WHILE ENSONIQ'S EUROPEAN distribution has been changing hands (see Newsdesk for the latest developments), their R&D department in Malvern (USA) has been hard at work redeveloping the EPS sampler. The result is the 16-bit EPS-M, a 3U-high 19" rackmount version which boasts considerably more features than its keyboard-equipped counterpart, although all of these are now available to owners of the original EPS.
The first and most obvious improvement is the increase in internal memory space. The EPS-M has a capacity of 1.7Mb (1 MegaWord) as standard - four times as much as the EPS. In terms of sampling time this corresponds to 34.4 seconds at 30kHz, 19.8s at 52.1kHz, or 167s at 6.25kHz. Envious EPS owners can upgrade their machines' memories with a four times expander (of which the only one recognised and endorsed is made by PS Systems).
The increase in memory leads to problems with floppy disk storage, as a double sided 3.5" disk can only store a maximum of 800K, corresponding to 1600 blocks of EPS-M memory. Above this you get involved in multiple disk storage, and all the hassles that entails. When saving data, the EPS-M prompts you to insert a second disk when one can't cope on its own. There is no such prompting when you come to load sounds, so you have to remember on which disk the second half of your sample is saved. To address this problem, Ensoniq have provided a built in SCSI port for access to hard disk, again an extra cost option on the EPS. The maximum hard disk memory is 600MB, but the advantages don't end there. The ratio of load times of floppy to hard disks is around 20:1, so a sample taking a minute to load from the internal drive would take only three seconds via SCSI. Samples can also be called up from SCSI via a MIDI program change command.
Hard drives also allow rapid communication to software programs like Blank Software's Alchemy. (In turn Alchemy provides the EPS-M with time-stretching capabilities). The SCSI port transfers data 30 times quicker than MIDI, a statistic which speaks for itself.
In keeping with its Performance Sampler tag, the EPS-M allows a sample to be loaded while another is playing. In other words, there are no embarrassing silences while you change sounds mid-song. One intriguing application for this is the sampling and sequencing of vocals, or any other musical performance. Phrases can be sampled individually and then, by loading while the previous one is playing, a whole performance can be recreated.
The original EPS came with stereo audio outputs and an option for eight separate polyphonic outputs to be fitted at extra cost. The EPS-M comes complete with eight dynamically assignable polyphonic audio outs, offering up to 20-note polyphony. A separate stereo headphone socket is situated on the front panel to assist the setting up of samples without anybody else hearing them. Again this is a significant improvement on the original EPS on which the only headphone socket was the right-hand stereo line output.
The EPS-M manual has been written and designed by Bill McCutcheon (a familiar name to Ensoniq users), and is available free to EPS owners on request. It includes the EPS Musician's Manual, Advanced Applications Guide, and SCSI Manual all in one well-presented volume. The manual is written with the assumption that you won't read it anyway, but nevertheless provides a thorough guide to getting the most from the machine.
Further new and revised features enhance the power of the EPS-M both on stage and in the studio. Direct dialling parameter access saves an enormous amount of button pushing; a dual footswitch doubles for the patch-select buttons for enhanced performance control; the footswitch also gives a note trigger for middle C, to save the need for a keyboard when sampling on location; Dynamic mixing of different samples is possible with the built-in mixer section; digital signal processing commands include six different kinds of crossfade looping, wavesample copy, volume smoothing and others; sample editing is done on a non-destructive basis, which allows you to hear an effect before deciding to keep it.
The EPS-M has been designed as a musical instrument rather than a piece of equipment, with features to make it a direct competitor to Akai's S1000. At the same time, Ensoniq are attempting to look after their previous customers, with free software upgrades to all registered EPS owners. Now the distribution headaches have been sorted out, the first shipments of the EPS-M are working their way through to the music shops. If you're in the market for a 16-bit sampler with lots of memory, hard disk interface and plenty of performance features, you'd be well advised to give the EPS-M a thorough checking out.
Price Expected to be around £2200