WHEN THE FIRST affordable digital samplers hit the market, they were little more than novelties used by keyboardists (musical instrument) to create annoying stuttering vocal effects and grungy instrument sounds. But digital technology has come a long way since the dark ages of the mid Eighties, and now even low-cost, entry-level samplers have impressive specs and features. While many samplers are still designed primarily with keyboardists in mind, these devices, with their outstanding sound quality, sophisticated editing capabilities and unique effects, are also extremely useful for a wide variety of creative guitar recording applications.
One of the most common uses of a sampler is for creating rhythm loops that form the foundation of a song. But a sampler can provide many other useful capabilities that can greatly assist you in the recording studio. It can perform as a digital recorder, effects processor, audio editor and musical instrument, making it one of the most versatile and useful pieces of audio equipment you can buy.
E-mu Systems was one of the first companies to harness the power of digital sampling for musicians. Their E4-series samplers are the most sophisticated and powerful units on the market today, but, of course, all of this power comes at a rather hefty price. However, E-mu recently introduced the e6400, an affordable musical instrument sampler that can be upgraded to full E4X specs as your budget allows. The e6400 has the same sound quality, processing capabilities and automated sampling tasks as the E4X—primary differences are the E4X’s addition of built-in guitar effects and hard drive, 4MB of CPU RAM versus the e6400’s 1MB and digital inputs and outputs.
The e6400 comes stock with 4MB of memory, but it can be upgraded up to 128MB with inexpensive SIMM chips. At 128MB, the e6400 supplies more than 12 minutes of stereo sampling at 44.1kHz, which means that you could record several full songs into the unit if you so desired. Sounds can be sampled at 22.05kHz, 24kHz and 48kHz as well, and a 16-bit ND converter ensures that the sound quality is outstanding regardless of which sample rate you choose. The e6400 provides 64-note polyphony (the maximum number of notes that can be played at once) right out of the box, and the polyphony can be doubled to 128 notes with an optional upgrade. Other useful features for recording applications include eight individual balanced analog outputs (expandable to 16) and a built-in 16-track sequencer – your musical instrument will love you!
The e6400 is extremely easy to use, even for novices, thanks to its automated sampling tasks. The unit will automatically choose ideal looping points for click- free loops. It will also normalize waveforms, boosting weak input signals to optimum levels. Waveform data can be cut, copied and pasted just like words on a word processor.
But the most appealing feature of the e6400 for recording applications is its DSP tools. Like many of today’s current crop of samplers, it has time compression, which can make a sample play back in a longer or shorter amount of time without changing the pitch. But thanks to stereo phase-lock, the e6400’s time compression sounds warm, smooth and natural even at extreme settings. Of course, if you really want to tweak your musical instrument recordings beyond imagination, you can do that too. The e6400’s doppler/pan effects are stunning, creating mind-spinning panning effects that truly sound like something is moving around the room. There are also reverse, pitch change and exciter effects, plus Digital Modular Synthesis, which allows you to modify a sample as if it was a synth waveform.
One of the most welcome features on the e6400 for recording applications is internal digital re-sampling. Similar to bouncing down tracks, re-sampling lets you combine a multitude of samples into a single musical instrument sample, saving a significant amount of memory. The e6400’s re-sampling feature also captures sequences and internal effects processing as part of the sampled waveform. One helpful application of this feature is to record separate drum patterns, bass lines, guitar parts, vocals and other melodies as individual samples, use the sequencer to create a mix that pleases you, then re-sample the sequence to condense the mix to a single sample. If you record a lot of your own sampled loops, this feature is an indispensable time and memory saver.
The Bottom Line
THE E-Mu E6400 offers unparalleled sound quality, audio editing features and expandability. If you want a musical instrument sampler that can perform extremely sophisticated applications today and grow with you as your needs increase, the e6400 is the best choice you can make. This tool is so versatile and helpful that you’ll wonder how you ever got by without one in your guitar studio.
If you enjoyed this musical instrument review and want to learn how to play guitar, head on over the author’s guitar / instrument website at Guitar World.