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Emu Emax HD

Hard Disc Sampler

Article from Making Music, September 1987

standing for Hard Disc, as in rack mounted sampler. This device has so much memory, even Lemmy could remember what band he played for. Alastair Gavin indulges.


The Emax is a kind of trendy young sibling to the famous Emulator, which was the first vaguely affordable sampler to appear on the market and now, with its massive sound library, is virtually the industry standard. After the next wave of cheap samplers in the form of the Akai S612 and the Ensoniq Mirage, the market now seems concentrated around the £2000 mark with the Akai S900, Casio FZ-1, Roland 550, and the Korg DSS-1 competing heavily for attention, and it is at the upper end of this lot that the Emax has appeared.

One thing's for sure when comparing these products, they will all provide you with good quality samples and so your choice really depends on bells and whistles (or orch hits and marimbas) ie ease of use, facilities, memory, display, aesthetics etc, and with these, the Emax is pretty well endowed. Basically it uses the now familiar system of creating patches (known here as 'presets') out of different combinations of samples ('voices'). A 'bank' contains all preset, voice, sequencer, and arpeggiator information and is the sum total of memory available at any one time, and roughly equivalent to a 3½ inch floppy disc's worth.

These discs are currently the most common form of external sample storage and they usually hold a reasonable amount of different noises, depending on how complex your sound is, and take about 30 to 40 seconds to load into the machine. This can feel like a lifetime if you've got Frank Sinatra waiting to hear that amazing tugboat sample you've just promised him.

Step forward the hard disc.

Or more specifically the Emax HD. The hard disc, locked inside the machine, is an internal storage space from which you select your working memory (the 'bank') and this one can hold 36 banks ie 36 discs worth. And as if that wasn't enough each bank takes only 3 or 4 seconds to load up. Not only does Frank get his tugboat but you now have time to reload between numbers live. The Emax still uses 3½ discs as well, so simply decide on the 36 banks you're likely to need most often and interchange between hard and floppy discs as necessary.

Another feature which immediately catches the eye is the onboard sequencer. This turns out to be very easy to use although slightly limited in its facilities, as it doesn't quantise or give you a click to work to.

It does however sync to a wide range of pulses — lentils, chick peas (shut up — Ed.) — including PPQs and MIDI, and also has a 'Supermode' whereby you can copy multitracked parts from a more comprehensive system onto the Emax, and then store it with the presets in the relevant bank. This is a nice way of making sure the right sounds appear with each sequence and to be fair, the Emax's sequencer does, as the excellently written manual suggests, work very well as a notepad for those elusive ideas that come (to me anyway) when you least expect them. The moral — keep an Emax in the loo.

Even more interesting is the arpeggiator which has the widest range of functions I've yet seen, including the ability to specify harmonic intervals. Arpeggiators seem to have been almost forgotten nowadays yet they can be great sources of inspiration to us groove merchants, and they don't have to simply pump out Moroder-type sixteenths (not that there's anything wrong with that — cringe, fawn). Happily this arpeggiator has the same sync facilities as the sequencer and your settings can also be memorised with each preset.

Sampling on the Emax is easily achieved and the machine kindly assigns you a new sample number after each recording so you don't erase what you've just done, although I would have liked to be able to name each sample for ease of assembling presets later on.

The good news is that you're allowed to have 122 samples present at any one time — as long as they don't exceed maximum sampling time of course — unlike most other models which limit you to 32 or 64. Looping is well catered for with auto-loop and crossfade looping — an essential feature in my book unless you have full computer display facilities available. Also there's provision for a loop release segment which means that the end portion of the sample doesn't play until you've lifted your hand off the key.

An immediate impression from the exciting range of factory presets available is the immense amount of mileage obtained from each set of samples. Strings become ghostly chords or buzzy synth noises, due to the comprehensive filter and VCA controls available. Each has an AHDSR envelope - 'H' meaning hold, which is a kind of automatic sustain after the initial attack and before the decay. You also have wide ranging controls over stereo panning which can be affected by say, the LFO or keyboard velocity. I did miss a pitch envelope though, as this is an important part of many modern sounds.

Aesthetically speaking the Emax is certainly a stylish machine with trendy oval shaped buttons heading off at an angle and a comprehensive list of functions crammed onto the right hand side which I found useful. I did think the layout was fussy, although familiarity should mean this isn't a serious problem. In fact, I wouldn't even have mentioned it had E-mu not given us such a pokey little display to work with. You only have to glance at the DX7II, Akai S900, or the ESQ-1 to name but a few, to appreciate how important a display can be to the speed at which you can work, and at the Emax's price I think we've been sold short.


The sampler is crammed with features that I've not really been able to do justice to here, not the least of which are the many possibilities for creatively moulding your sample to suit your specific needs, something I definitely approve of. The main attraction of the Emax HD however has to be the massive internal memory afforded by the hard disc, which to a hardened floppy user (if you know what I mean) like myself, was a dream. This facility will cost you an extra £750 above the floppy disc version and given the usual cost of digital memory this seems like extremely good value. At any rate, whichever version you go for you'll have bought yourself a first class product.


EMU Systems, (Contact Details).


SAMPLING 19 seconds at 28kHz sample rate selectable 10kHz-42kHz, 12 bit
DATA STORAGE 20 megabyte hard disc drive (= 36 floppies), 3½ Inch micro floppy discs
OUTPUTS 8 individual channels, left and right, mono mix
DISPLAY 32 character LCD backlit

Featuring related gear

Previous Article in this issue

Diamond Drums

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Trace Elliot MP11

Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Sep 1987

News And Reviews

Gear in this article:

Sampler > Emu Systems > Emax HD

Gear Tags:

12-Bit Sampler

Review by Alastair Gavin

Previous article in this issue:

> Diamond Drums

Next article in this issue:

> Trace Elliot MP11

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