Test Drive: The AKAI S1000 Digital Stereo Sampler

by Jerry Vigil

AKAI's S1000 16-bit stereo sampler is fast becoming the "industry standard" much like its predecessor, the S900. This "industry" is the music industry. For musicians, many of the features of the S1000 will be regularly used and much appreciated. The radio producer, on the other hand, might cry "overkill" once deep into the S1000; but consider this: A few years ago, 8-track recorders in production were considered overkill. Today, 16 and even 24-track studios are popping up in radio stations. Likewise, what might seem an unnecessary feature of the S1000 to a radio producer, may well become that "extra track" you thought you'd never need. In other words, if you don't want any limitations from your sampler, take a look at the S1000.

A complete review of this unit, encompassing all of its many features, would take many pages. Therefore, for this review (which is intended for radio producers), we will not focus on many of the features that would make a musician drool. We will pick on a few, though. If you're interested in the S1000 from a musician's point of view, definitely check the reviews done in magazines targeted to musicians.

AKAI recently released version 2.0 of the software for the S1000 which introduced MANY new features. The unit used for this review includes the new software.

In radio production, there is one main question to ask about a sampler: How much sample time is there? Obviously, the more sample time you have, the more you can do with sound effects and voice tracks. The S1000 comes standard with 2 megabytes of RAM which can be expanded. Recording in stereo at full 20-20kHz bandwidth, it has about 12 seconds sampling time. Sampling in mono, the time doubles to nearly 24 seconds of full bandwidth audio. AKAI EXM005 memory expansion boards can be added to boost memory up to 8 megabytes. That translates to about 48 seconds of full bandwidth stereo sampling and over a minute and a half of full bandwidth mono sampling! With the standard 2 megabyte version, you can record in mono at 20-10kHz bandwidth and get 48 seconds of good quality voice tracks in RAM. Among other things, this much sample time comes in handy for assigning often used drops from your "sweeper guy" across the keyboard. You can fill up two floppy disks with your call letters, a few slogans, and whatever else you use on a regular basis. When time comes to produce some promos or sweepers, you simply load the disks, and your most used voice elements will be ready for use.

Previous to version 2.0 software, only two sampling rates were available on the S1000: 44.1kHz and 22.05kHz. This limited choice made conservation of memory (and available recording time) difficult. It didn't take much feedback from users for AKAI to realize that variable sampling is a big plus; so, version 2.0 addresses this. Though you can't set a variable sample rate prior to recording (as with the S900), you can set a totally variable "re-sampling" frequency. After recording a sample at either full or half-bandwidth, you can resample the audio at 2/3 or 3/4 the original sampling rate at the touch of a button. If this isn't satisfactory, place the cursor in the proper field and enter any sampling rate for the "re-sampling" process. You end up with the original sample and a new sample with the adjusted bandwidth. If the new sample sounds fine, you can delete the original and release that memory. Of course, if you use a sampler mainly for voice tracks, recording the original sample at 22.05kHz will get you decent 20-10kHz response -- adequate for voice work. While re-sampling is an added step, it nevertheless lets you use the S1000's memory conservatively.

The fact that the S1000 is a stereo sampler opens up many doors for stereo production. Looping a piece of music can be done easily, and it's done in stereo. This brings us to the editing and looping functions of the S1000. To begin with, the large LCD display on the front panel not only displays all pertinent information you need at any time, but also displays, graphically, the amplitude waveform of the audio you are recording or editing. This graphic representation of the volume of the audio makes finding edit and loop points a little faster since you can actually see the audio. As you rotate the large data knob to set sample start and end points, a vertical line moves across the waveform to show where you are in the sample. ZOOM IN and ZOOM OUT keys let you zoom in for a "microscopic" look at your edit points.