Tantek Digital Sampler-Delay
Paul Gilby focuses his attention on a cost-effective modular effects rack system from Tantek and scrutinises one of its modules - a versatile sampler and digital delay unit.
The concept of the modular effects rack is one which has been established for many years in the professional studio world. Now Tantek have successfully entered the budget end of the market with a range of signal processors to suit most applications. Paul Gilby examines their most fashionable unit, the Digital Sampler-Delay, and takes a fleeting glance at what else you can put in a Tanrak.
When considering a modular system like the Tanrak, two points spring immediately to mind. The first is the space-saving advantage offered by a system which only occupies a 4U rack space. This may not seem particularly important at first until you total up exactly how much space the alternative would consume.
Having recognised the advantages of such a system, what about it's most obvious disadvantage, that of commitment? In buying such a system from any manufacturer, your initial purchase would necessarily include the sub-rack frame with its all- important power supply, and possibly four or five different modules, the remaining space being left empty. Once you've committed yourself to the system, you are in fact saying that the performance and facilities offered will be acceptable above all other products.
And here we have the dilemma: do you go for the cost-effective, space saving advantages of a modular system and foresake buying the ultimate product, or do you buy individual units which you consider to offer the best performance but at the penalty of higher cost and greater rack space consumption?
Faced with the two alternatives, most people compromise and go for both a modular rack and individual units where a certain facility or level of performance is not available on the other unit.
A modular system comes into its own when you need several of the same device as you don't end up paying for individual power supplies etc. For example, noise gates are very popular signal processors when it comes to recording acoustic drums. After buying the sub-rack and power supply, it's a simple matter of adding gates to your collection as and when you can afford or need them, and at less than £60 for each one, it makes a lot of sense. We'll come back to the full Tantek range later after looking at their most fashionable unit...
The Digital Sampler-Delay is physically unlike all the other Tantek modules as it takes up two of the eleven available slots in the Tanrak.
Technically speaking, it's a companding 8-bit sampler which offers a 15kHz audio playback bandwidth and a 72dB dynamic range for a 1.4 second sample time. Longer samples, up to 8 seconds in fact, are possible but at the expense of a poorer audio bandwidth.
As the unit's title implies, it will function as both a sampler and a digital delay, either mode of operation being chosen by the press of a button. If Delay is selected, you can dial up anything from a 15 millisecond to an 8 second single repeat echo or, by increasing the Regeneration control, produce multiple echoes. On the shorter delay setting this manifests itself as 'bathtub' reverb and you can even achieve a static flange effect. But by hooking up an external Modulation Oscillator (you've guessed it, Tantek make one of those as well!), you can produce a variety of classic flanging or phasing effects from this module.
The Tantek Sampler-Delay provides two means of controlling the sample time and quality. The Trim control is marked with a 'normal' position and it is at this setting that the device will offer its best audio quality. Any movement away from the norm will start to degrade the bandwidth.
The next control, Length, varies the length of sample across a given range that has been previously set by the Trim control. Neither of these controls is calibrated with any time reference, only with numbers incrementing from 0 to 10. This means that setting of the sample time has to be done intuitively. That in itself isn't a bad thing, as I'm sure people don't sit there with a stopwatch timing the duration of sounds before they decide to sample them. It's a case of try it and see.
Sampling a sound into the Tantek module is very simple. Having set your Input control to illuminate the red input LED on the peak level, you set the Trim and Length controls for the sample duration required. Pressing the button marked Sample arms the unit and a yellow LED comes on to tell you it's ready. At this point you need to decide just how you would like to trigger the unit to record the sound you want to sample. Three options are provided.
The most user-friendly option is the automatic trigger facility where the unit senses the presence of a signal and samples it into memory. The trigger point is set by a preset threshold control which is accessed through a small hole on the front panel. I found this situation to be less than satisfactory, however, as it's not conducive to the real working pressures of a recording session, where you need the flexibility to vary things quickly. A threshold control needs to be instantly accessible and it would have been better to house this valuable feature on the front panel in place of the Output level control and move that inside as a preset.
The other two means of recording a sample are either via the back panel Gate input jack, where the trigger pulse from a synthesizer or drum machine will initiate the recording process, or with the same device connected to the Gate input, you can record manually by pressing the front panel Trigger button.
Having sampled a sound into memory, a number of playback options then become available. Pressing the front panel Trigger button, or a key on a synthesizer, will replay the sample in its entirety. However, if you remove the trigger pulse before the sound finishes then trigger it again, you can create the classic 'n-n-n-nineteen' effect. Varying the Trim control at this point will vary the playback pitch of the sound. Alternatively, with a 1 volt per octave synthesizer plugged into the rear panel CV and Gate inputs, you can play the sampled sound over a six octave range using the synth keyboard.
Moving on to the Length control, gradual adjustment of this will progressively shorten the duration of the playback sound eg. if you had sampled the word 'crunch', you could play back either the whole word, or 'crun' or just 'cr'. What this control does then is trim off the end portion of the sample. By moving the Start control also, you can home in on a chosen segment of the sample and create a playback 'window' at a certain point, eg. play the 'run' section of our sampled word 'crunch' by trimming both the start and end points.
If, having trimmed your sample you want it to die away gradually upon release of the Trigger button or keyboard, then the Decay control will help you out. In the Single trigger mode, you can add decay and therefore smoothness to any sample thus making the ending less abrupt and more usable.
By selecting the Loop mode, the status LED illuminates and the sample will automatically be looped on playback, but this time the Decay setting controls the number of times the loop repeats after the trigger or key is released. Something else also happens... Tantek have configured the unit to play a segment from the beginning of the original sample regardless of whether or not you have edited a playback window at some other point along the sample. This has been done to add an attack characteristic to the beginning of the sample when in Loop mode.
What it means is that you can create an effect where repeat triggering of the sample will play the 'crun' section of your 'crunch' word, but when you finally release the key you hear the whole word 'crunch' followed by the end part 'ch' which loops around continually and dies away at a rate set by the Decay control. This can be quite an exciting effect if you sample the right sort of sound.
Having discovered just how interesting this facility can be, you also soon discover that you don't always want to have a slice of the original attack stuck onto the beginning of the sound. If you have carefully edited the sample to play just the 'ch' at the end, it sounds like-'shh'... which is quite nice when played at different pitches. However, if you want to hold down the key and have it loop around on that sound, you can't. There is no way of stopping the unit playing back some of the attack portion of the sample. This is clearly one of the limitations of the unit and in fairness to the design, a decision probably had to be made one way or the other because at such a low price you can't have everything.
The final function on the sampler is Overdub which, in keeping with the other facilities, is straightforward to use. All you have to do is set the Regeneration control (normally used in the Delay mode to add repeat echo effects) to 10 if you want to hear the previous sampled sound at full volume, or to a lower number if you want the old sound quieter in the mix than the new sample. Once you have set the level you need only press the Overdub button and record a new sample. You can overdub many times, preserving the previous samples as you go. One point to remember though, is that just like on a tape recorder, the more times you overdub, the poorer the quality of the sound becomes.
Quite effective choirs can be built up using a sampled 'aaagh' voice by adjusting the Trim control to alter the pitch of each successive overdub, thereby recording each new sample a fraction of a musical tone away from the other. The result is a very rich sounding choir which, once captured, can be played via a keyboard in the same manner as before. Other uses of the Overdub control make it possible to edit out fragments of a sample and either replace them with silence or another sample, thereby making possible the chaining together of different sounds.
As with almost any Sampler-Delay unit on the market, the Tantek has no onboard sound storage and precious samples which have taken some time to capture will, unfortunately, be erased when the power goes off. The only solution is to play the sample and record it onto tape for re-loading at a later date.
One final point about replaying samples; the Tantek offers a dynamic playing facility which allows you to connect the likes of an electronic drum pad to the input and vary the loudness of the sample by the velocity of your playing. Again, the threshold control needs to be adjusted for this operation - so we now have two good reasons for housing that control on the front panel!
The Tantek Sampler-Delay offers good value for money, though it's important not to try and compare it to a fully-fledged polyphonic MIDI controlled sampler, which of course it isn't.
If you are looking for a low-cost sampler with reasonable audio fidelity and the option of digital delay effects thrown in, then the Tantek may well be for you.
However, as mentioned at the start of the article, you do need to feel confident about the entire product range before taking the plunge. The outcome of such a decision depends purely on the sort of applications you have in mind and the budget you've got to spend. But as it stands, the Tantek system currently offers the most cost-effective way for a small studio to experience a wide variety of good quality signal processors. The full Tantek range is as follows:
|Dynamic Noise Filter||£55.95|
|Phantom Power Supply||£41.95|
Review by Paul Gilby