3. The History
The use of sampling is not a recent phenomenon - you could even argue that classical composers have been doing it for centuries when they quoted from historic works in their own music or wrote Variations on a Theme by . Sticking to the modern understanding of the term though, the earliest samplers represented real feats of technology at the time, and today are considered collectors items. The Fairlight CMI was the worlds first digital sampling keyboard, entering the market way back in 1979. Although it was only 8-bit and had just 16kb of waveform memory, it still carried a hefty price tag, in part due to them being hand-made to order. This resulted in only large studios and wealthy individuals being able to afford one - Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder were big fans of the CMI from the start, with Gabriels track Shock the Monkey composed almost entirely on the Fairlight.
Due to the limited memory and resulting short sample lengths, early sampler use was restricted to lifting individual hits or one-shots from other songs these were then use to create new drum loops with the aid of a sequencer. As larger memory sizes and longer sample lengths became available, musicians were able to sample whole vocal lines and guitar riffs to include in new compositions - this development was swiftly followed by numerous legal wrangles with the original artists demanding royalty payments.
Increased memory has always been a major selling point for samplers, as early models had tiny amounts of RAM which limited the maximum recording time to around just eight seconds, even at the lowest sample quality! Memory expansion was usually achieved with sampler-specific boards, and was very expensive. Long-term storage was also a big limitation - most early samplers were fitted with 3 1/2 floppy drives using 1.44Mb disks, but fortunately it wasnt too long before these were superseded by larger capacity Zip drives. These days, for the few hardware samplers left on the market, there are a variety of permanent memory formats on offer, such as Compact Flash, SD cards, CD writers and hard drives.
One particular range of hardware samplers has stood the test of time - the MPC series from AKAI, being especially popular with hip-hop and dance producers. With its distinctive pad-bank, ideal for triggering samples on the fly, the MPC3000 still fetches high prices on the second hand market today, despite debuting back in 1994. This cult status has resulted in AKAI releasing many variations of the MPC over the past few years, with a range of studio and stage samplers still available, and even a battery-powered version, the MPC500.