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Hands on - Akai S1000 digital sampler (part 1)

There's an Akai S1000 in every studio, almost. David Mellor gives an introduction to this popular sampler...

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There's an S1000 in every studio, almost. David Mellor gives an introduction to this popular sampler.

There is one word I would like to say to you: coherence. Say it out loud twenty times and brand it into you consciousness. I'll tell you why later, but for now let me cover just a little of the history of sampling. Once upon a time samplers were not just expensive but horrendously expensive and they had names like Fairlight and Synclavier. Then came a small and not terribly significant wave of samplers for ordinary folk which were affordable but not particularly capable. Then came the Akai S900. The S900 revolutionised sampling and was the first real sampler of the modern age. At the time it did just about everything you wanted a sampler to do, and more, and it was available at a reasonable price - not exactly cheap, but achievable for many people. I bought one myself straight after seeing it demonstrated at an exhibition. Later on in this series I shall be looking at the updated version of the S900, the S950. This now takes on a junior role in Akai's range and can be considered to be their entry level sampler.

A couple of years after the original S900, Akai brought out what many people would see as the sampler perfected - the S1000. Although the S900 was very good, most users wished that it had a better signal to noise ratio, in the form of 16 bit resolution rather than 12. Also, it was very inconvenient to combine programs to make the most of the inherent multi-timbral capability of sampling. A third difficulty was that the memory was fixed at just under 12 seconds at full bandwidth. 12 seconds seemed like Nirvana in 1986, but by 1988 it just wasn't enough, and with the S900 there was just nowhere to go. The S1000 answered all of these problems and added another bonus - stereo sampling. For most purposes, mono sampling is fine, but for certain applications proper stereo operation is essential. Now, Akai's range includes the S1100 which is basically an S1000 upgraded in terms of audio quality and with the inclusion of a digital effects section. In practice , the S1100 is so similar to the S1000 that an explanation of the differences is hardly necessary, an S1000 user will grasp it in a minute.

So what can the S1000 do? Well in its standard form it can sample up to 12 seconds (actually just under 12) in stereo, or 24 seconds mono, with 16 note polyphony and 16 bit resolution at 44.1kHz. (The standard 2 Megabyte memory is expandable up to 32 Meg). In theory this should equal the audio quality of compact disc but in practice even the S1100 isn't quite up to this standard subjectively. The reasons for this are threefold, and if you think you can manage without this information then feel free to skip to the next paragraph. Reason number one why 16 bit/44.1kHz doesn't equal CD quality in any sampler is that you will nearly always be playing at less than maximum velocity. This brings the level down closer to the noise floor thus reducing signal to noise ratio. Reason number two is that when you play several notes simultaneously, on average the signal to noise is degraded by 3dB for each doubling of audio channels, just like with a multitrack tape recorder. Reason number three is that, like any piece of equipment in the real world, the S1000 isn't perfect and that goes for the S1100 too. Akai have produced a brilliant piece of studio machinery, but other manufacturers have the edge in certain areas - but not in overall usability and range of features, in my opinion.

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By David Mellor Monday March 6, 2006
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