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Akai S1100EX 16 Voice Expansion Unit for the S1100 (part 1)

Let me make it plain from the start. This review isn’t for the ordinary sampler user such as you or me. No, this is for the type of person who has an Akai S1100 and still isn’t satisfied.

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Let me make it plain from the start. This review isn’t for the ordinary sampler user such as you or me. No, this is for the type of person who has an Akai S1100 and still isn’t satisfied. There may be no pleasing some people, but if you insist that a mere one S1100 isn’t enough, then here is the product for you - an S1100 expander which gives you all the power and flexibility of the S1100 itself, but misses out the parts you don’t need such as a duplicate set of input sockets, controls and circuitry, and comes in at a price that may cause any S1100 owner, even those who were formerly quite satisfied, to feel a twinge of temptation.

Speaking as an S1100 owner myself - I had to save my pocket money for ages - I am aware that even though it is one of the most capable and flexible samplers around, it has its limitations. The first limitation is that the number of simultaneous voices possible is sixteen. Enough for most applications you might think, but once you get started voices seem to disappear into some kind of pan-dimensional wormhole the time-space-MIDI continuum. Actually, they only seem to. Where they do go is quite understandable when you think about it. The first voice disappearance mechanism is activated by sampling in stereo. This, not unnaturally, halves the number of notes that can be played at the same time. Also, go easy on that sustain pedal. The sustain pedal may be known as the ‘soul of the piano’ but it does nothing for your sampled piano sound other than bring the notes of your chords to an earlier conclusion than you might have expected or liked. A third mechanism causing voice disappearance is a little less obvious, but just as annoying as the others. Notes don’t end when your finger leaves the key and triggers a MIDI note off message. There is usually a decay envelope to take into consideration, so that you may be playing what you think is a monophonic line but the end of each note will overlap the start of the next. Combine this with stereo sampling and your sixteen voice sampler has just been cut down to four! I have to say that moving from an Emu Proteus that I had been using as a stop gap while I decided which sampler to upgrade my S900 to came as a bit of a shock. The difference between 32 voices on the Proteus (when each voice only accesses one ‘instrument’) and sixteen is considerable, but amply paid for of course by access to an unlimited range of sounds and all the other benefits offered by the mostly excellent S1100.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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