Roland S10 Sampler
This sleek, slim, and all black touch sensitive keyboard bears the Roland hallmark that first brought their gear to major fame. It recognises something many keyboard players want, does the job basically simply, but efficiently and comes in below a psychologically vital cash barrier... this case a thousand pounds.
At first glance, the S-10 panel appears rather well off for buttons labelled A, B, C, or D. Eleven of them altogether, just to the right of the blue-backlit LCD display. The keyboard actually has four memory banks (A, B, C and D), each capable of 'parking' a single 1.1 second sample, once it's been loaded off the built-in Quick Disc Drive.
The buttons supply instant access to the individual samples plus speedy combinations of them. You don't have to plunge into the programming parameters to mix sounds, and that's an advantage.
When just one sample is selected from the top row of four buttons, you get eight notes worth of it. Press any two of those and a pair of different samples are layered but you then drop back to a maximum of four notes. In the second row of switches the one marked AB gangs up the memory space and presents you with a single sample that can be 2.2 seconds long (as does CD) and ABCD packs in 4.4 seconds.
You can split the keyboard into two (A/B and C/D) or four (A/B/C/D) and the break points can come anywhere you wish. In practice, the most sensible application is to get four different samples of, say, Steinway grand piano, each at a different octave. That way one poor note (say ahhh) only has to do the work of 12 rather than 49. Greater realism.
The efficient simplicity of the S-10's all black front panel extends to the working of the software. It's not as sophisticated as other samplers, like the recently reviewed Korg DSS-1, but I found it faster to grasp and easier to operate. Those facilities it does offer are powerful and performance oriented. There's velocity mix which lets you alter the balance of layered sounds by changing how fiercely you whack the key — soft for strings, hard for strings and brass. And likewise velocity switch which swaps between samples and sacks the bass player. (You could play a bass line and alternate between a smooth 'thumbed' sound and a funky plucked one by weight of your own digits.)
Deeper in the software you can layer a sample upon itself and detune one from the other to fatten the sound or invent a phasing effect. That too can be controlled by the velocity sensitive keyboard, a firmly sprung and appeallingly sturdy example of the species, by the way.
You can add a slapback repeat to what you've just played and move that slapback up or down in pitch, a cunning way of producing a lot more than you have in your hand. However, there's no feedback parameter, so you can't imitate proper echo.
The S-10 takes over most of the effort of sampling and disc changing. If a sound is divided across two sides of a disc, the display will prompt you to insert the second one, and load it in the right place.
When sampling your own noises from a mike or line input, the LCD converts to a meter of horizontal bars - like the volume indicators on flash hi-fis. You can check the input isn't overloading and set the threshold - the point where the Roland turns itself on to start recording, leaving your hands free.
As with all samplers the trick is finding a workable loop so notes can be sustained beyond their 1.1 second recording time. In Auto the S-10 searches for a short consistent section towards the end of the sample whose tail is enough like its head to be spliced without a noticeable seam.
The factory supplied sounds are hiccup free, but real life is not so kindly. If Auto can't find enough to latch onto, you'll have to tweak the join manually. The S-10 presents three points in the sample's lifetime which you can play with: its Start, its End and where the loop begins. All are displayed as a percentage of the sample's life (lop off 20ms at the start and you'd be 2 per cent in) and as a tally of the bytes of information used - a figure which rises to 32,767 for a 1.1 second sample. You therefore have 32,767 places to choose from, and you run through them using a familiar Roland Alpha dial.
For additional sonic cosmetics the S-10 has borrowed a set of envelope generators from everyday synths allowing you to alter attack time, decay etc. But it does not have the digital waveform creation of the Korg or Ensoniq where you can dial in harmonics to your own mix. Its only sound sources are the samples.
A few more talents to conclude. There's a versatile arpeggiator which apart from the usual panoply of up, down, up/down, random, etc, has decay, a sly addition that fades out successive arpeggios so the notes are still changing but appear to be echoing into the distance. Auto bend adds an introductory slide in pitch to everything you play, but there's a separate mod wheel for bend and vibrato in the bottom left hand comer of the synth.
More than any other sampler I've come across, the S-10 offers a simple, sensible, practical introduction to the technology. The 1.1 second sampling time is an acceptable basic to work with, but is easily extended, and the frequency response is fine. That £1,000 barrier has a greater pyschological importance than the extra nought. When it can be done for less than a grand, people start thinking it can be done for £800, then £700, then under £500. That's how it was with the first affordable, polyphonic synths. Despite the success of the Ensoniqs and Akais it could be the S-10 that really kicks off the battle for affordable samplers. But for the time being, if there are keyboard players who want to break into self-contained sampling without breaking into a bank in the process, this is where it starts.
Review by Paul Colbert
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