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A Brief Introduction to Sampling Audio

Sampling In Hardware Or Software?

Now that you're thinking of all kinds of cool things you could sample, let's get down to the nitty gritty... how are you going to sample? Traditionally, using a dedicated hardware sampler was the only reasonable choice. In the last several years, however, advances in computing power have given rise to the popular use of software based samplers.

Obviously both have their advantages, but I prefer the flexibility of software samplers. A soft sampler's storage capacity will only be limited by your hard disk space, it has no knobs to break, requires no cables, is on your computer screen rather than a small LCD, and takes up no desk space.

Some of the commonly used soft samplers include Native Instrument's Kontakt and Intakt, Tascam's Gigastudio, Logic's EXS24, and Propellerhead's Recycle. All of these programs have their merits, and pitfalls. Many DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) come with a sampler built in, and for most purposes these will suffice. Ableton Live has the "Simpler", Logic has the "EXS-24", and Reason has the "NN-XT" and "NN-19".

Of course, hardware samplers are far from obsolete. One big advantage of hardware samplers is that they will never get a virus, and will probably never crash. Although I have seen musicians playing live with soft samplers, hardware samplers offer a peace of mind that no computer can offer.

In addition to their stability and cool looks, each hardware sampler offers a distinct sound and feel that can only be approximated by soft samplers. An example of a classic hardware sampler is the EMU SP-1200. This 12-bit drum sampler only has 10 seconds of sample time, but its warm, low fidelity sound makes it coveted by many producers. Another amazing sampler is the AKAI MPC 2000, which has velocity sensitive pads that can be played as a musical instrument.

Although there are some really cool hardware samplers available, most of them are cumbersome, don't allow the user to undo changes, and editing is hard on a small LCD screen - if you're even lucky enough to have a screen. Overall, I'd recommend beginners stay away from hardware samplers.