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Recording World

AES SX303 Sampler Kit

Studio Test

Article from International Musician & Recording World, May 1985

A sampling kit for under £30. Curtis Schwartz discovers the noise of art

A chance to turn your delay into a sampler

One of the more agreeable aspects of technology is its ability to produce more for less as time goes on. In this case I am referring to digital delays; something that one would have expected to have paid over a thousand pounds for only a few years ago, and is now within the financial grasp of most semi-pro musicians. For the price of a decent microphone, all the sonic permutations that a digital delay provides can be yours. Not only that, but an ingenious company from Essex are now marketing a modification for any digital delay that will use the DDL's hardware and 'fool' it into thinking it's a sampler...

Audio Engineering Services up until now have busied themselves by providing studios with one-off custom modifications to their equipment. Then one day they were asked if it would be possible to modify a friend's Powertran DDL to enable it to sample. Not knowing what they were letting themselves in for they said "of course...", and the result is that they are now producing these mods in both kit form and in "We'll come along and fit it for you" form. (An extra charge of £35 is made for fitting in London area only.)

To be more specific, the SX303 retails for £129.00 and once fitted consists of a small controller unit which connects itself to a multipin connector on the back of the DDL. The electronics are on a small board which fits inside the delay line and no holes need be drilled into the delay's front panel. It can be fitted to just about any DDL, with the exception of Eventide's models.

The control unit consists of two rotary knobs and two push buttons. The first knob selects the mode in which the digital delay will act. In Normal mode the sampling circuitry will be bypassed, and the DDL will behave in its unmodified form. One click to the left will switch in the 303's sampling circuitry.

Set in the sample mode, the samples can be either triggered from a signal sent to the unit's input, or by a control voltage from a keyboard. The samples will then sound for the full duration of their sample time. The other setting of the mode switch is labelled Hold, and this is identical to the sampling mode except for the duration of the playback of a sample being dependent on how long the note on the keyboard is held.

The other controls on the 303's controller are a rotary one for adjusting the pitch of the sample, a switch for manual triggering labelled 'play', and one for recording of the samples, labelled 'record'.

To sample a sound, the signal must be sent to the DDL's input, and when the input level has been adjusted for optimum quality, you set the 303 to 'sample', and hit the 'record' button. When the sound is heard by the DDL's input, triggering is then done automatically. The trigger threshold is preset at an optimum point whereby it will not be triggered by reasonable levels of tape hiss, yet it will still 'hear' signals of low(-ish) volumes upwards.

Pre-determined quality

The quality of the samples is entirely dependent on the quality of the Digital Delay itself — if the delay has a maximum delay time of 480mS and a bandwidth of 8kHz., then the maximum sampling time obtainable from that unit will only be 480mS with an 8kHz bandwidth. Elementary stuff...

So once you've pinched your favourite orchestral 'blaps' and 'whooshes' from your record collection, and spared a thought for the hundreds of musicians you've just put out of work, you can then go about the business of smothering your boring old Pop tunes with sounds that will make people go "Wow!".

This can be done in three ways. Firstly, by hitting the play button on the 303's controller, you will trigger the sample, the pitch of which can be controlled from the unit's pitch knob. Similarly, the sample can be triggered from an audio signal sent to the DDL's input. This could equally well be the cheap and nasty snare from a drum box (being replaced by a real snare which you miked up yourself), or it could be an inconsistently played bass drum which is to be replaced with a sample of a Linn's bass drum (for example)...

The third method is from a control voltage from a keyboard. This method will not only trigger the sample, but it will also control the sample's pitch — sample a 'real' flute and you can play it monophonically over the keyboard. This is also where the 303's mode setting 'Hold' is of particular use, because when you are in the hold mode samples will sound only for the length of time that the note is held on the keyboard.

In use, the SX303 is very simple to operate, and the results can be quite stunning, depending on what DDL the SX303 is fitted to. It is also capable of 'overdubbing' samples, a practical use of which might be the building up of a chord for example. This is done by sampling the first sound in the normal way, and then by turning the DDL's feedback control on full, and resampling another sound. This second sound will be sampled on top of the first sample (entered into the memory by being re-recorded via the feedback circuitry). The quality will deteriorate as more layers are added, though this is still a very useful function.

The Audio Engineering Services team, by the way, also have a cheaper sampling mod for digital delay owners, which retails for a mere £89.00. Called the SX303, it is identical in every respect to the 303, except that samples cannot be triggered from a keyboard's CV output. And even more exciting is the project that they're working on at the moment, which is a version of the 303 that can be controlled from a keyboard's MIDI output, has full control over the start and stop point of the sample and with automatic loop de glitching.


Anyone who was present at this year's Frankfurt Music Messe would agree that 1985 is the year of the sampler — new, cheaper sampling keyboards, sampling chip blowers and sampling digital delays were to be found in every corner of the three halls. The problem is where that leaves those who have 'conventional' instruments, and conventional DDLs. At least with the SX303 we have an answer, for this simple and relatively inexpensive kit will open the world of sampling to absolutely anyone with almost any digital delay.


DDLs can be sent for fitting to a nearest branch of Future Music or to Audio Engineering Services themselves at (Contact Details), contact Paul Carnell. If you send your DDL off for fitting it takes approximately two weeks, but there is no fitting charge. As mentioned in the article, fitting on location costs £35 if you're in the London area, and a little more if not. Contact Paul for more details.

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

The Producers

Next article in this issue

Home Taping

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - May 1985

Donated by: Neill Jongman

Recording World

Review by Curtis Schwartz

Previous article in this issue:

> The Producers

Next article in this issue:

> Home Taping

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