Vesta's new sampler delay
S-S-S-Sampling may be all the rage nowadays, but it's still not cheap to do it convincingly. Granted, there has been a spate of less expensive units coming onto the market which give you some kind of sound storage capacity, but most of these have been more like slightly modified digital delays than dedicated sampling machines. And, as you know, we all need dedication...
So the Vesta DIG 420 is a dedicated digital sampler, although it does have some digital delay capabilities thrown in. It's monophonic (of course) and comes in a standard 1U 19" mounting format with a power switch on the front and all connections on the rear.
Let's look along the front panel first, keeping in mind that most of the controls are pretty familiar from typical digital delay designs, but that some of them have alternative functions in the Sample mode.
On the left there's an LED ladder which indicates if you're distorting the input, essential to avoid for clean sampling. Next to that is the Input Gain control, and then the Mix control between the dry signal and the echo or sample. The next control has two functions — Feedback or Overdub Level. These are selected (as are all the alternative functions) by the Delay/Sample switch, which has LED's above and below to tell you which mode you're in.
Back to Feedback/Overdub then. In the Delay Mode this has a pretty familiar function — it determines how many time your echo sounds before it dies away. In Sample mode the control allows you to add to an existing sample at a variable level, which we'll look into a little further along.
In the centre of the Vesta's front panel is an initially incomprehensible "Memory Map" which we'll try to make some sense of shortly. Back to the knobs and switches though, and the next one is Memory Range, an eight-position click switch which controls the basic delay or sample time from around a tenth of a second to one second. Next to this is the Multi(ple) control, which allows you to fine tune the sample or delay time to your exact requirement. It's marked from x0.5 to CAL, which is a position used for tuning a sample to be used for keyboard control.
The next two switches have alternative functions in the Sample and Delay modes. The first is Hold/Record, which freezes and repeats an echo or creates a new sample when you hit it. Oddly enough, the LED is On when Hold Mode is Off, which is a bit confusing. Next to this switch is a little slider to select Trigger or Gate — these refer to pulses presented at rear panel sockets, and give you the option of playing a whole sample through every time it's triggered, or just playing it for as long as you hold a Gate (produced by a synth keyboard) open.
The next control is Play, which is pretty self-explanatory and has an integral LED to show you what's going on. Lastly there's a Bypass control which allows the dry signal to pass straight through the unit — when you switch Bypass off the unit automatically plays, which seems a little odd and surely wouldn't be desirable much of the time.
Along the rear panel, and we find a fuse holder, a Gate In socket, a Control Voltage In socket for synths or sequencers, footswitch sockets to double the functions of the Play, Hold/Record and Bypass switches, a Direct Out socket and a Mix Out socket. The Control Voltage In socket takes a conventional 1v/per octave signal from 0 to 3 volts, and so should give three octaves of musical control, which is a massive advance over units not so equipped.
Sampling is relatively easy, but because the Vesta stores a sample in its memory when it's switched off (an enormous advantage if you've spent all day finding the sample you want and then have to go to bed) you have to clear the memory before making a new sample. This just involves recording once with the input level down, but a greater problem is that the Vesta has no threshold indicator to initiate sampling, so it's strictly a matter of trial and error as to whether you hit Record at the right moment.
Hit Play to check your sample, and then you can alter its pitch using the Multi control and shorten it using the Range function. There's no very accurate method of editing a sample — if none of the chunks you can take out of it using Range are what you want, it's better to resample and try again.
If you switch to Delay/Hold mode you can repeat the sample indefinitely, and if you want to play tunes on it you can connect a synth or sequencer up to the CV and trigger sockets on the rear panel. We've used an analogue sequencer on the demo tape, but any monophonic keyboard putting out 0-3V would do as well. If you want to be in tune with other keyboards, set the Vesta to the Cal position and record a sound pitched at "C".
The front panel Trigger/Gate switch gives you the choice of full release or no release on your keyboard action, and there are two more sampling options — Append and Overdub.
Append is where the wacky Memory Map comes in. You can use different parts of the memory (up to eight sections) independently by recording a whole sample, then reducing the Range setting and re-sampling. You'll hear two or more sounds cobbled together, possibly with a click between them which can usually be removed after a couple of attempts. Taken to its extreme this technique could produce very advanced sampled sounds, with up to eight elements inside a space of a second. You could even create arpeggios and short sequences.
As we mentioned, the Vesta's memory needs to be cleared to make a new sample, but if you set the Feedback/Overdub level higher than 0 as you do this the existing sample is retained but overdubbed with a new one at a variable level. You can do this three or four times before everything starts to sound a little grotty, but that's more than enough to come up, again, with some very advanced combined sample effects.
Apart from a few eccentricities the Vesta's very easy to use, and its more advanced possibilities should keep you happy for ages. As a digital delay its main limitation is the lack of modulation controls so you can't produce flanging effects, but as a second echo unit when not being used for sampling it's fine.
The price is quite substantial at around £388 RRP, but you're certainly getting more sampling for your money than on a slightly modified digital delay unit. The actual sound quality is very high — no complaints there — and if you're still dubious, listen to the demo on the tape. We've mainly used the Vesta to make musical collages rather than to copy individual instrument sounds, but there's no doubt that it could be used for those purposes too. In fact, like other samplers both more and less advanced, its uses are limited only by your imagination.
Enquiries to MTR, (Contact Details).
Gear in this article:
Review by Mark Jenkins writing as Tony Mills
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!