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In a small textbook called The mathematical theory of communication, Shannon and Weawer introduced several concepts that became the foundation of the digital revolution and the realization of the digital samplers.

The book, among other concepts, introduced the Sampling theorem which states that, to get all the information embedded in a band limited signal, we just need two samples per period.

This is why we had chosen the sampling frequencies of audio signals. Since we have to cope with 20KHz bandwidth, we have to sample at 40KHz minimum.

It is not by chance that the first audio samplers arrived from a Company that was working in the Telecommunication field.

The Fairlight CMI

The first sampler to get to the market was the Fairlight CMI. It was composed of a double keyboard, a monitor with an optical pen and a rack used to house all the lectronics. That was a very innovative system for the time being (1979).

Fairlight CMI (ph. by SOS)
Fairlight CMI (ph. by SOS)

The first units were working at 8 bit with a sampling frequency of 24KHz. Going on with the progress the CD quality (16 bit and 44,1KHz) was achieved.

The price was at about $25.000 for the basic version to get to almost $60.000 for the full optional models.

The sampling evolution

Meanwhile the technology was going ahead with big steps. Many Companies started to enter the field.

Among them Emulatorand Synclavierwere direct Fairlight’s competitors. SOme years later AKAIe Korgbrought the sampling at a price level suitable for the masses.

The DAW development and the improvements in the VSTiquality caused the end of the support for the hardware platforms to substantially leave the sampling to be handled exclusively within the DAWs with the virtual instruments.

Some synthesizer started using sampled waves as source instead of the oscillators. Roland and Yamaha were champions in this field.

Nowaday the virtual instruments market is full of systems that make use of samples capable of reproducing complete orchestras with impressive realism.

Modular systems and sampling

The coming back of modular systems pushed a comeback of the hardware samplers.

The Eurorack standard’s success and the attitude of modern producers convinced the modular system builders to release very interesting and versatile equipment capable of generating any sort of sound. From the traditional to the most visionaries.

The samplers, in this product category, really give space to the user’s creativity.

Let’s give a look to some examples.

4ms Stereo Triggered Sampler

The 4ms Stereo Triggered Sampler is a module capable of recording, processing and playing audio material (please keep an eye on the general definition of “audio material”).

4ms Stereo Triggered Sampler
4ms Stereo Triggered Sampler

The module can not only handle short sound snippets and loops, but recordings with a length of several hours as well.

Data is stored on a micro-SD card.

The circuit’s sample management is remarkably intuitive. For reproducing audio files, there are two well-equipped stereo players. CV inputs allow users to modulate lots of parameters.

In short: A very flexible, great sounding sampler for modular setups.

The Stereo Triggered Sampler features two audio players and a simultaneously usable recording section. The module can manage up to 600 samples. They are organized in banks with ten storage slots each. Renaming existing files isn’t necessary.

One sample can have a size of up to 4 GB, which equals a playback time of more than six hours. (Stereo format, 16 Bit and 44.1 kHz). The STS can read WAV files with a resolution of up to 32 Bit and 96 kHz. Micro-SD cards are hot-swappable.

The STS connectors

The audio players of the STS come equipped with the following connectors and control elements:

  • Bank button: Selects a sample bank.
  • Sample potentiometer and CV input: Selects which sample within the chosen bank is played back.
  • 1V/Oct input: CV connector for determining the playback pitch via a keyboard or sequencer.
  • Play button e trigger input: These elements start the audio playback.
  • End Out connector: Emits a trigger signal after the playback is finished.
  • Pitch potentiometer: Allows users to manually alter the pitch. (Range: -4 to +5 octaves)
  • Start Pos. Potentiometer and CV input: Determines the start position within the selected sample.
  • Reverse button e trigger input: Switches between two playback modes. (Forward / backwards)
  • Length potentiometer e CV input: Sets the playback time respectively at the loop end point. Depending on knob position and incoming CV values, the STS behaves in one or another way:
    • < 1 %: Tiny grains are played.
    • < 50 %: A percussive decay envelope is applied to sculpt the sound. Length > 50 %: 200 milliseconds to five seconds of the selected sample is played.
    • Length at max: The entire file is played back.

Furthermore, each player section features an audio output. The connectors can be used in two ways:

  • Mono mode: Each audio player mixes left and right channel. Results can be tapped at the corresponding output.
  • Stereo Mode: The audio material of both players is mixed. The resulting stereo signal is emitted at the outputs. (Player 1 = Left channel / Player 2 = Right channel)

The record section of the Stereo Triggered Sampler comes equipped with two audio inputs (left / right). Users can choose between a resolution of 16 Bit and 24 Bit. The sample rate is fixed at 44.1 kHz. A 96 kHz mode might be added in the future.

Bank and sample control elements allow users to select a storage slot.

Recordings can be started via the Rec button or a trigger input. A LED visualizes the level of incoming audio material. The Firmware can be updated via micro-SD card.

1010 Music Bitbox

The 1010 Music Bitbox is capable of handling up to 16 audio clips in the same time.

1010 Music Bitbox
1010 Music Bitbox

Bitbox brings into your Eurorack musically intelligent, synchronized and simultaneous recording, playback and looping of up to 16 audio clips, in flawless 24 bit audio quality. The capacitive touch screen facilitates browsing, tweaking and loading sounds from microSD. Recorded clips are saved as WAV files, entire sets can be exported into Ableton Live.

Features:

  • Playback of up to 16 simultaneous samples from internal memory or up to 4 samples directly from microSD
  • Trigger samples with the touch screen, CV gate inputs, or MIDI input
  • Import or export WAV files with your Mac or PC using a microSD card
  • 24-bit 48kHz stereo input and 4-channel output
  • Make recordings up to 4 hours in length
  • Various launch modes, including one-shot, toggle, gate, and repeat
  • Playback can be immediate or synchronized to analog or MIDI clock
  • Control of various sample parameters, including start position, length, pitch, gain, loop mode, and launch quantization
  • Stereo or mono recording with the option to synchronize the start and stop times to clock inputs
  • Save and recall up to 12 different banks of samples and their configuration
  • 4 modulation inputs each capable of launching an entire row of clips at once or modulating sample start, length, or pitch
  • Export your sets to Ableton Live
  • Accepts TRS MIDI input compatible with Arturia and other products

Make Noise Morphagene

The Make Noise Morphagene is a next generation tape and microsound music module that uses Reels, Splices, and Genes to create new sounds from those that already exist.

Make Noise Morphagene
Make Noise Morphagene

Some of the Morphagene’s most basic uses:

  • Splice recorded audio and jumble it using ORGANIZE.
  • Manipulate playback speed and direction with Vari-Speed
  • Granularize with Gene-Size and Slide.
  • Layer or Stagger Genes using MORPH
  • Undertake iterative music processes by recording manipulations and overdubs into new Splices, like having two machines (one for Playback and modulations, one for Record)
  • Process sound in real time using Time Lag Accumulation
  • Utilize envelope following CV OUT and EOSG Triggerto engage Morphagene in conversation with the rest of your modular system
  • Stretchand squash sound with Clock input.

Further features are:

  • Voltage control over all sound manipulation parameters
  • STEREO I/O with Auto Input Leveling
  • Recording Reel can be up to 87 seconds long
  • Record/ create up to 99 Splices per Reel
  • SD Card stores multiple Reels
  • Sound On Sound allows for layering sounds
  • Playback and Recording independent, like having two machines
  • Vari-Speed range 12 semitones up and 26 down, over 3 octaves
  • 24-bit codec, creates 48k 32bit WAV files
  • Back up Reels on computer with SD Card

Conclusion

The three reported examples are, of course, just a small subset of the incredible possibilities offered by today’s modular technology.

They give anyway a good taste of the actual possibilities. This explains the reasons of the reborn of the hardware samplers. Those are instruments put inside the modular scene to properly support the creativity of modern musicians and producers.

Sono un ingegnere elettronico con la passione per la musica ed il suono. Mi sono avvicinato alla musica da autodidatta (salvo una breve parentesi alla University of the Blues di Dallas) e ho suonato nei peggiori locali italiani (con casuali puntate all'estero). Ho costruito la mia prima radio FM appena finita la terza media. Ho continuato con amplificatori a valvole e transistor fino ad arrivare alla produzione di circuiti integrati. Collaboro da anni con varie riviste (cartacee e web) di musica nelle quali mi occupo di recensioni di strumenti musicali e sistemi per l'elaborazione del suono. Trovate le mie pubblicazioni su Accordo (accordo.it), la rivista Chitarre (dal 2010 al 2015) e su Audio Central Magazine (audiocentralmagazine.com). Produco musica da un po' nello NTFC Studio che serve sostanzialmente per le produzioni di NTFC Band.