Sampler (musical instrument)

From Academic Kids

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An AKAI MPC2000 sampler

A sampler is an electronic musical instrument that can record and store audio signal samples, generally recordings of existing sounds, and play them back at a range of pitches. However, sampler is sometimes used to describe instruments which store and play back samples but lack the capability to record them. (See Rompler.)

An early form of sampler was an instrument called the 'Mellotron' (later Novatron due to licensing issues) which used individual pre-recorded tape loops, one under each key on the keyboard. Mellotrons required a lot of maintenance, but had a characteristic sound that was used on many 1970s records by groups such as Yes and The Moody Blues.



The emergence of the digital sampler made sampling far more practical, and as samplers added progressively more digital processing to their recorded sounds, they began to merge into the mainstream of modern digital synthesizers. The first digital sampling synthesiser was the Australian-produced Fairlight CMI which was first available in 1979.

Prior to computer memory-based samplers, musicians used tape replay keyboards, which stored recordings of musical instrument notes and sound effects on analog tape.

Modern digital samplers use mostly digital technology to process the samples into interesting sounds. Akai pioneered many processing techniques, such as Crossfade Looping to eliminate glitches and Time Stretch which allows for shortening or lengthening of samples without affecting pitch and vice versa.

During the early 1990s hybrid synthesizers began to emerge that utilized very short samples of natural sounds and instruments (usually the attack phase of the instrument) along with digital synthesis to create more realistic instrument sounds. Examples of this are Korg's M1, 01W and the later Triton and Trinity series, Yamaha's SY series and the Kawai K series of instruments.

The modern-day music workstation usually features an element of sampling, from simple playback to complex editing that matches all but the most advanced dedicated samplers.

Examples of digital samplers

Fairlight Instruments

Fairlight Instruments was started in Sydney Australia in 1975 by Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie. The company was originally established as a manufacturer and retailer of video special effects equipment.

The Fairlight CMI or Computer Music Instrument, released in (1979), started life as the QASAR M8. The M8 was hand-wired and legend has it that it took 2 hours to boot up! The CMI was the first commercially available digital sampling instrument. The original Fairlight CMI sampled using a resolution of 8-bits at a rate of 10KHz and was comprised of two 8-bit Motorola 6800 processors, which were later upgraded to the more powerful 16-bit 68000 chips. It was equipped with two six octave keyboards, an alphanumeric keyboard, and an interactive video display unit (VDU) where soundwaves could be edited or even drawn from scratch using a light pen. Software allowed for editing, looping, and mixing of sounds which could then be played back via the keyboard or the software-based sequencer. It retailed for around $25,000 US.

In 1982, Fairlight released the CMI-II which doubled the sampling rate to 16khz.

The CMI-IIx was released in 1984 and was the first to feature basic MIDI functionality.

1985 saw the release of the CMI-III which upped the sampling resolution to 16-bits. SMPTE was also added in this final version.

Notable users of the Fairlight CMI include: Trevor Horn, Art of Noise, Yello, Pet Shop Boys, and Jean-Michel Jarre.

E-mu Systems

E-MU Systems Emulator (1981) was E-mu Systems initial foray into sampling, and saved the company from financial disaster after the complete failure of the Audity due to a price tag of $70,000! The name 'Emulator' came as the result of leafing through a thesaurus and matched the name of the company perfectly. The Emulator came in 2-, 4-, and 8-note polyphonic versions, the 2-note being dropped due to limited interest, and featured a maximum sampling rate of 27.7kHz, a four-octave keyboard and 128Kb of memory.

E-mu Systems Emulator II (1985) was designed to bridge the gap between the Fairlight CMI and Synclavier and the Ensoniq Mirage. It featured 8-bit sampling, up to 1Mb of sample memory, an 8-track sequencer, and analog filtering. With the addition of the hard disk option, the Emulator II was comparable to samplers released 5 years later.

E-mu Systems Emulator III (1987) was a 16-bit stereo digital sampler with 16-note polyphony, 44.1kHz maximum sample rate and had up to 8Mb of memory. It featured a 16 channel sequencer, SMPTE and a 40Mb hard disk.

E-mu Systems SP-1200 was, and still is, one of the most highly regarded samplers for use in hip-hop related production. Its 12-bit sampling engine gave a desirable warmth to instruments and a gritty punch to drums. It featured 10 seconds of sample time spread across four 2.5-second sections.


Akai entered the electronic musical instrument world in 1984 with the first in a series of affordable samplers the S612, an 8bit digital sampler module. The S612 was superseded in 1986 by the 16 bit S900.

The Akai S900 (1986) was the first truly affordable digital sampler. It was 8-note polyphonic and featured 12-bit sampling with a frequency range up to 40KHz and up to 750KB of memory that allowed for just under 12 seconds at the best sampling rate. It could store a maximum of 32 samples in memory. The operating system was software based and allowed for upgrades that had to be booted each time the sampler was switched on.

The Akai MPC60 Digital Sampler/Drum Machine and MIDI Sequencer (1987) was the first non rack mounted model released. It is also the first time a sampler with touch sensitive trigger pads was produced by AKAI.

The Akai S950 (1988) was an improved version of the S900, with a maximum sample frequency of 48KHz and some of the editing features of the contemporary S1000.

The Akai S1000 (1988) was possibly the most popular 16-bit 44.1kHz stereo sampler of its time. It featured 16-voices, up to 32Mb of memory, and 24-bit internal processing, including a digital filter (18dB/octave), an LFO, and two ADSR envelope generators (for amplitude and filtering). The S1000 also offered up to 8 different loop points. Additional functions included Autolooping, Crossfade Looping, Loop in Release (which cycles through the loop as the sound decays), Loop Until Release (which cycles through the loop until the note begins its decay), Reverse and Time Stretch (version 1.3 and higher).

Other samplers released by AKAI include the MPC1000, MPC2000, MPC2000XL, MPC3000, MPC3000XL, MPC3000LE and the MPC4000.


Roland Corporation manufactured the S series.

Other Manufacturers

See also

it:Campionatore ja:サンプラー


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