Dave Smith, ‘Father of MIDI’ and Designer of Prophet-5 Synth, Has Died

Dave Smith, a giant of the synthesizer industry who built the Prophet-5 and was bestowed the title “Father of MIDI,” died Wednesday (June 1). He was 72.

Smith founded synth company Sequential Circuits in 1974, and three years later unveiled the Prophet-5, a revolutionary programmable polyphonic instrument.

It was the first musical instrument with an embedded microprocessor, and it was a game-changer. 


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Through the ‘80s, the Prophet-5 was a must-have analog synth. It was to the new wave movement what the Fender Stratocaster is to rock. It “changed the world,” notes Sequential, and updates of the classic are regularly voted on by musicians as among the best hardware synths available. Its influence and sonic textures can be heard in electronic music today.

Smith jointly invented MIDI, a communication standard that allows digital music equipment to work in harmony, he also coined the acronym, and in 1987, he was named a fellow of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) for his continuing work in the area of music synthesis.

Later, he served as president of DSD, Inc, an R&D division of Yamaha; he worked on the Korg R&D group in California, producing the Wavestation and other tech; and in the ‘90s, took on duties as president at Seer Systems, where he developed the first soft synth for Intel, in 1994, followed by the first professional soft synth, Reality, which arrived in 1997.

Jean-Michel Jarre and Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes are among the artists paying tribute to Smith for his enormous contribution to the world of electronic music.

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“Good bye my dear Dave, the father of midi, the prophet 5, the prophet VS, the pro 1 and 3, the first soft synth, my life would not have been the same without your genius mind. Thank you Dave Smith,” writes Jarre on his social channels.

Rhodes, founding keyboardist with Duran Duran, who are elevated into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame later this year, comments, “I am really sad to hear Dave Smith, synth guru and designer of the Prophet V has left our analogue world.”

The British artist admits he has “continued to use it on virtually every record I have made since then.” His social post is accompanied with a snap of him using the instrument in the “Planet Earth’ music video, shot in 1981. “Without Dave’s vision and ingenuity, the sound of the 1980s would have been very different, he truly changed the sonic soundscape of a generation.”

Sequential confirmed his death with a note on its official website. “It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Dave Smith has died,” the company writes. “We’re heartbroken, but take some small solace in knowing he was on the road doing what he loved best in the company of family, friends, and artists.”