E-mu SP-12 and SP-1200
1985 – 1998
E-mu’s celebrated Emulator series built on the foundation laid by Fairlight, helping to bring sampling keyboards down to a more affordable price level. We could easily have included the Emulator here too, but for house, techno and hip-hop producers in the late 80s the more affordable and popular options were the company’s SP-12 and SP-1200 drum samplers.
The SP-12 was essentially an evolution of the Drumulator drum machine (the SP-12’s circuit boards have ‘Drumulator II’ printed on them, hinting at the lineage). Where the Drumulator was a sample-based drum machine, the SP-12 incorporated user samples in addition to the on-board sounds (hence the name: sampling percussion, 12-bit). With just 48kb of memory, the original SP-12’s sampling capabilities were extremely limited (a total of just 1.2 seconds), but the Turbo version expanded the memory to allow up to 5 seconds and 1987’s SP-1200 offered a whopping 10 seconds. That 12-bit sampling engine was notoriously gritty, and when combined with the simplicity of the sequencing options (nowhere near as powerful as Akai’s rival MPC60) it gave the SP-1200 a unique appeal.
The gritty 12-bit sampling engine combined with the simplicity of the sequencing options to give the SP-1200 a unique appeal
The SP-1200 was used extensively by Todd Terry early in his career, and later by the likes of Moodymann, Daft Punk, Theo Parrish and The Prodigy. That’s without mentioning hip-hop, where it’s one of the definitive samplers of the golden era alongside the MPC60.