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Emu E5000 Ultra

Emu E5000 Ultra

Billed as the most affordable Emulator yet, the E5000 Ultra is Emu's new contender in the middleweight professional sampler stakes — and it's a force to be reckoned with.


I make this point because in comparing the various models there could be a danger of succumbing to Venus de Milo syndrome — putting too much stress on what the E5000 Ultra lacks, rather than what it actually has to offer — which is plenty. Along with all the common‑or‑garden sample‑trimming functions, the large palette of DSP tools includes compression, pitch‑change, Doppler/pan, reverse, transform, multiply and resampling. There's also Emu's proprietary Beat Munging facility, a truly inspirational tool for, er, giving your loops and beats a good munge.

But what makes the E5000 Ultra, and indeed the whole Ultra range, so powerful is that their sampling features can be harnessed to a range of powerful synthesis functions, including Emu's justly famous Z‑plane morphing filters. These have always been a big selling point for Emu, and while Akai have certainly caught up with their recent S5000 and S6000, in my humble opinion Emu still lead the field. Combine these filters with the two LFOs, three fully independent, six‑segment envelope generators, and a virtual patch‑cord system that allows you to modulate just about everything with anything else, and you are talking about a system that is capable of delivering creative results far beyond the usual call of sampling duties.

Other features worthy of mention in dispatches include the two‑buss, 24‑bit stereo effects processor with a total of more than 40 algorithms, and the onboard 48‑track sequencer, which offers a Jukebox function and the ability to play back format 0 and 1 Standard MIDI files. Don't forget that you also gain compatibility with the Emulator sound library — arguably one of the best and most comprehensive custom sound sets available. The E5000 Ultra is also compatible with Akai S3000, S1000 and S1100 and Roland S700‑series sounds, and has the ability to load (and export) sounds as WAV and AIFF files.

All this might leave you wondering just where the corners have been cut to bring the E5000 Ultra on to the store shelves at its competitive price point. It's certainly not in terms of the front panel: the junior model occupies the same 3U rackmounting box as its more expensive brother, with only the logo and the green LCD display to differentiate the two. However, round the back of the unit, anyone familiar with the E4XT Ultra will see where the economies have been made. Whereas the flagship model has eight outputs as standard, the E5000 Ultra is equipped with just four balanced analogue outputs — one main stereo pair and one sub pair — though there is an option to expand the total to 12. There's also just one trio of MIDI connections (the E4XT has two sets). The full complement of sockets is accompanied by a pair of balanced stereo inputs and a 50‑pin SCSI connector. However, the many blanked off sockets indicate the E5000 Ultras potential for expandability. In fact, there's room for eight expansion options altogether — five internal and three 'rear panel' (see the 'Expansion Options' box for an overview of the full list).

As the many blanked‑off areas on the back panel testify, the E5000 has been designed with expandability in mind.As the many blanked‑off areas on the back panel testify, the E5000 has been designed with expandability in mind.

Inside, you'll find a rather measly 4Mb of RAM as standard, though like all Ultra models the E5000 can be expanded to 128Mb with the addition of standard SIMMS. And whereas the E4XT Ultra comes with a 3.2Gb hard disk as standard, the only means of internal storage on the E5000 is the evergreen 3.5‑inch floppy. That said, an optional board allows you to fit internal IDE drives of up to 18Gb, and of course the SCSI connection gives you access to a host of external storage options (including DVD drives).

However, one point to note in the comparison chart is that the E5000 Ultra's polyphony count can't be increased beyond the default complement of 64 voices (a respectable number enough in itself, mind you). So if you are looking to the E5000 Ultra as the first step in a path that will eventually take you to the full Monty then be aware that you're going to fall a little (though not much) short of the ultimate E4XT spec.

Getting Down To It

Paul White's SOS review of the E4XT Ultra, back in the heady days of August 1999, provides a good overview of the various nooks and crannies of the EOS operating system (currently on its 4.01 incarnation). As this is also the backbone of the E5000 Ultra, I don't intend to dwell on describing its functionality in too great a detail. And as I happen to be on commission from the SOS back issues department, I have no hesitation in suggesting you refer back to the previous article.

What interested me more here was forming a subjective view of what the Emu might be like to use as the backbone of a small but serious studio setup. After all, it's no good having a comprehensive range of creative tools at your disposal if they are buried within an operating system so arcane that you could never actually be bothered to use them. And whereas Paul White, as an Akai user, found the operating system difficult to get to grips with, I come at this as someone who finds all hardware sampling systems inherently tedious — which is why for my own musical meanderings I've opted for the software equivalent.

The good news is that while the E5000 Ultra may be accompanied by a formidable 400‑plus page manual, anyone who's had even limited experience with samplers will be able to get up and running with just a cursory glance at the first chapter of the manual (which, incidentally, has the promising title of 'Instant Gratification'). Indeed, even in the early stages of using the Emu, I found I only needed to refer to the manual when I needed specific answers to specific 'how the hell do I do that?' questions. For the most part, the layout of the front panel, with its soft keys and assignable keys, plus the computer‑style graphic interface, make the E5000 Ultra very intuitive to use.

The only thing you really need to get your head round initially is the relationship between the hierarchy of samples, voices and Presets. Samples are the basic sonic building blocks, with a name, sample rate and looping information; a voice is a complete sound that contains one or more samples with key mapping, velocity settings, filtering, envelopes and modulation. a Preset is one complete keyboard setting containing one or more voices, plus performance parameters such as effects settings. Samples, voices and Presets are organised into banks, and you can have 1000 Presets and 1000 associated samples per bank (with me so far?). Visually, the menu structure follows a Windows/Mac folder/file structure, so in practice it proves quite easy to navigate your way around. Incidentally, keeping track of what's what is also made easier by the fact you can audition samples direct from disk.

The unit ships with a number of sounds already available (1000 in RAM and 1000 in the Internal/Flash memory), though at the time of review, this side of things was still being finalised by the Emu powers that be. So I concentrated on creating my own sounds, which I quickly found was about as easy as it gets. For the record (all puns intended) available sampling rates are 22.05kHz and 44.1kHz, and you can resample sounds at 16, 18 or 20 bits. Recording can be triggered by a MIDI key, by the threshold level or 'forced'. And unlike many samplers I've used, you don't have to go through that tedious process of naming a sample before you even know whether it's any good or not.

What really sets the Emu apart as a speed machine, though, is its automated sample management functions.

What really sets the Emu apart as a speed machine, though, is its automated sample management functions. You can, for example, set the machine to automatically trim and loop samples as they are being recorded (and the automated looping is pretty good too). Using the Place function, you can also set up the sampler to assign each new sample to the next white key along the keyboard, starting from the default of C1. This means if you're sampling a bunch of drum and percussion sounds or one‑shot vocals, you can fire in one sample after another and let the E5000 Ultra take care of spreading them across the keys. Other options with the Place control allow you to spread each sound over a group of between 1 and 24 keys — a facility which really does take the strain out of the initial mapping of sounds. This is a much smoother way of working than the approach that I've been used to, whereby you first create a pool of individual samples, and then laboriously assemble them into programs. The fact that you can generally hop about between sample and voice editing mode from the Edit Preset menu also helps when it comes to more detailed editing of Presets.

Sadly, shortage of space doesn't allow me to highlight all the E5000 Ultra's functions as I'd like. Certainly there's plenty of room to manoeuvre, particularly with the 21 filters at your disposal. But perhaps the best card in the pack is the Beat Munger — a groove manipulation utility along the lines of Steinberg's Recycle. Basically, you feed in a groove‑based sound, and the Munger performs a spectral analysis, calculating the tempo and the number of beats, then provides you with a rhythm loop, ready‑sliced into its constituent parts if you so desire. This in turn allows you to change the tempo and swing (and also the start and end points of the loop) with ease. a line of Xs on the screen represents an eighth‑note grid; by turning individual Xs on and off you can not only bugger about with the rhythm, but change the time signature.

Other goodies include Comb, which adjusts the distance between splices, and Grunge which changes the splice crossfade length. Together, these controls enabling you to make the loop sound rough, smooth, nutty or flangy according to your wishes. If you want a flavour of what the Munger can do, think the rallentando section of Fatboy Slim's 'Rockefeller Skank'. It's certainly a great tool, which becomes even better when it gets the calculations wrong. For example, I threw in four bars of one of my own mixes recorded at 120bpm, and for some reason the Munger spat out a loop reworked out of what appeared to be the first one‑and‑a‑quarter bars at 78bpm. The results were great, though — and I've since reworked the track around the Emu's reinterpretation of my samples!


Like a puppy, a sampler is for life, not just for Christmas, and you don't want to feel that after a week or two you've really exhausted all its potential. It's also true that samplers are only as good as the sounds you put into them — and if this involves too much perspiration at the expense of inspiration, then you might as well just buy a preset sample‑based synth instead.

The great thing about the E5000 Ultra is that, because it's based on EOS 4.01, it offers a lot of bang for the buck even in its basic spec (although to be fair, I'd advise a RAM upgrade at the very least, and you'll also have to add the cost of some kind of storage device beyond floppy disk). With expansion options aplenty, it's also an instrument that's going to grow with you (and your bank balance). But perhaps most important is the fact that the EOS system itself really is very intuitive to use — almost to the point where I'd say it's worth getting your hands on it at any price.

It's not all roses, though. For example, like Paul White, I found the effects routing system confusing, though I acknowledge that it can be pretty flexible once you know what you're doing. Then again, no sampler operating system is perfect. Somewhere along the line there always seems to be a trade‑off between the ability to be creative and the mundanity of all the housekeeping that creating samples always seems to involve. Personally, I think that with EOS 4.01, Emu have got the balance just right. And now that they have provided a relatively affordable way to buy into their system, I suspect more people are about to find out just how good that operating system is. With all puns intended — go sample.

E5000 Overview

  • Polyphony: 64 notes.
  • Standard RAM: 4Mb (upgradeable to 128Mb).
  • Four balanced outputs on quarter‑inch jacks.
  • Two balanced inputs (20‑bit delta‑sigma converters).
  • MIDI channels: 16 (upgradeable to 32).
  • Presets: 2000 (1000 RAM, 1000 Internal/Flash).
  • Sequencer: 48 track with quantise and edit functions.
  • Arpeggiator.
  • Sample edit tools: Utilities (Cut, Copy, Paste, Insert, Truncate, Taper); Tools 1 (Loop, Loop Type, Digital Tune, Sample Rate Convert); Tools 2 (DC Filter, Left/Right Swap, Stereo/Mono Conversion, Reverse, Integrity); Tools 3 (Gain Change, Compression, Parametric EQ, Phase‑linear Low‑pass, High‑pass and Band‑pass Filters, Aural Exciter based on the Aphex process); Tools 4 (Transform Multiplication, Stereo Doppler, Time Shift, Pitch Shift, Bit Conversion, Beat Munging). All parameters have undo function.
  • Filters: 21 types.
  • Effects: 24‑bit, programmable, two‑buss design. FXA contains reverb and delay effects (44 variations); FXB contains chorus, flange and distortion effects (32 variations).
  • Included CD‑ROMS: 2.

Expansion Options

  • 16 Out/8 In ADAT board £429.
  • D‑WAM daughterboard with word clock, ASCII keyboard connector (great for those otherwise tedious sample‑naming functions), and an additional 16 channels of MIDI: £299.
  • E‑Synth Sound ROM £229: contains 16Mb of standard instruments and digital waveforms and 500 presets.
  • Orbit/Phatt Sessions £229: 16Mb sound ROM featuring all Orbit and Planet Phatt sounds.
  • 16Mb Flash ROM kit £699: allows you to create custom 16Mb sound ROMs that never require loading.
  • Hard drive mounting kit £25.
  • 8 extra analogue outputs £459 (requires two external option slots).
  • R‑chip multi‑channel studio effects processor £TBC.

Prices include VAT.


  • Both hardware and software easy to navigate.
  • Beat Munging.
  • Filter options.
  • Relatively good value for money.


  • Meagre amount of RAM as standard.
  • Limited extra goodies compared to upmarket versions.


Packed with professional features as standard and with upgrade options aplenty, this 'most affordable Emulator yet' is a very powerful machine.