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Hands on – Akai S1000 digital sampler (part 1)

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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.

David Mellor

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David Mellor