Making the Most of your Akai S1000 Sampler (Part 1)
Recently voted 'Best Sampler' by SOS readers, Akai's S1000 has quickly established itself as the industry standard 16-bit machine. So who better to reveal the innermost secrets of the instrument than the creator of the new SWM and Workstation sample disks, Akai product specialist Steve Howell. This month he kicks off the series with an explanation of how to take your own samples.
No-one can deny the impact the S1000 has had on the market in its brief life so far. Carrying on the tradition of the S900, the major difference between the stalwart S900 and the newer S1000 is, of course, the fact that the S1000 is a true 16-bit, stereo machine with CD quality sampling. Aimed at the pro, yes - but you would be surprised who else is buying them: keen amateurs and semi-professional musicians; theatre companies, who use them for sound effects; TV and radio stations, and audiovisual production companies, who also use them for sound effects and for refining voice-overs, actuality sound and music cues, etc...
Obviously, the new Timestretch software broadens the S1000's applications, especially in audio-visual work; but ultimately, it's the sound quality combined with the ease of use that is important to such people.
Now, I say 'ease of use', but there is always someone who will disagree with me on this point. Sure, it doesn't have the immediacy of an electric kettle - but any sufficiently high technology demands a certain amount of effort on the part of the user. Naturally, reading the manual helps but some people - no, I'll rephrase that - many, many people are what I might call 'manuphobics'. That is, they have an almost physiological aversion to reading equipment manuals.
What follows, therefore, is a straightforward guide to doing your own sampling for all those who fall into this category. Before we continue, though, let me first explain a few things about the S1000.
Basically, there are only three things you can have in the S1000 - samples, programs and keygroups. A Sample is just that - a digital recording of any sound. These can be played in their raw state across the entire range of a MIDI keyboard. A Program allows you to further refine a sample (or a whole bunch of samples) by not only mapping them out across the keyboard but also by allowing analogue-like processing of the sample(s) using ADSR envelope generators, filters, LFO, panning, auto-panning, etc. There are also many layering possibilities open to the user, as well as such things as four-way velocity crossfade and switching, and individual voice output assignment.
All of the above is done within a Keygroup, and an S1000 program can contain any number of keygroups mapped across the keyboard in any number of ways. A sample is placed into a keygroup using SMP1 of EDIT PROGRAM (in fact, four samples can exist in any one keygroup) and this can be tuned, panned, or assigned to individual audio outputs in SMP2. After that, you have the filtering and envelope shaping facilities, which are unique to each keygroup. In other words, what you can't do with a sample or group of samples in EDIT PROGRAM is probably not worth writing about.
Of course, that's not all of it. There is a lot you can do with just the raw sample data, but first we need to get some sounds into the S1000. With the plethora of interesting sampling CDs around (one of which Akai sell - plug, plug), there is more interest than ever in doing your own sampling. So that's what we'll concentrate on this month.
Despite reports to the contrary, sampling is a very easy thing to do. Anyone who can use a cassette recorder should be able to do it once he or she becomes familiar with the system. Some samplers make sampling the proverbial pain in the posterior - others make life a lot simpler, the S1000 being no exception.
The S1000 runs on a 'page driven' operating system. Each main mode has its own dedicated button, and the eight function buttons give access to each 'page'. The two large grey wheels act as the data entry method, with the CURSOR wheel moving you to where you want to be on any given page and the DATA wheel allowing you to change values once you are there. With practice, you can be skipping from one page to another changing values with consummate ease.
The mode we want to look at here is called up with the second button along from the left marked EDIT SAMPLE. When you press that you have a variety of options made available by the eight function keys. These are:
F1 SLCT - this allows you to select any sample for editing, copying, renaming or deleting.
F2 REC1 - this allows you to set the basic parameters for any new sample you wish to take (ie. stereo/mono, bandwidth, sampling time, base pitch) plus parameters to define monitoring, sample initiation, etc.
F3 REC2 - this is the window to the actual sampling process, where you set levels. You can also change basic parameters such as those outlined in REC 1 if you wish.
F4 ED1 - this gives you all the editing functions. Pressing this button gives you access to a number of further subfunctions such as TRIM (editing of sample start and end points), LOOP (setting loop points and length for up to eight loops, plus crossfade looping and autoloop), and JOIN (for crossfading two samples to create a new composite sample. The functions of F5 to F8 depend on the mode you are in.
F5 ED2 - this allows you to tune a sample, place it on a different base key, and also gives access to the Timestretch software via F3. This page will more than likely also give you access to the gain normalisation and resampling at variable bandwidth features due to be released, free of charge, on Version 2.0 software.
The keys we are most interested at this point are F1-F3. F1 (SLCT) is where we start our sampling procedure. On the S1000, we need to make a copy of an existing sample, which will then be overwritten when we actually make the new sample. Turning the instrument on with no disk inserted will load up the Test Program and the four basic synth waveforms. When you press EDIT SAMPLE, you will be automatically placed into the SLCT page and the pulse waveform sample will be displayed.
To create your own sample you can do one of two things - you can either create a new sample by pressing the NAME button, typing in a new name and renaming the pulse sample (assuming that you don't actually want to keep the pulse sample) or you can enter the new sample name and make a copy of the pulse waveform (which, of course, you can delete later along with the other synth waves). I usually opt for renaming the sample.
Having done that, press F2 (REC1) to set the basic parameters for your new sample - if you need to, of course. Firstly, is the new sample mono or stereo? Select as appropriate. If it's stereo, do you want to look at the left or the right side of the stereo image when editing? Use VIEW to select your choice. How do you wish to initiate the sampling process? INPUT LEVEL uses a threshold (which you set in REC2) to start the ball rolling; MIDI uses a MIDI Note-On command to start sampling (well handy if you are sampling another MIDI synth); and FOOTSWITCH1 sets the S1000 to start sampling when you stomp on a footswitch connected to the rear panel socket. Next, how do you wish to monitor the signal through the S1000? All the time, only when in REC2, or not at all? AUTO (the default) sets everything so that you only hear the incoming signal when you are in REC2 and the meter is switched on; ON passes the incoming signal through the S1000 all the time, regardless of what mode you are in; and OFF, understandably, does not allow the incoming signal to pass through the S1000 at all. This latter option is useful if you are sampling via a mixer and want to stop any potential phase cancellations, from monitoring both the signal in the desk and that which comes back in through another input channel via the S1000.
Next, select your bandwidth (probably 20kHz, although 10kHz is surprisingly good) and the sampling time - the percentage display will change accordingly as you do this. Once all that is done, you are ready to move on to REC2.
REC2 allows you to set the level of the incoming signal with the REC LEVEL knob on the front panel. The left-hand side of the main display has a vertical VU-type meter which is turned on by pressing F6 (MTR). The box above the VU meter sets the threshold, which can also be adjusted on this page. It is not, as many of the callers to the Akai office believe, 0VU above which you will get distortion. The S1000 is a true digital recorder and, unlike analogue systems, there is no headroom as such. As a result, you need to set levels so that they are just below the uppermost line of the display - if the signal level touches the top line you may get distortion. You may not hear this distortion at the sample's base pitch, but if you transpose the sample downwards you will almost certainly hear it.
Once you have set your levels, you can put the sampling process into action by pressing F8 (ARM). You will then obtain the display prompt 'WAITING FOR START/RECORDING: GO EXIT', to which you should respond by pressing F7 (GO) and making your noise. The readout will fill with a cute display of the incoming signal's envelope and will stop when the sampling time has been exceeded. And that's it! You can now play back your sample from a connected MIDI controller (such as a synth) on MIDI channel 1 or, in the absence of such a thing, you can press the PB button which will trigger your sample.
The sampling procedure is a lot more complicated to explain than it is to do and there are short cuts you can take.
To begin with, you don't have to copy or rename the pulse waveform as this can be done later. You don't have to go into REC1 to change sampling time or base pitch - these can be done in REC2. You probably wouldn't want to change the bandwidth anyway, and you will probably want to use the threshold method to initiate sampling, so you can skip REC1 entirely if you wish. A potted version of the sampling process for those in a hurry goes something like this:
1. Press EDIT SAMPLE and copy or rename current sample if necessary.
2. Go into REC2 and turn meter on. Set base pitch (if necessary) using connected MIDI keyboard, and set sampling time accordingly. Adjust signal levels (and threshold if necessary).
3. Hit F8 (ARM), then F7 - make your sound.
4. Play the sample from the keyboard, or press PB button.
Couldn't be easier, could it? Once you're happy with the sample, you can then rename it, tune it, assign it to a different base key, and so on. The defaults for the sampling process have been chosen so that you rarely have to change anything other than the sampling time and base pitch parameters. Of course, the other important factor is whether or not your new sample is mono or stereo; but once that is set, it remains so for every new sample you take until you change it.
What to do with your sample(s) after that is a different story, however, and that is something we'll look at next month when the intricacies of sample editing, looping, splicing, and Timestretch will all be explained.
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Feature by Steve Howell
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