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Author Topic: akai s612 (1985) 12 bit MIDI digital sampler  (Read 1377 times)

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Offline chrisNova777

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article, december 1985
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2017, 12:02:09 AM »
At present there are three sub one thousand pound samplers on the market that allow MIDI control, notably the Akai S612, Powertran MCS-1 and Korg SDD-2000, all of which are rack-mounting, though none include a keyboard. Of the three units, the Akai is perhaps the most complete in that it offers MIDI control of the sound plus quick and convenient storage of samples via the optional MD280 disk drive.

So, if money limits your choice then you're going to have to opt for one of the three systems mentioned, as samplers with an integral keyboard retail at over £1500. However, money isn't necessarily the determining factor and you may be equally attracted by the idea of not having another physical keyboard around and look towards the neatness of a rack-mounting unit for the space saving it offers.


As a musician or studio owner who's considering buying a sampler or has, in fact, bought this particular unit your main concern is obviously towards the real creative possibilities of using such a device. Paul Hardcastle and 'N-N-N Nineteen' aside, the potential of a sound sampler is, like they used to say about synthesizers, literally endless! But, of course, we all hear the same sounds time after time. The sheep syndrome is still alive and well in sampler land, but unlike the cliche vocoder and syndrum sounds of the 1970s, the sampler should pass through this stage unscathed. Its pedigree is far too impressive and many, if not all, of the major equipment manufacturers are taking the idea seriously and will all probably have a sampler of some description on the market by 1986. Yes folks, sampling is here to stay. So, let's have a look at what the Akai S612 system can do.


Having plugged the sampler and disk drive system together, nothing will happen unless you connect some sort of MIDI controlling device to the S612. So, we came up with the highly original idea of using the Akai AX80 keyboard and one of those five pin DIN MIDI cables with which I'm sure you're all familiar. Connecting the keyboard to the sampler via the MIDI In and Out sockets seemed to follow all the usual rules except in this particular instance it's a one-way conversation ie. the keyboard is controlling the pitch of the sampler so in actual fact the MIDI Out on the S612 is not used.

With everything connected up MIDI-wise, you obviously need to patch the audio outputs of both the keyboard and sampler into a mixer ready for monitoring and recording the sound. On power-up, the S612 shows its MIDI channel selector reading O, this means it's in Omni mode rather than what you may think is MIDI channel 0 which doesn't exist, of course, though you might be a little confused at first (remember: MIDI channels are numbered 1 to 16). The point of putting the unit into Omni mode is to save having to worry about setting the right MIDI channels on the controlling keyboard, sequencers or whatever. If a particular MIDI channel is required you can easily set it up later by using the MIDI channel up/down buttons under the LED readout. One point though, the S612 can only receive control data on MIDI channels 1 to 9 so it's worth bearing that in mind when using a powerful multitrack MIDI sequencer.

Sampling on the S612 is fairly self-explanatory and doesn't take a lot of time to understand. But, before delving into some of the more interesting and detailed aspects of the sampler, it's worth spending sometimejust running through how to record a straightforward sample.


First set all the LFO controls to zero, Filter to high, Decay to ten and Output level to whatever suits the mixer input. Set the two slide controls which are used for editing the sound so that the Start slider is fully to the left and the End slider fully right. In other words, you are hearing the whole sample rather than a spliced section of it (if you imagine the sliders as representing a variable length of audiotape it'll help you to visualise what's going on). Finally, press the button marked 'One Shot'. You're now almost ready to sample a sound but you will have to decide whether this is to be via a line input or the microphone input; we'll opt for the microphone in our example.

When the S612 is powered up the sample time defaults to two seconds duration, and if a MIDI keyboard is connected (which it is in our case), the two seconds sample time corresponds to middle C on the keyboard - MIDI key number 60. More of that later. Having plugged a microphone into the mic input on the front panel of the S612, set the Rec level so that the record level meter just flashes past the +3 range. Now you're ready to record a sample.

Press the Rec Mode New button and say something imaginative like HELLO. The audio level of your speech will automatically trigger the record mode of the sampler and make a recording. You can now hear the sampled HELLO by pressing middle C on the keyboard - it's as simple as that!

The word HELLO isn't two seconds long, however, so we've wasted some of the sample time. This breaks one of the golden rules of sampling, but more of that later too as it's related to middle C on the keyboard. Obviously something intriguing is going on there...

However, for our purposes we have sampled the word HELLO into a two second time slot. Once a sound has been sampled it can be edited, which is achieved by simply moving the two sliders that affect the splicing of both the sample Start and End points. You could trim the sample to play back only the beginning of the sound and get the 'HE' part of the word, or move to the middle and listen to the 'LL' bit or the end section and hear just the 'O'. By moving the sliders and listening, you can edit the sample down and create some very interesting results - even reverse the sound by moving the sliders to their opposite extremes. The most useful option, however, is the looping facility.


The above method of capturing a sound utilises the Akai's 'One Shot' technique which is great for sound effects and staccato playing but not quite so good for real musical exploration of samples. The looping feature, as it's known, is provided on the Akai and very simple to use it is too. The sampling method is exactly the same as before but this time you press the Looping button instead of One Shot, set your recording level, press the New button and sample a sound. It's at this point that a little experimentation tells you a lot about how to sample sounds that make good loops.

If you have a two second sample slot and you sample the sound of a chord being struck on an electric guitar, what you will hear on replay won't be a satisfactory sound as it will start with a good healthy whack on the guitar and then die away over the two seconds only to suddenly jerk back up to full volume again for another trip around the loop. Clearly, this is not what we want. A long sustained guitar chord that remains at a fairly constant level is the order of the day. To achieve such a good loop you need to use the footswitch control function on the front panel.

Plug a footswitch unit in and then prepare to sample the guitar sound. Having pressed the Record New button, a sample will not be made until you press the footswitch. The best sample will result by letting the guitar chord just start; then hit the switch. This misses the attack off the beginning of the sample, and if the chord can be sustained long enough until the sample time is over you can miss off the end of the guitar sound where the level dies away. Doing so, results in only the central section of the guitar sound being sampled.