Hardware Samplers

Spotlight Round-up
By Luke Wood

The hardware sampler market is healthier and more diverse than ever. What better time to take a quick tour?

A few years ago, the dedicated hardware samplers that used to populate studios had largely fallen out of favour as their software counterparts gradually became more powerful and less expensive. Now, their popularity seems to be on the increase again — in fact, there are more options on the market today than when we last covered the topic back in 2015. So, this month’s SOS Spotlight is being shone on a range of hardware samplers, many of which draw their inspiration from the designs of old while harnessing the huge potential offered by modern DSP technology.

1010music Blackbox & Razzmatazz

1010music Blackbox
Despite its compact footprint, 1010music’s Blackbox manages to squeeze in a powerful set of sampling and performance features. Recording and editing can be carried out using a touchscreen interface, which doubles up as a set of virtual pads for triggering sounds, while a set of encoders and buttons provide some tactile control over parameters and navigation. Along with level, pitch and loop controls, the Blackbox is equipped with a set of effects, features a granular mode for morphing samples into new sounds, and allows up to 80 samples to be mapped to different key ranges to create custom instruments. As for connectivity, the audio input is joined by three outputs and a headphone output (all stereo), MIDI and clock I/O, and a USB connection that can be used to connect external controllers.

1010music Razzmatazz
If the Blackbox still isn’t small enough, the company’s Razzmatazz may be worth a look. This tiny instrument combines drum sequencing, FM synthesis and sampling, with each of its eight touchscreen pads able to host two FM oscillators and a WAV file. There’s a collection of sounds included, and it’s possible to capture samples from the unit’s line input before processing them with built‑in filters, envelopes and effects.

Blackbox $649, Razzmatazz $399.

Blackbox £569, Razzmatazz £389. Prices include VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/1010music-blackbox

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/1010music-fireball-lemondrop-razzmatazz

1010music.com/product/blackbox

1010music.com/product/nanobox-razzmatazz

Akai MPC

Akai’s MPC series has remained immensely popular since its introduction in 1988, and alongside some modern controller variants that require a computer, the range still contains a selection of standalone units. As you might imagine, their onboard sampling and editing capabilities are incredibly comprehensive, but they can also host a wide variety of Akai’s effects plug‑ins and virtual instruments, turning them into serious all‑in‑one production tools. All of the current models feature 16 velocity‑ and pressure‑sensitive drum pads and a touchscreen interface, with the main differences lying in the amount of hands‑on control, processing power, storage and I/O. The compact MPC One offers four Q‑Link knobs for parameter control along with 31 dedicated function buttons, stereo line‑level audio and MIDI I/O, and eight gate/CV outputs — there’s also the One+, which adds Wi‑Fi and Bluetooth, 16GB of internal storage and a stylish red finish. The Live II comes equipped with a similar set of controls but with built‑in speakers, three stereo outputs, phono inputs and two lots of MIDI I/O.

Akai MPC X

The flagship MPC X is kitted out with a larger touchscreen, 16 Q‑Link knobs, 63 function buttons and seven knobs dedicated to gain, mix and level parameters. The I/O count is increased significantly: four inputs accept mic, line, phono and instrument signals, and there are eight line‑level outputs. As for MIDI, there are two inputs and four outputs, and the eight CV/gate outputs are provided on their own TS sockets rather than in pairs via TRS. The MPC X Special Edition takes things even further with increased RAM and storage, and comes bundled with six additional Akai plug‑ins.

$699 to $2499.

£579 to £1999 including VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/akai-mpc-one

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/akai-mpc-live-ii

www.akaipro.com/products/mpc-series.html

Alesis Strike MultiPad

Alesis Strike MultiPad
The Alesis Strike MultiPad is very much aimed at live performance, sporting nine large, hard‑wearing pads designed to be played with sticks. A staggering 8000 sounds are included, and there’s 32GB of onboard storage that can be used for user samples, which can either be imported as WAV files or recorded directly from mic and line‑level sources as well as via USB. Sounds can be edited after being imported or captured, with the all‑important start‑ and end‑point options joined by parameters such as pitch, normalise, reverse and more. There are two stereo outputs with configurable routing — useful for distributing a metronome separately from the drum sounds for live performances, for example — which are joined by MIDI in and out/thru connections, and the unit can be expanded with up to three external drum or cymbal triggers, a hi‑hat pedal and a pair of dual foot controls.

$599.

£499 including VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/alesis-strike-multipad

www.strikemultipad.com

Elektron Digitakt

Elektron Digitakt

Elektron’s Digitakt is a combined drum machine and sampler that pairs eight audio tracks with eight MIDI tracks that can be used to sequence external gear. It comes loaded with over 400 factory samples spanning electronic and acoustic drums as well as synth sounds, and sports a stereo input that can be used to capture mono samples. Each audio track benefits from two filters and two LFOs, as well as an amp envelope, overdrive effect and independent delay and reverb sends — there’s also a stereo compressor that can be used across the master output. Along with its 64‑step sequencer, the Digitakt features a Song Mode, which makes it possible to create, edit and play compositions that utilise dozens of patterns, offering a fast and intuitive way to add some variation to live performances. The day before our press deadline Elektron announced Digitakt II, which gives you all of the above but with more memory, more tracks, longer patterns, stereo sample support and all sorts of other extras and improvements.

$849.

£749 including VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/elektron-digitakt

www.elektron.se/en/digitakt-explorer

Elektron Octatrack MkII

Elektron Octatrack MKII

Elektron’s flagship sampler offers eight audio tracks that boast individual lengths and time signatures, and can host samples captured from the device’s four audio inputs. There’s also plenty of modulation on offer thanks to three LFOs per track, as well as a huge collection of effects including filters, chorus, phaser, flanger, delay, reverbs and more, any two of which can be applied to each audio track simultaneously. There’s no shortage of hands‑on control and a wealth of performance features are present, including a powerful crossfader function that can be used to adjust multiple parameters at once or morph seamlessly between different sets of sounds. The Octatrack MkII also comes equipped with comprehensive looping, sequencing and mixing facilities, and can easily be used as part of a larger setup thanks to MIDI in, out and thru connections.

$1599.

£1399 including VAT.

www.elektron.se/gb/octratrack-mkii-explorer

Isla Instruments S2400

Isla Instruments S2400

Inspired by E‑mu’s iconic SP‑1200, Isla InstrumentsS2400 aims to combine the sought‑after sound of vintage samplers and drum machines with the flexibility of their modern counterparts. A 16‑bit/48kHz Hi‑Fi sampling engine is joined by a 12‑bit/26kHz Classic option that employs hardware anti‑aliasing filters — something that formed a key part of the SP‑1200’s distinctive sound. The device’s eight channels each feature a velocity‑sensitive pad, a 60mm fader and a rotary pot, along with mute and solo buttons, and can be loaded with any sample from the device’s 32 slots. The S2400’s sequencer offers a range of different programming modes and includes per‑step configuration of all parameters (level, pitch, envelope, filters) as well as per‑track swing and quantise options, and also features 32 MIDI tracks that can be used to trigger external instruments. There are four line‑level and two stereo phono inputs, along with a stereo mix output and eight independent channel outputs, MIDI in, out and thru connections, and a USB host port that will accept external MIDI controllers. There’s also a built‑in audio/MIDI interface that makes all of the unit’s outputs and a stereo input available to a computer.

$1799.

$1799 excluding shipping from the USA.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/isla-instruments-s2400

www.islainstruments.com/product/s2400

Polyend Tracker+

Polyend Tracker+

Just as we were going to press we got wind of the Polyend Tracker+, an updated version of their popular sequencer and sampler that should be available by the time you read this. Tracker+ builds on the concept introduced with their original Tracker — which drew inspiration from early sequencing software — adding more processing power and memory, stereo sample playback and recording, 14 tracks of audio over USB and five synth engines. Now with a track count of 16 — eight sample, MIDI or synth tracks plus eight synth or MIDI tracks — the onboard sequencer supports patterns between one and 128 steps, which can each contain a note, an instrument number, and two effects (a wide variety of choices ranging from volume automation to LFO modulation are available). Not to be left out, the Tracker Mini will also receive a 2.0 firmware update to include the new synth engines and the extra MIDI and synth sequencer tracks, making it completely compatible with the Tracker+.

$799.

€799 including VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/polyend-tracker

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/polyend-tracker-mini

www.polyend.com

Roland SP‑404 MkII

Roland SP‑404 MkII
The latest iteration of Roland’s SP‑404 sampler has been treated to some significant upgrades since its release, with the most recent firmware adding the Loop Capture mode from the discontinued SP‑555, multitrack audio exports, waveforms for generating melodic content, and more. Despite being a fairly compact device, there’s plenty of hands‑on control: you get 17 pads and a healthy selection of function buttons, as well as four knobs dedicated to volume and key parameter controls, with an OLED screen providing some helpful visual feedback. As well as being able to record samples directly to the pads, the unit comes loaded with a collection of factory sounds, and also boasts a range of built‑in effects, some of which can be applied to input sources as well as loaded samples. As for connectivity, the SP‑404 features stereo line‑level inputs and outputs along with an instrument/mic input and MIDI I/O, and can also capture or stream audio via USB.

$499.99.

£439 including VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/roland-sp-404-mkii

www.roland.com/global/products/sp-404mk2

Roland SPD‑SX Pro

Roland SPD‑SX Pro
Roland’s flagship percussion pad is aimed squarely at live performance, and comes loaded with 1550 samples that range from acoustic and electronic drums hits to synth sounds, loops and effects. Users are free to capture their own samples via line‑level inputs or a built‑in USB interface (which also offers MIDI and the unit’s audio outputs) and assign them to the pads, where they can be edited in detail using the onboard display; parameters such as pitch and volume can be edited in real time from dedicated controls, with more in‑depth settings available via a menu system. It’s possible to add to the unit’s nine pads thanks to a range of external pedal and controller inputs, with a fully kitted‑out system offering a total of 19 triggers. A main stereo out is joined by four assignable mono outputs, and MIDI in and out/thru connections are provided for integrating other gear.

$1199.99.

£899 including VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/roland-spd-sx-pro

www.roland.com/global/products/spd-sx_pro

Sonicware Liven LoFi 12 / LoFi 12XT

Sonicware Liven LoFi 12

As its name suggests, Sonicware’s Liven LoFi 12 aims to deliver a retro sound that matches its appearance. It is built around a 16‑bit, 12/24 kHz engine that features a 12‑bit sampling mode designed to deliver the gritty, lo‑fi sound associated with early hardware samplers. The rest of its features are decidedly more modern, though: each of its four sequencer tracks benefit from independent effects (of which there are 12 types) and Parameter/Sound Lock functions that can record control movements and sound changes into a pattern either live, or via step‑by‑step programming. Sonicware have also recently announced the LoFi 12XT, a more powerful version of the device that utilises the technology developed for their SmplTrek unit. It is available to pre‑order at the time of writing, and should be shipping by the time you read this!

Liven LoFi 12 $239, LoFi 12XT $399.

Liven LoFi 12 £195.92, LoFi 12XT £327.08. Prices include VAT.

sonicware.jp/pages/liven-lofi12

Sonicware SmplTrek

Sonicware Smpltrek

Designed to equip users with the tools to create music anywhere, Sonicware’s SmplTrek is packed into a compact, portable enclosure, will happily run on batteries, and even features a built‑in mic and speaker. It can still form part of a larger setup, though, with full‑size MIDI I/O joined by sync I/O, four quarter‑inch TRS sockets that provide a stereo line‑level output, and two inputs that accept line, instrument and dynamic mic signals. The unit will also function as a USB audio/MIDI interface. There are 10 sequencer tracks that can be used in five different modes (Loop, Shots, Drum, Instrument and MIDI), along with three Global tracks that host longer recordings such as vocals or instrument parts. In addition to its sampling facilities, SmplTrek comes with a library of over 500 pre‑made sounds, and plenty of processing is on hand thanks to 36 insert, send and master effects. Despite its compact footprint, there are 15 velocity‑sensitive pads that can function as drum pads or a keyboard, as well as a collection of function buttons, parameter control knobs and an OLED display.

$429.

£351.26 including VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/sonicware-smpltrek

sonicware.jp/pages/smpltrek

Teenage Engineering EP‑133 KO II

Teenage Engineering EP‑133 KO II

Teenage Engineering’s take on the retro sampling experience comes in the form of the EP‑133 KO II, which builds on the capabilities of their hugely popular PO‑33 KO, adding more power and extended sampling capabilities along with a new sequencer and effects system. A collection of samples and loops come pre‑loaded, and the unit is capable of capturing audio from either a line input or built‑in mic, which can be chopped into shape manually or automatically and assigned to one of the 12 pressure‑ and velocity‑sensitive pads. The device has been designed with ease of operation in mind, and the sequencer promises to provide users with a fast and intuitive way to try out new ideas, with a Commit button allowing successful ones to be captured instantly. Among its collection of effects are 12 ‘punch‑in’ processors, which can be assigned to buttons and respond to pressure, making quick work of creating filter sweeps, stuttering effects, pitch‑bends, and so on.

$299.

£299 including VAT.

www.soundonsound.com/reviews/teenage-engineering-ep-133-ko-ii

teenage.engineering/products/ep-133

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Published June 2024