Akai S series
1984 – 2002
As samplers increased in power and decreased in price towards the end of the 80s, the choices became much greater, especially at a more affordable consumer level. By the early 90s, sampling technology had matured to an impressive level. E-mu followed the Emulator and SP-12/1200 with the Emax and a series of increasingly powerful rack samplers. Ensoniq released the excellent ASR-10, which offered a plethora of powerful synthesis options.
Hardcore, jungle and drum and bass would have turned out very differently without the S series.
Over time, the trend shifted away from keyboard-style samplers and toward rack-mount units. In addition to the extensive E-mu range, honourable mentions must go to the Roland S-760 (an early favourite of Daft Punk) and Yamaha TX16W (which spawned its own alternative operating system, Typhoon, now available in emulated form as Cyclone from Sonic Charge), but if we had to pick the definitive series of rack samplers we’d have to go for the Akai S series.
Look back at photos of dance producers’ studios throughout the 90s and there’s a huge chance you’ll see an Akai sampler nestling in a rack, whether it’s the 12-bit S900 or S950, the 16-bit S1000 or S2000, or maybe even an S3000 for those with a little more cash to splash. The S series was particularly popular in the UK, where it helped define entire genres. Hardcore, jungle and drum and bass would have turned out very differently without the S series.
Akai persevered with the rack sampler format until the release of the Z8 in 2002, arguably the most powerful hardware sampler of all time. The Z8 boasted a 20 GB internal hard drive, 24-bit/96 kHz sampling engine, 64-voice polyphony, 512 MB of RAM and a huge selection of built-in effects. If all that sounds like the kind of spec you might expect from a sampler plugin, you’ve identified the main problem: the Z8 went on sale just as software samplers really began to take off. The hardware sampler’s days were numbered, at least in their traditional form.