The Starting Block
Datel Sound Sampler
Datel's Spectrum-compatible Sound Sampler offers a genuine introduction to the techniques of sound sampling. We listen in.
Chris Jenkins samples Datel's £50 Spectrum sound sampler
Of the several budget sound sampling units designed as add-ons for home micros which have been advertised, the first to become available is Datel's unit. At just under £50, it's obviously not going to be in the Fairlight class, but it does offer an introduction to sampling technology and may prove to be a useful tool in the home studio.
The Datel Digital Sound Sampler, like your Fairlight or Emulator, is an analogue to digital device which "records" a sound, from a line or mike input, by reducing it to a stream of numbers. By replaying these numbers through a digital to analogue reconverter, the sound can be reproduced, either in its original form, or at a different pitch (by altering the replay speed), or reversed, echoed, or otherwise mutilated.
The DSS plugs into the Spectrum's user port and its minijack input and output sockets. It's provided with a cheap Sanyo microphone which proved fairly adequate for the task.
There are four programs on the tape provided. The first, Effects, allows a sound to be sampled, then played back at varying pitch with keys 1 to 9. The Draw option allows the sound's frequency curve to be displayed on the screen, but since this doesn't mean that the sound can be edited a la Fairlight this may seem pretty pointless.
The Reverse option allows the sound to be played backwards; Riser is an increasing pitch effect; Chop Play a progressively faster repeat; Echo allows the DSS to act as a primitive digital delay; and Four Part Sound allows four sounds of around half a second to be recorded separately, then played back with keys 5, 6, 7 and 8. This is useful for "drum kit" effects.
Other options include single or multiple repeats and variable sample time, up to about four seconds.
The second program, keyboard, turns the top two rows of the Spectrum into the equivalent of a music keyboard. Needless to say, it's almost impossible to play, but the pitch following is good.
Program three, Sequencer, promises to be the best of all, since it allows compositions of up to 1000 notes to be created using any sample. This sounds wonderful, but the unit provided for review took ages to figure out; the software, much of which is written in BASIC, seems riddled with bugs, and in the case of the Sequence program it proved impossible to enter note information without getting "Variable not found" messages. I eventually figured out the format required for note information, but I maintain that the software needs better error-trapping and on-screen prompts.
The last program enables you to incorporate four sounds in games programs, but we're not interested in that, are we — we're all musicians here.
Overall, the Datel Sound Sampler is a nice unit let down by the software. The quality of the sampling can be very good if you spend enough time fiddling with the input and output levels, the feedback trimmer and the quality of the sound to be sampled. Despite the fact that the system is a little unwieldy to set up in a small home studio—computer, cassette unit, monitor, power supplies, mike, amp, speaker, and all — I'm sure it will find a place in the homes of many musical Spectrum owners. Had the Datel been supplied with more integrated, reliable and ambitious software, allowing sound editing and more complex composition, it would have been a winner. Some form of keyboard interface, either CV/gate or MIDI, would have been too much to ask in this price range, though I'm sure it's only a matter of time.
As it is, most musical Spectrum owners will want to try this unit out themselves, and decide whether the pleasures of sampling outweigh the limitations imposed by the Datel's pocket-money specification.
Datel, (Contact Details).
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Review by Chris Jenkins