By Brandon Smith
In the last three blog posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) we’ve looked at the evolution of samplers – from tape, to expensive dinosaurs, to little grey boxes, to no boxes at all (besides the computer of course). Recently, while trolling vintage samplers on Ebay I noticed that the prices vary quite wildly. The Emulator I and IIs can go for as little as a few hundred to as much as several thousand dollars. There are legitimate reasons for this – its more expensive if a technology is no longer produced, some have modifications like card readers and bigger hard drives. A vintage samplers will also fetch more if it comes with a significant library of disks. What I find slightly ironic is the fact that older Akais – particularly the S950s/ S1000s or the E-mu SP1200s, will fetch more on the used market than a more modern and capable samplers like Akai’s S2000 or S5000, some of Akai’s most expensive models in the late 90s. If the vintage gear market has taught me anything, it’s that the retro chic appeal of equipment has little to do with its specs or how expensive it used to be. Instead it has everything to do with historical context. Some producers might complain that the S5000 doesn’t “crunch” like the old 12 and 8 bit machines and cannot be distinguished from plug-in samplers. That being said I appreciate its “hi-fi” sound, at full CD quality and to my ears it sounds great (fully disclosure I just bought one). The S5000 was and still is an excellent sampler but it was made towards the end of what many consider to be the golden era of hardware samplers.
So what happens if you want the sound of a vintage sampler but don’t have money or space for a new piece of hardware? There are other options out there – like this the Emulation II from UVI. Emulation II simulates the sound and performance of old E-mu samplers with all the modern benefits of being a software plug-in. One such benefit is reduced sample load times - on real vintage samplers loading (especially from floppy disks) is a lot slower than what we’re used to today. Another option is the program Decimort plug-in from D16. Decimort goes for around $80 and mimics old samplers by modeling different analog-digital converters with different bit/sample rates and data compression techniques. It also models the various filters that were found in several vintage samplers, resulting in a very convincing impression. It comes with lots of presets including all time favourites like the SP-1200 and Emulator I/II.
Does this mean that hardware samplers are now completely obsolete? Of course not! Sampling hardware continues to evolve and become cheaper and easier to use than ever. A good example of the new-school of current hardware samplers is the popular Teenage Engineering OP-1. The OP-1 fits in your pocket and also boasts a synthesizer and sequencer! Akai is still in the MPC game their latest offering is the MPC Touch. With so much music production these days relying on samples we can continue to expect a market for vintage samplers with more hardware and software companies pushing the limits of what a sampler should be.