So many of our favourite records rely on the old-school sampler sound. Whether you’re trying to sample old RnB records for authentic disco strings, or searching for the ultimate drum breaks. There is some method involved in capturing the magic of this now antiquated process, so let’s get into it. We’ll discuss all things sampling and how to go about replicating the sound of the classic samplers of the past.
Over the years, the evolution of digital sampling technology has played a significant role in every musical era. In the early to mid-1980s we see high-end samplers transform from Synclavier to CMI, to the famous E-mu Systems Emulator.
At first, using samplers like these required specialized programmers to add them to the workflow. Some of the top engineers, arrangers, and producers like Simon Franglen broke into the industry doing Synclavier and CMI programming on some of the biggest records and films.
The evolution of sampling
However, it wasn’t until samplers became more accessible and added drum pads into the design that the concept really took off. Roger Linn‘s revolutionary approach to instrument design rocked the industry with the Linndrum, before turning his attention to a complete sequencing sampling workstation. Meanwhile, Dave Rossum was taking similar steps in making E-mu designs more exciting.
The results, from the mid to late 1980s were some of the most influential instruments ever built: The E-mu SP-1200 and the AKAI MPC-60. They would go on to shape the sound and the creation process of music to come. The gritty and upfront sound combined with an intuitive interface makes these samplers still highly sought after to this day.
Choose your weapons
No matter your budget, there are options to achieve good results with both hardware and software. It’s important to remember that creativity isn’t a linear process, so choose something both inspiring and relevant to your production workflow. While buying a vintage SP-1200 or an MPC-60 may do wonders for your self-esteem, it’s hard to justify that level of expense on one simple tool.
So let’s put the credit card away for now, and look at some different options to suit your studio setup. While software will get you the sound almost instantly, hardware is often more inspiring to use and the decent gear retains its resale value. Let’s take a look at what’s available and how best to go about incorporating it into your setup.
Vintage Sampler Plug-ins
For starters, every DAW on the market has a native sampler plug-in. When you add bit reduction to it with the right setting, you can get that gritty, slightly degraded sound. Sample degradation will also come into play when you pitch things up or down, although pitching down usually sounds better. The Linndrum had this capability and was famously used like this by Prince on songs such as Kiss and When Doves Cry.
Arturia Emulator II V
The Emulator II V is Arturia’s software recreation of the famous E-mu Emulator II digital sampler. What made the Emulator II so special was the combination of its Lo-Fi sampling engine and the analogue filter board.
Arturia has meticulously modeled each distinctive aspect of this iconic 80s beast and even includes a sample editor that looks like an old Apple II interface. Overall, it’s a great-sounding plug-in, if your goal is to sound like the Pet Shop Boys.
Arturia V Collection 9 Download
Togu Audio Line TAL-Sampler
Rather than being modeled on one specific instrument, the TAL-Sampler plug-in captures an era of digital sampling. It brings together some of the most desirable aspects of sampling in a simple modular interface.
With 3 envelopes, assignable macros, and an extensive modulation section you have plenty of creative power. The filter works globally by default, but each of the 4 sample layers can be routed through the filter or bypassed.
More Vintage Sampler Plug-ins:
DAC Modeling/Bit Reduction Effects Plug-ins
So maybe you’re happy with your current sampler plug-in, or even your native DAW sampler. Getting the old-school sampler sound doesn’t mean you have to learn a new interface or navigate new soundbanks. Instead, you can use a DAC modeling or reduction effects plug-in to process the output of your sampler and… Viola! Instant old-school.
D-16 Group Decimort 2
Decimort 2 is a sophisticated Lo-Fi processor from D-16. As an insert, it’s capable of recreating the AD/DA stages of a wide range of classic samplers and digital drum machines. However, when you delve beyond the presets there is a huge amount of additional tonal control at your disposal.
In particular, this is extremely useful for controlling any harsh high frequencies that occur when downsampling audio. Overall, its design is extremely thorough and includes features like a multimode filter and mix control for more subtle applications.
D16 Group Decimort2
Togu Audio Line TAL-DAC
Built from the resampling section of the TAL-Sampler, the TAL-DAC emulates the process of recording digital audio at low sample rates. The controls are split into two sections, one for the AD and DA conversion stages respectively.
This plug-in mimics the sonic characteristics of classic sampling gear and it’s particularly useful for getting the gritty drum sounds we associate with Hip-Hop and House from the late 80s and early 90s. The TAL-DAC may appear rather limited, but it certainly sounds authentic.
More Bit Reduction Effects Plug-ins:
As instruments for studio or stage, hardware samplers range from simple drum machine-like sequencers to complete production workstations and everything in between. Some are modeled on the functionality of the classics, while others aim to innovate and provide a new creative approach. Investing in hardware can be costly, so be sure to research and select something that suits your production workflow.
The Digitakt is still one of the most versatile samplers available. Combining an intuitive sampling interface with a powerful sequencer, it checks all the boxes for most styles of music. What makes it even more desirable is its compatibility with other hardware.
Clock sync via MIDI thru and Din sync work independently, and the Digitakt also supports Elektron Overbridge. $799 might be more than you want to spend on a simple sampler, but this could easily become the central point of your music creation setup regardless of whether you combine it with other gear or not.
The almost pocket-sized BlackBox is a touchscreen-operated sampling powerhouse. It might not ship with a huge stock sound library, but it has multisampling, granular sampling, and even polyphonic sampling capabilities. If you look at the connectivity options on the rear panel, you can immediately get the sense that it’s a newer generation device.
The BlackBox is not only bus-powered, but it works directly from a portable power bank. So although it is small in stature, its endless creative features more than justify the price tag. In addition, it’s an amazing live instrument and a great way to take a break from your DAW.
More hardware samplers:
Bit Reduction Hardware Effects
So you already own a hardware sampler, but the built-in effects just don’t cut it – or worse, there aren’t any effects at all. Bit reduction hardware effects can easily give you the sound you’re looking for, but they have so many other sonic possibilities too. Remember that music is also about creative freedom.
Achieving vintage sampler characteristics is one of many avenues you can go. So be sure to consider the extent of the sounds you can create, rather than getting something that limits your setup with a single purpose.
The Ottobit 500-series processor and its Ottobit Jr. stompbox counterpart are incredibly creative bit reduction effects. As with most Meris products, the sound quality they produce is extremely clean and rich with the high-end analogue signal path, 24-bit AD/DA, and 32-bit floating-point DSP engine.
The Ottobit’s sample rate and bit reduction controls have a huge range with plenty of tonal variety to dial in. What’s more, there are time-based rhythmic features that make it useful on almost any instrument.
Meris Ottobit Jr. Pedal
Red Panda Bitmap 2
With the Bitmap V2 bit reduction pedal, you also have a wide degree of control over both sample rate and bit depth. In addition, it’s adept at maintaining the integrity of transients so you’ll get great results processing your drums.
To make things more interesting, the Bitmap V2 has an envelope that can either be routed to the mix amount or the sample rate frequency. Also, there is sample rate modulation with three different waveforms and a LP filter to clean up any unwanted highs.
Red Panda Bitmap V2
More Bit Reduction Hardware:
More about old-school samplers:
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- Arturia's plug-in version of the famous Emulator II.: Arturia
- The TAL-Sampler is a great vintage style plug-in.: Togu Audio Line
- Decimort 2 is an advanced Lo-Fi processor.: D-16 Group
- The TAL-DAC plug-in emulates classic digital converters.: Togu Audio Line
- The Elektron Digitakt sampler.: Elektron
- The BlackBox compact sampler from 1010music.: 1010music
- The Meris Ottobit 500-series processor.: Meris
- The Bitmap V2 bit reduction pedal.: Red Panda