The SP is the playback/editing and memory bit; the SXII does the recording. Peavey rewrite the rules of sampler design.
A top-notch spec, a bottom-notch price, and packaged in not one but two black boxes. Ian Masterson looks at the sampler with a split personality...
The sampler market is one of those strangely closed and insular parts of the equipment industry. Faced with the domination of a certain ubiquitous brand - and one that has seen off many a competitor - it's always tempting to use that brand as a benchmark against which all others are judged. But in the case of Peavey's SP/SXII combination, this is actually very difficult. Why? Well, for a start, they've approached sampling from a completely different perspective. Rather than building a single unit that attempts to perform every task equally well, they've separated the front end of sampling - the recording section - and reassembled it in its own box.
The playback, editing and storage sections are left to form the SP unit. So when a serious upgrade comes along for either half of the technology - as in the case of the new SXII module - you're not left with a complete dodo. You simply change the bit that needs to be changed. And should you require an extra playback section to augment your facilities, you don't waste money on unnecessary recording features - you simply buy an SP.
For Peavey owners everywhere this is already good news. The SP/SX system has actually been around for some time now; but the introduction of the improved SXII recording section has renewed interest in the product as a whole.
The first generation SX put off quite a few potential buyers thanks to its excruciatingly slow MIDI sample dump system (known as SMDI) used to transfer its samples to the main SP unit. But the SXII opts for the much faster SCSI protocol, effectively eliminating that agonising waiting period while the units grumble at each other. This also has the effect of making the two halves seem much more of a whole; where the sampling and playback facilities tended to be completely divorced before, SCSI now enables the SP to control most of the SXII's functions directly, cutting down tweaking time.
Perhaps more important than this is the actual specification of the complete system. The SP/SXII system gives you 16-bit stereo sampling, 16 oscillators, filtering (albeit without resonance), 2Mb RAM as standard, variable sampling rate from 48kHz downwards and SCSI as standard. Memory is expandable to 32Mb through the use of normal, industry-standard SIMM chips - unlike certain other machines, which require you to fork out for proprietary expansion cards (not that I'm saying this practise is a complete and utter tuck-up...). You even get four individual audio outputs. No wonder people are raising their eyebrows.
But what are these little black beasties actually like to use? Well, sampling is a very personal thing. It's rather like sequencing systems - people tend to stick with one format and pour scorn on anyone who suggests an alternative (put a Cubase user in the same room as a devoted Notator fan and watch the fur fly).
The SXII side of things is very good indeed; the variable sample rate idea is excellent, and the ability to audition sounds through the stereo output before further tweaking on the SP is very welcome. Indeed, the unit as a whole is much, much better thought out than the original. Although a great many of the functions are only accessible via MIDI, the idea behind the SXII is that you can hook it up to one of Peavey's DPM keyboards instead of the SP, giving you full sampling functions on a synth. Peavey are to be commended for their approach to integrating hardware in this way.
The SP unit inspires slightly less enthusiasm, and does, in some ways, taint the system slightly. (You can read a fuller account of the original unit in MT, August '92, but it's worth recapping on certain points here.) The sound quality is commendably high - I was particularly impressed by the bass extension, even if the top end had a tendency to 'fizzle' on certain high-frequency sounds. And the editing features are entirely logical, especially when you have the excellent manual on hand to help you negotiate your way through.
My reservations about the unit lie in the inclusion of the small LCD display, and the multiplicity of pages you need to flick through in order to edit samples. The nature of this window also means the SP is biased to editing in an alpha-numerical style, rather than the more accessible waveform approach. There are also several 'key' editing features missing from the lineup - if I were Peavey I'd think about adding crossfading, normalising and reversing pretty damn quickly.
That said, you can, of course, buy some pretty nifty computer software to make this sort of editing much easier; considering the accessibility this unit has via SCSI, this is a must. One also needs to consider the cost of the SP in relation to other samplers. A system comprising SP, SXII plus a top-end sample editing package would offer amazing versatility and would still cost less than a rival all-in-one unit.
As my time with the SP/SXII progressed, I inevitably became more accustomed to its idiosyncracies - just as one would with any piece of contemporary technology. One real plus-point that becomes more obvious as you get to know your way around is the immediacy of the operating system. Although the editing side of things can get a little bogged down at times, getting things in and out of Peavey's system is easier than with many other samplers I've worked with. And, as I've already said, price also needs to be taken into consideration. The bottom line is that Peavey have released a relatively versatile, and easily expandable, 16-bit sampling system for under £1300. The competition don't have much of an answer to that - and for many people, it could well turn out to be the deciding factor.
But don't take my word for it - I'm just a cynical techno-hack with nothing better to do than to pick holes in a pleasingly different approach to sampling. The SP/SXII system has introduced healthy competition into a market which is fast becoming a monopoly. More importantly, Peavey have produced a pair of machines with a combined spec which no-one else can currently match at the price.
|Ease of use||The SXII Is straightforward; the SP can be tricky|
|Originality||Clever approach to creating flexibility|
|Value for money||Outstanding in its field|
|Star Quality||Definitely in the ascendant|
|Price||SXII £399 SP £949 (both inc VAT)|
|More from||Peavey Electronics (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details)|
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Review by Ian Masterson
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