THE DIGITAL SAMPLER occupies a unique position. You can treat it as a musical instrument or you can treat it as a tape recorder - nowadays you can even treat the "tape recorder" as a musical instrument. No wonder the demands placed on samplers are growing rapidly.
Akai's response is the S1000, a linear 16-bit stereo sampler with 24-bit internal processing, switchable 44.1kHz/22.05kHz sampling rate and 16-voice polyphony. Sample quality is impressively clean and sharp - we're entering real "defy you to tell the difference" territory here. Additionally the S1000 is one of a growing number of samplers which use fixed-rate sample playback.
Two megabytes of memory are fitted as standard, upgradable in 2Mb steps to a maximum 8Mb. The standard memory gives you just under 12 seconds of stereo sampling at 44.1kHz, or, at the other extreme, around 47 seconds of mono sampling at 22.05kHz. The S1000 can access up to 200 samples at a time in its onboard memory.
Sampling can be in stereo or mono, with a choice of XLR and jack inputs on the front panel. A front-panel switch lets you set low, mid or high input gain, with further fine-tuning courtesy of the Record Level knob.
Once you've recorded one or more samples you can trim their start and end points, reverse them, loop them using crossfade looping, and splice them together. Samples can also be spliced into other samples, and crossfades from one sample into another can be specified. Individual samples can be tuned in semitones and cents.
The S1000 provides two digital ADSR envelope generators for each of its 16 voices. One is routed to filter cutoff frequency and/or to pitch, the other to amplitude. Additionally each voice has its own LFO for pitch modulation, with speed, depth and delay values.
The basic organisational unit of the S1000 is the Keygroup, which can consist of up to four layered samples allocated to any area of the keyboard. You can place multiple Keygroups on the keyboard, overlap them and crossfade between them. Keygroup configurations can be stored in up to 100 Programs, and multiple Programs can automatically be called onto the keyboard by assigning them the same number. Each Program can be routed to the stereo audio outs and to any one of eight polyphonic individual outs (voice allocation is dynamic across all outputs).
The S1000 can receive on all 16 MIDI channels, with voices being allocated as required. Individual channels can be muted, and MIDI pitch-bend, mod, aftertouch and volume an be turned on or off for each channel. Not only can you reserve a number of voices for specific Programs, but each Program can be given a priority (low, medium, high or hold). Each Program can be assigned to a single MIDI channel (1-16) and given a MIDI patch number which will call the Program onto the keyboard when received. By assigning more than one Program to the same patch number you an layer Programs on each MIDI channel - an original feature, I believe.
System Exclusive data dumps can be initiated from the S1000's front panel, and are received automatically. Sample data can be sent either in MIDI Sample Dump Standard or S1000 formats - the latter including additional features specific to the S1000.
The 1000's onboard disk drive takes 3.5" double-density and high-density floppies, while you can hook up hard disks with the addition of Atari/Supra or SCSI interface cards which plug into the back of the sampler. Akai are also producing a plug-in AES/EBU interface card. If you opt for the complete system - S1000 with 8Mb memory, AES/ EBU card, and Atari/Supra or SCSI hard disk card - it'll set you back a cool £5194 (the extra memory doesn't come cheap).
S900 owners tempted to upgrade will be relieved to know that the S1000 can accept S900 samples off disk. Sample data and loop points are all that survive (and you may have to redo the loops, due to the different sample quantisation of each instrument), but then the S1000 is a much more sophisticated instrument. Additionally there are already over 100 sample disks produced specifically for the new sampler.
Perhaps the most significant planned update for the S1000, promised since the sampler was first announced, will be time-stretching - the ability to alter the length of a sample without altering its pitch. Apparently this is proving more difficult to implement than was first thought, so don't hold your breath. But when it does arrive it should be worth the wait - particularly bearing in mind the range of uses that sampling can be put to these days.
Initial impressions are that the S1000's combination of excellent sample quality, flexible and powerful organisation and straightforward operation make it a strong contender for King of the Samplers. For those musicians who can afford it, the S1000 could represent an ideal upgrade path from the S900, particularly as those precious S900 sample libraries can be utilised on the new sampler. In fact, the S1000 could well become the new studio standard.
Prices S1000 £2899: EXM005 2Mb memory upgrade card £699: AES/EBU digital input card £99: Atari and Supra hard disk interface card £99: SCSI hard disk interface card £99. All prices include VAT.