sounds, Beats and Projects. Apparently a 'Sound' is a not just a single sample, but a collection of all the settings that make up that sound, including settings for the sample, the oscillators, filters, VCA, envelopes, LFOs etc. From what I can tell, there are 462 samples on board the Tempest, so presumably if you alter the sound of one of these samples, it can be saved as a 'Sound'. You cannot, however, load your own samples.

A 'Beat' in the Tempest is what I would call a 'Rhythm Pattern'. It is essentially a four measure pattern in 4/4 time and when Pad Bank B becomes available, it will be able to contain up to thirty-two Sounds (sixteen in pad bank A and sixteen in pad bank B). However, until this update arrives, a 'Beat' in the Tempest can only contain 16 sounds from pad bank A.

As with a 'Sound', a 'Beat' is also saved with its mixer and effect settings etc. The Tempest can hold sixteen beats in memory at one time, so if I were to press the 16 Beat keys, I can play 16 patterns that are loaded in memory. This answers my earlier question of how to play another pattern.

Saving a 'Project' means saving nearly everything in memory - Beats, Sounds, Tempo, Play Lists, and various project-related settings. The Tempest has 4 MB of internal flash memory to hold Sounds, Beats, Projects, and system settings and the manual explains how this is divided up and also states that there is no set number of Sounds, Beats, and Projects you can save in Tempest; the only limitation is the available memory. I found the saving aspects annoyingly complicated but on the positive side, it did give you a lot of flexibility and also when you use the 'Save/Load' switch, it shows you the amount of free memory, which was a nice touch.

The Tempest offers 16 Projects for you to choose from, including Rogers_Beats, Juno, IDM_Zap_Kit, HipHop, Trinculo, Electro_Grime, Pretty_Things, Dub_Tech_Break, Gonzalo, HipHop_Breaks, Miranda, Minimal_Tech, Iris, Antonio and Old_Kit. These provide 256 Beats or drum patterns. Some of them are divided into groups of four and build up the pattern from a verse to a chorus. The ones that had bass lines or synth sounds were great because I found myself instantly creating a song by singing over the patterns and changing them in real-time to make my verse and building up to the chorus - great fun!

Dave Smith Instruments will not be producing a software editor and/or librarian for the Tempest but I am sure a third-party vendor will eventually develop one.


The layout of the Tempest is very much an analogue synth and it is conveniently divided into sections with the usual oscillators, filters, envelopes and LFOs. If you own a Dave Smith synth like the Mopho or the Tetra, you are going to feel right at home here.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Dave Smith Instruments Tempest"]Dave Smith Instruments Tempest](https://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/drums-20/drum-machines-202/dave-smith-instruments-tempest-analog-drum-machine-32451)[/caption]

At the top left you have the 'Oscillator' section and each of the 6 voices of the Tempest has 2 analogue oscillators plus 2 digital oscillators. Selecting 'Analogue 1 & 2' allows you to adjust the 'Shape' (Sawtooth, Triangle, Saw-Triangle or Pulse), 'Mix' (to mix the output of the two oscillators) and the 'Pitch' (to set the base oscillator frequency over a 10-octave range). Selecting 'Digital 3 & 4' allows you to select the samples from within the Tempest and adjust their level.

Moving on to the 'Filter' section, which is one of my favourite areas! There is a really lovely 'Lowpass' filter here, which you can use in either four or two pole mode for a -24 or -12dB slope. I loved the bite of the four pole mode. There is also a 'Highpass' filter and another little gem - 'Amp Feedback' for you to damage your ears and speakers, so be warned!

The Envelope Section is very extensive with its five switchable envelope generators, for Pitch, Low-Pass, Amp, Aux1 & Aux 2 and two LFOs. There is also an 'AD Mode' (attack and delay mode), which is useful as most drum and percussive sounds have a fast attack and then decay away with no sustain. When you switch this on, only the attack and decay portions of the envelopes are used.

When working with the mixer section, you really need to use it with the mixer screens so that you can effectively control volume, mute, solo, pan, delay send and effects settings for the sounds you have selected. As you will see in the 'Screens' section, pressing the 'Pads' and 'Sounds' buttons together gives you the Mixer screens on the LCD. This leads on to the 'System Functions Section' where you have 18 buttons, which cover pad functions, pad options, screens, record/edit, system and save/load.

When you first start out with the Tempest it is a good idea to get used to the pad functions because it is here that you are selecting whether or not the pads are used for sounds or beats or whether or not you are taking out sounds from beats. The top right of the Tempest gives you the LCD screen, which has four knobs and eight buttons for navigation and transport functions and above this you will find four more knobs for you to adjust the BPM and swing and for the overall output - distortion, compression and volume.


To add to the fun of this drum machine, in the bottom left section of the Tempest is the real-time effects section, with two back-lit ribbon controllers that you can use to affect either the whole pattern or individual notes. My favourite effect on the Tempest is without doubt the stereo analogue compressor, which really makes it punch through the mix. My recordings in Sonar sounded great and this meant that I did not need to use valuable computer resources by adding compressor plug-ins. The distortion effects provided some grit but I think that you don't necessarily want to use too much here, else you will lose too much of the drum sound.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Dave Smith Instruments Tempest"]Dave Smith Tempest](https://www.absolutemusic.co.uk/store/drums-20/drum-machines-202/dave-smith-instruments-tempest-analog-drum-machine-32451)[/caption]

The Delay feature is just like a digital audio delay, but instead, it creates additional delayed notes in order to keep the Tempest's entire signal in the analogue domain. If you want that beat-synced 'stutter' effect, you can just loop short portions of the drumbeat on the fly.


The Tempest has 6 modes in which you can use the pads. If you want to, you can have 16 Sounds across the pads to play, or you could have 16 drum beats to create an arrangement of beats for your song. By using the '16 Time Steps' mode, you magically get two rows of 8 pads available as a step style programming interface. Pressing the '16 Mutes' mode button allows you to turn parts on an off whilst your beat is playing. '16 Tunings' mode allows you to play pitched melodies across the pads and lastly, you can change the pads to 16 volume levels to control your velocity levels when step programming.

If you are not happy with the way the pads respond to your playing, you will find that there are four velocity curves to select from in the 'System' menu. There is even a Roll feature to produce drum rolls or DJ-type stutters.


I found this very odd, but at the same time fascinating that they decided to ship the Tempest with not all of the features implemented. I think they must have just been so keen to get the product out rather than wait until all the facilities are sorted. It is their intention to then periodically release free software updates that can be installed on the Tempest via MIDI. One of these features (which I have already mentioned) is Pad Bank B. This switch (when updated) will toggle to a second bank of sounds for a total of 32 per beat. Time Signatures other than 4/4 will also be added to the Tempest as will an Undo Record facility. Some other things are under consideration, like the loading of MIDI patterns and the ability to load additional projects or beats in the background without having to stop playback.


As I said earlier, in my opinion, the sound of the Tempest has similarities with the Simmons drums of the Eighties, but the Tempest definitely adds a 2012 flavour! It is very much a Synth and Drum module with an awesome amount of controls to provide you with endless real-time editing. I particularly like the fact that you can create patterns for songs on-the-fly with no real fixed elements, so if you want the verse to have 6 bars instead of 4, you just don't change to the next pattern until you want to!

The Tempest is a beast that will grow and with the intended free updates, you are soon going to have even more facilities at your fingertips. In fact, I feel like I have hardly touched the surface of the Tempest with this review. It can be quite deep at times and I feel that I have a lot more to learn with this instrument, but like anything, as you use it, read the manual and try things out, it does start to get easier and more interesting. Experimenting is the key here and it's also part of the fun!

There is not much out there to compare the Tempest with, except perhaps the Elektron Machinedrum, although in reality, these are really two completely different beasts! I think I agree with the inventors, Dave Smith and Roger Linn, who think of the Tempest not just as a drum machine, but rather as a new musical instrument for the real-time performance of beat-oriented music.

For more information on the Dave Smith Instruments Tempest, click the link below:

Dave Smith Instruments Tempest - More Info/Buy