Akai X7000 Sampling Keyboard
And still the new models from Akai keep coming, their latest, the X7000 Sampling Keyboard. Julian Colbeck gets X-cited...
Akai is rapidly becoming the name to look out for if you're in the market for a sampler. While other Japanese companies — relative newcomers all to the world of sound snaffling — are still on their first or second attempt, Akai are busy launching their third (coupled, in fact, to a fourth; the S7000 sampling module).
Although the X7000 is Akai's first complete sampler — complete with built-in disc drive and keyboard, that is — it strikes an interesting balance between their two previous sampling instruments, the ground-breaking S612 and the much acclaimed larger model, the S900. One obvious similarity with the S612 is the fact that it uses 2.8" discs and, although the X7000 is capable of storing considerably more information on disc than its predecessor, sounds sampled and stored on on the S612 can be happily fired up here. (Due to the X7000's ability to store programme data on disc, the reverse, sadly, is not possible). But in terms of using the instrument — sampling, manipulating and playing sounds — the X7000 has capabilities and, to an extent, specifications that remind one more of the S900; 40kHz maximum sample frequency, programme data storage on disc, multisampling and re-sampling capabilities, and a very up-market MIDI spec.
That said, there are still limitations, most of which revolve around the restricted space of the 2.8" 'Quick Disc'. Though cheap and reasonably cheerful, this format is still somewhat labour intensive, since it entails a considerable amount of loading and re-loading and general faffing about in order to gain access to a number of different samples at a time. And in this respect the X7000 is neither better nor worse than Roland's equivalent instrument, the S10.
Dressed in battleship grey, as are all Akai 'Professional' items these days, the X7000 had clean lines, and with a healthy number of dedicated parameter buttons (Start, Loop, End, LFO Speed etc.) would seem to be easy to figure out. And so it is eventually; but at first I think many people, especially those unfamiliar with sampling altogether, will come unstuck, since the opening chapter of the manual simply launches into the business of user-sampling without explaining how to access and use the factory discs. Seeing as the X7000 is priced at an 'introductory' level, this seems a little unwise.
Anyhow, the X7000 arrives with three factory discs, all of which are in fact a grand piano sample (although to my ears an acoustic guitar crept in there somewhere). To access this wodge of multi-sampled data, you must load all six sides, one after the other: insert — load, insert — load, etc. Sorry to be so specific, but the manual sees fit not to explain this point clearly. Now, with these six samples safely loaded in the X7000, you have at your fingertips some 32 programmes — which comprise combinations (splits or layers) of any of the said six samples, complete with sundry key transpositions, filtering, vibratos, output levels and what have you all stored on disc. These factory discs come with just eight such programmes written, so you have a further 24 programmes free, in which you can store (at least temporarily) your own attempts at mixing, matching and editing. This is probably the best method of learning your way around the instrument.
Although not really complicated once you've memorised the procedures, the X7000 will take a bit of time. Most tasks are ultimately self-explanatory, thanks to a number of dedicated parameter control buttons on the front panel. First, however, you must select a sample you want to work on, which does entail a fair bit of prodding, and twirling of the large master control knob which protrudes from below the display screen. Although the manual seems to suggest that the user should launch straight into sampling their own sounds, I'd strongly recommend an hour or so on the factory discs before you attempt it. Moreover, if you do I guarantee the X7000's system of sampling will seem like a doddle. The initial procedures are pretty much standard; setting of basic pitch, setting the bandwidth (variable from 1.6kHz to 16kHz), setting the record and trigger levels... and, basically, off you go.
The potential quality is excellent. As 16kHz bandwidth you're most certainly in pro waters, although your sample time of course is now minimal — less than a second. Further down the scale at around 8kHz you're still dealing with quality sounds, and with a sample time now of a few seconds this seems to be the optimum area for day-to-day work. Although the screen displays the bandwidth, it doesn't show sample time, which would have been helpful. And for some reason Akai have placed the record level knob at the back, just above the mike and line inputs. This seems odd, and a little out of character for this otherwise essentially helpful instrument.
Having made your sample, you're still at liberty to change the pitch and bandwidth before getting on with the business (if desired) of looping. Looping is the grungy area of sampling. Akai have done very well here to make this task as simple and straightforward as possible. You can create a loop manually, carefully tweaking the five-digit number displayed on screen until a satisfactory result is achieved. But personally, having tried the auto loop system on the X7000 I'd never look elsewhere. It's superb. Even what I imagine to be unloopable-at-all samples whizzed back to me smooth and uninterrupted. On the other hand, you may simply want to lop off a portion of sound from the beginning or end of your sample — again, an easy matter of pressing, say, the Start button and using the large master control knob to scroll through the five-digit number on screen until the offending opening bit has been dispatched.
Having fashioned your sample into something listenable, you may want to fine tune some aspects: add some vibrato, make it brighter, extend the release time (or more likely create some). Again this is a very simple matter of pressing the relevant button (Release, Filter, LFO Depth...) and noodling around on the master control knob until you hear the effect you want. You don't even have to press 'store' or anything; just move on to your next task. The range of editing parameters is certainly not vast here, but it is sensibly curtailed.
Here endeth the run-down of the X7000's basic range of sampling and manipulating features. There's a lot more to come!
Having sampled a sound, there are several other options aside from basic looping or trimming: you can scan loop for a start, by which method a sound can be quickly set to loop a portion of itself only. The manual illustrates it using the Good morning, ing, ing, ing technique. Quite so. But you can programme Good morning, gni, ing, gni as well! The same scan mode also selects Drum Trigger, whereby an entire sample will playback even on receipt of a short pulse, say from a drum machine, snare beat or whatever. Such features aren't new, but Akai have made them quick to obtain and easy to understand. Full marks for that.
In MIDI terms the X7000 is stuffed to the gills. Just when you thought you'd got the hang of the four basic MIDI modes, along come Akai with no less than nine modes to get bogged down in. Gulp! The soon-to-be-famous-five newcomers are Akai specialities of course, and most relate to (again Akai's own) 13 pin DIN connectors which are found on most of their recent Professional gear. If you don't own any of this recent equipment, then you don't really need to worry about the extra modes. The regular Omnis and Mono (2) are, I trust, familiar to y'all. Mode 4, the Mono mode allowing each voice in an instrument to be linked to its own MIDI channel number, comes under the control of the 13 pin DIN connector though; so Akai are obviously keen for you to remain brand-loyal if you're into multi-timbralism. The remaining five modes are only available on the X7000, and comprise Special Mono (Omni On/Off) and multiprogramme Polyphonic-Monophonic-special mono. Their purpose primarily concerns the linking up of samples and MIDI channel numbers for use with sequencers or MIDI pad triggering, and m afraid their individual applications would take me a month to figure out and even longer to explain.
Basically, the X7000 is a versatile and friendly sampler. Once you have the system down, most should be able to execute sophisticated work in less time than on other machines. I don't particularly like the keyboard, which, though velocity sensitive, is light-actioned, flimsy, and has been inserted leaving a damn great gap between it and the rest of the casing where dust and general rubbish is sure to accumulate. But so long as you're careful, or alternatively MIDI it up to another keyboard, the workings of the instrument itself make the X7000 a highly attractive proposition.
To be fair, this is a more advanced sampler than the Roland S10, which is an almost exact competitor in price terms. You can do more, sample more, and ot course get lost more. But it doesn't seem quite so well made as the Roland, and nor perhaps is it quite so easy to operate for the novice or sampling-scared. Nonetheless, the X7000 deserves to, and surely will, do well. For those who have some knowledge of sampling, and who are perhaps keen sequencer users or general experimenters, this instrument offers enormous scope for relatively little money.
RRP £999.99 inc. VAT
More from Akai (UK) Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Julian Colbeck
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