E&MM's unique buyer's guide spreads its wings, with a round-up of what's around in the world of sound-sampling.
Our unique buyer's guide expands to incorporate sampling keyboards, modules and delays for the first time.
When we started Checklist last year, its purpose was to boldly go where no musical instrument price guide had gone before, to seek out new product lines and price categories, to give basic specifications for all those lines, and to fearlessly state the opinions of those that had experienced them first-hand — E&MM's team of instrument reviewers.
It's obvious from reader response that Checklist has succeeded not only in achieving those objectives, but also in becoming an indispensable reference section for modern musicians all over the country — and beyond. A hi-tech music equivalent to 'Glass' Guide', if you like.
In the time that's lapsed since the listing's inception, however, one new product area in particular has been increasingly active — and promises to become even more so over the next 12 months. That area, in case you hadn't guessed, is sound-sampling.
When Checklist began, sampling was the preserve of a few top-end computer music systems such as the Fairlight, PPG and Synclavier, and an even smaller number of rudimentary programs for home computers, which costed very little but offered no more than a basic, not terribly musical introduction to the world of sampling.
Nowadays, the gap between those two extremes is starting to be filled, a year after the introduction of the Ensoniq Mirage taught everybody that it should be done and, more importantly, that it could be done.
There are three formats that today's 'professional' sampling machines can take. The first is the sampling keyboard, as exemplified by the Mirage and the many instruments that look set to follow in its footsteps, though not necessarily in its shadow. Sampling keyboards contain all the hardware and software necessary to convert outside sounds into digital data, store that data, and make it to some degree editable by the user. They also contain a keyboard of some description from which you can control the stored sample's pitch, and on all the machines currently available, this keyboard is MIDI-compatible.
The second format is the sampling module, essentially the mechanics of a sampling keyboard, but without the keyboard. These MIDI modules — Akai's S612 was the first — are useful in that if you already have a MIDI keyboard, you don't have to waste money on another set of ivories that you don't really need.
The third format is the sampling delay, as typified by the Korg SDD2000. These are outboard effects units — usually rack-mounting, like the modules — whose digital delay circuitry has been adapted to include a 'freeze' function to store a particular sound in memory until power-down. The delays listed below all feature some means by which the pitch of this sound can be controlled from a keyboard (usually just one note at a time), a process that's achieved either electronically via a Control Voltage system, or through a pitch-follower that derives the controlling pitch from a synth's audio output. We've omitted those sampling delays (Boss DE200, DOD RSD3600 and so on) whose 'freeze' functions are not directly interfacable with keyboards, even though many of these offer some form of external control in the shape of drum triggering facilities.
Also conspicuous by their absence are those computer-based systems (Fairlight and the rest) whose complexity and range of other, non-sampling facilities keeps them out of this edition of Checklist, and the latest generation of 'fun' samplers like Yamaha's VSS100 and the Casio SK1, both of which retail for well under £200. These are the descendants of the aforementioned home micro programs, and will be more than adequately covered elsewhere in E&MM during the coming months.
In all other respects, this Checklist is no different from any other edition in its layout and coverage — though the perceptive amongst you will realise that, now that we have four categories of instruments for our price guide, each one will be listed three times a year instead of the previous four. A small price to pay, we feel.
Emulator II - £7250 Eight-voice, eight-bit sampling system; five-octave velocity-sensitive keyboard, split and layering facilities, analogue filtering and LFO, disk storage.
+ Superlative sound quality, maximum 17-second sample length, onboard sequencer, MIDI compatibility, ease of use in all areas especially looping;
- long loading times, poor keyboard;
= great improvement on original Emulator, shielded from obsolescence by continued updating on E-mu's part — latest mods include hard disk and CD data storage options.
Mirage - £1295 Eight-note polyphonic sound-sampling keyboard; built-in 3.5" disk drive, sequencer and analogue sound-modifying section, five-octave touch-sensitive keyboard with split options, full MIDI compatibility.
+ Superb sampling sound quality, good range of sound-modifying options, user-friendly control layout, European version has better (than US equivalent) keyboard and disk drive;
- lack of step-time facilities limits sequencer's usefulness, demand outstrips supply in some areas, complex multisampling procedure;
= wonderful sampling machine with a (recently reduced) price that helps bring the technique within the reach of vast numbers of people for the first time, now with user-formatting and advanced software built in as part of the package.
DSS1 - £TBA Eight-note polyphonic sampling keyboard; built-in disk drive, split/layer options, analogue sound-manipulation section including LCD-assisted waveform editing system. To be reviewed.
250 - £10,995-£18,035 Twelve-voice, disk-based sampling system; 88-note velocity-sensitive weighted keyboard, split facility.
+ Excellent sound quality thanks to unique 'Contoured Sound Modelling' system, comprehensive interfacing, onboard sequencer and chorus, 12 channel outputs;
- user-sampling requires (expensive) addition of Apple Macintosh computer;
= after all the press-release hype, the Kurzweil delivers the goods, but elements of its design could be a lot more cost-effective.
S10 - £TBA Eight-voice, four octave sound-sampling keyboard; 12-bit sampling, four-second maximum sample time at 32kHz bandwidth, built-in 2.8" quick-disk storage. To be reviewed.
S50 - £TBA 16-voice, five-octave sound-sampling keyboard; 12-bit sampling, built-in 3.5" disk drive, dual and split facilities, 17.5-second sample time at 32kHz bandwidth. To be reviewed.
Prophet 2000 Sampling Keyboard - £1995 Eight-note polyphonic sound-sampling keyboard; built-in 3.5" disk drive, analogue synth section and arpeggiator; five-octave, touch-sensitive keyboard with split/layer options, full MIDI compatibility.
+ Incredible sound quality for price, looping and editing facilities are comprehensive and user-friendly, unsurpassed MIDI spec includes transfer of samples;
- synth section doesn't exactly live up to Prophet ancestry, though it's still useful, arpeggiator is waste of space;
= a welcome addition to the world of low-cost sampling machines, sets the standard for all of them, and like Emulator, has a whole host of updates soon to be unveiled by manufacturer to maintain its competitiveness.
S612 - £749; MD280 disk drive - £199 Six-voice, 12-bit rack-mounting polyphonic sampler; velocity-sensitive over MIDI.
+ Excellent sound quality for the money, ease of use, unique 'alternating' mode provides successful alternative to conventional looping;
- requires MD280 disk drive (at additional cost) to make it useful, only one sample per side of disk;
= a fine introduction to sampling, the first machine without a built-in keyboard to save you money if you already have a MIDI controlling instrument.
S900 - £1599 Eight-voice, 12-bit rack-mounting sampler; velocity-sensitive over MIDI, built-in 3.5" disk drive, six-octave range, multisampling, maximum 48-second sample time, extra facilities include software for eight-voice harmonic sound-generation. Available this Spring. To be reviewed.
Sampling Module - £TBA Twelve-bit polyphonic sampler, eight-second maximum sample time, velocity-sensitive over MIDI, built-in analogue filtering section and VCA. To be reviewed.
Sampling Expander - £TBA Modular version of Mirage, details as above. To be reviewed.
Prophet 2002 Expander - £TBA Modular version of Prophet 2000, details as above. To be reviewed.
BD240 - £TBA Monophonic sampling delay; maximum 24-second sample time with four six-second cards (optional) at 18kHz bandwidth. To be reviewed.
RSD10 — £200 Monophonic sampling delay; maximum two-second sample time, autotriggering and layering facilities.
+ Very cheap, pitch-tracking system means you're not confined to 1V/octave synths (even a digital poly should do the trick), sound quality reasonable;
- tape interface permits audio — not digital — storage of samples;
= a fitting complement to Boss' Micro Rack series, and probably the system's best unit yet: four-octave pitch range is widest in its class.
SDD2000 Sampling Delay - £699 Digital delay with MIDI control over monophonic sound sample; one-octave range at full frequency response, three octaves at reduced bandwidth.
+ The cheapest MIDI sampler around, decent sound quality, added bonus of versatile delay section;
- limited editing facilities betray machine's DDL origins, no sample storage;
= still unbeatable almost a year after it was unveiled, sampling on its own would be reason enough to fork out the money, but MIDI and DDL put icing on the cake.
DIG420 - £330 Monophonic sampling delay; maximum delay time one second, three-octave range.
+ Controllable from any CV/Gate synthesiser, reasonable sound quality, cheap;
- again, no sample storage, lack of editing facilities compared to machines designed to be samplers above all else;
= a worthy contender from a company with a growing reputation for delivering facility-laden outboard gear at near-giveaway prices.
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!